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URL Shortening: Mistakes to avoid and ways to make the most of your Links

URL Shortening Mistakes - The 7 Deadly Sins of Link Shortening

If you’re sharing content online, then you’re probably using a URL shortener. And if you’re not, come and talk to me, I know a really great custom link shortener you can use! But, did you know there are some big no-nos when it comes to URL shortening?

Things that can cost you reach, brand awareness and – worst of all – clicks! We all want more clicks, don’t we? Here I’ll take you through the top URL shortening mistakes and how to avoid them.

The 7 Deadly Sins of URL Shortening

Don’t worry, if you’re violating these rules, you’re not alone. I’ve seen Madonna do it wrong:

Madonna Has Ugly Tweets

marketing legend Chris Voss doing it wrong:

Chris Voss is sharing ugly short links

and even Rand Fishkin doing it wrong – although noticeably better:

Rand Fishkin sharing a generic short URL

All of their errors have a common theme…

They don’t care enough about their links.

They are completely undervaluing the opportunity to do something better.

Why taking care with your short links is important

When you’re sharing content online, especially as a brand, people will judge every aspect of what you are putting out there. From the hashtag you used, to your bio profile – and yes, even to the way the link looks. So in order to get the most out of a social post, you should take a few extra seconds to think about how your link will look when sharing it with other people.

Why?

Well, for starters, it’s been proven to increase click-through rate significantly. Here are our stats and here’s Bitly’sBut there’s also additional brand awareness and trust factors coming into play. When people share your content online, they will likely use the same link, which means your awareness can spread from not just the content you post, but the content others share on your behalf.

With that being said, let’s take a look at some of the most common mistakes people make when using their link shortener.

How Rebrandly Works

1. Using a Random URL Slug

Social Media Examiner is using a generic short link

Using a random URL slug – or sometimes called slashtag – is the largest problem facing social media marketers right now.

Think I’m exaggerating? What would you do if you just stumbled into an extra 100 website visitors a month? And all it takes is a couple minutes of your time – or, even better, an employee’s time.

Social media managers and digital marketers will A/B test an ad or landing page like it’s going to change their life, yet they can’t spend the extra 2 minutes on social media to make their link “pretty” with a branded domain and custom keyword for the URL slug.

May I suggest that you always spend the extra time up front, and reap the long-term benefits of increased link trust and even a possible minor SEO boost.

Use a Descriptive Benefit-Driven URL Slug

This is where Rand got it right. Unfortunately, because he used bit.ly a public generic URL shortener that is blacklisted, this won’t help Rand much with his rankings for “voiceSEO”.

And it’s worth noting, with a name as big as his, he isn’t going to lose much trust from using a generic domain name in his link. But chances are you aren’t Rand Fishkin. And if you are – hi Rand, huge fan!

When creating a short link, think about what it is from the content that you are sharing that will really wow people. Then put that term into the URL slug. I’ve used terms like “Get-More-Traffic” or “Twitter-Cheatsheet” or “boost-customer-happiness.” Find the sweet spot between making sure it is related simultaneously to the customer/user and the URL you are sharing.

Remember, people can remember phrases and spell common words, but they can’t remember or spell random gibberish.

2. Using a Generic Domain

What is this, 2010?

URL shortening is now a mature industry with plenty of advanced features. One of those features is the ability to instantly and cheaply connect branded domains. You can do it in Bitly, you can do it using yourls, or you can use Rebrandly. Whichever one suits you is fine by me. (Please choose Rebrandly, PLEASE!)

OK, but seriously, we do have the domain search and purchase feature, which makes the process of finding and buying the right domain to use as your custom link shortener pretty turnkey.

Let me give you a few reasons to start using your own custom link shortener:

Branding – you’re going to share links online, do you want to represent your brand, or someone else’s?

Trust – again we are doing this so that people feel they can trust the link they are clicking on. It’s true that most of that trust starts with your brand’s relationship with the customer, but it continues all the way into the link. What are people thinking right before they click on the link? Something like, “where will this take me?” And, “this better be worth my time.” Link trust breaks that barrier down and gets more clicks. Psychology man, use it!

Better SEO – Using any link shortener does not have an effect on SEO. However, click-through rate does. If using a branded link shortener increases CTR, you will have more clicks and better rankings because of it. This isn’t a magical or noticeable increase for most people or brands, but it’s there.  We will soon be completing a case study on the effects branded URL shorteners have on SEO. In the meantime you can find out all you need to know about SEO and URLs here.

Better Tracking – Yes, you can track links just fine with a generic URL shortener. But when you use multiple custom domains, you can segment your content by domain and track campaigns accordingly. Or you can also use advanced features to make campaigns. For example, I use brandings.link when sharing content related to branding, and I use rebrandly.blog when sharing our own blog posts. I do this to separate out the two types of content into separate domain “buckets”, as well as to provide additional value to my audience by providing keywords related to what they should expect to see on the other side of the link.

3. Not Using UTM Parameters

If you’ve ever been in Google Analytics, then you know that not all traffic is tracked back to its source. Sometimes traffic from Twitter, or other places, comes in as “direct.”

If you’re a social media marketer whose job depends on the results you provide, this can be really bad, as you are losing credit for website traffic and conversions.

To prevent this, I recommend always using UTM parameters when sharing your own content. Rebrandly has built out this process natively, making major improvements over Google’s URL builder.

Rebrandly UTM Builder

Simply add your URL and fill out:

  • The campaign source – which is usually the website referring you, like “twitter”
  • The medium – which will be something like “post” or “ad”
  • And the campaign – like “social-media” or “summer-giveaway.”

Then change your URL slug, and create a branded link to share on social media. Bonus points for using the Rebrandly Chrome extension (or Firefox – whatever floats your boat!).

This will allow a clean traffic report inside Google Analytics. Just click Acquisition, Campaigns, All Campaigns, and see how much traffic is coming in from each link:

Clear Campaign Reporting Inside Google Analytics When Using UTM Parameters

You can of course also see this in your Rebrandly dashboard, but with Google Analytics you can track various other things, like time on page and conversions, a little bit better.

4. Reporting on Metrics that Include Tons of Bot Traffic

Let me guess, you shared a post to your 500 followers and then, boom, you got 45 website visitors off it? Even though you didn’t get a single retweet…

Probably not! What you are looking at is mostly bot traffic. Bots are everywhere online and they crawl all your pages and click all your links, skewing your data. Some generic URL shortening services do not remove bot traffic from their reports, which is just ridiculously rude to marketers and gets their hopes up.

There are a few ways to double check the click report from a URL shortener with other data sources. First, start with Google Analytics. If you used UTM parameters in the link, you will see how many new page views and unique visitors came in through those parameters. You can compare results.

While some of the discrepancies in clicks could have been real people that simply “bounced” before getting the page to load, if you’re looking at a difference of over 25%, it’s probably due to bot traffic. It’s best to report on Google Analytics’ numbers rather than the URL shortener numbers.

Next up, you can use Twitter analytics, or other native advertising analytics tools, to see what their reports say. But remember, if you shared a link online, someone else could have picked up your URL and shared it themselves. That’s great for getting you more traffic, but not great if you’re using native analytics platforms to analyze clicks. In this case, I would prefer to go with the URL shortener data, rather than the analytics data.

Now, if you’re using Rebrandly, we remove all bot clicks right away. And if you’re curious how many bot clicks we actually removed, you can connect your ClickMeter account and take a look. There’s tons of ‘em:

ClickMeter Click Count Bot/Spider Report

5. Making Your Links Too Short

Yes… It’s called a link shortener, but again, it’s not 2010. We can now shorten links to our benefit, not just for shrinking purposes. Since Twitter standardized all URLs to be 23 characters, size doesn’t actually matter when creating your links. However, I would go with shorter over longer, if there were two equally appealing options.

If you’re thinking of a domain and your name is Acme Tires, don’t do this:

acmtrs.xyz

Instead, do this:

acmetires.xyz or just acme.xyz or tires.xyz

Depending on your brand and the keywords you are going after, any of them could be fine.

And if you’ve already got a domain and are sharing a link on hubcaps, don’t do this:

acme.link/hbcps

Instead, just make it full length:

acme.xyz/hubcaps

Or even make it a little bit more benefit driven:

Acme.xyz/get-awesome-hubcaps

How Rebrandly Works

6.   Link Shortening a Shortened Link

This is a pet peeve of mine. Ever click on a link and it is taking forever for the page to load? That could be because you’re facing a double redirect – or the site is just really slow to load.

Basically the link you click on is sending people from one URL to another, then to a third. It should happen instantly so that it goes unnoticed. If you are going to shorten a link, make sure it’s the end destination and not someone else’s already shortened URL.

7.   Not Capitalizing Keywords

You want to know the problem with a lot of the generic link shorteners out there?

They treat uppercase letters differently to lowercase.

Imagine you’re speaking at an event, and want everyone to go to derric.link/slides to get the slide deck you’re talking about. (That’s a real example, by the way, if you want to download a presentation about social media tactics.) Imagine if you have to explain, “Oh it’s a capital ‘S,’” to everyone.

It doesn’t make sense… That’s not how the human mind works. We don’t want to remember whether something is uppercase or lowercase.

That’s why Rebrandly isn’t case sensitive – So people can find your links easier.

For that reason, you can easily capitalize all of your keywords to make them stand out. Remember, it’s all about getting attention and building trust. What stands out more?

rebrand.ly/growth-hackers

or

Rebrand.ly/Growth-Hackers

It’s a minor difference maybe, but it’s these small things that can make you stand out in a busy newsfeed. So capitalize on it and capitalize it up!

Final Thoughts

URL shortening isn’t all that tricky. You take something lengthy and ugly and make it short and cute. But somewhere along the way, people started to neglect their links and began making things short and ugly.

It’s like we forgot that people actually see the link!

This is presenting you and me with an opportunity to outshine our competition. If we jump on the link branding wave, we may just rise to the top of the social media cesspool and get the attention our brands deserve.

 

What do you think? Will you stop committing these deadly sins? Or will you fall victim to social media marketing monotony? Did I miss another URL shortening faux pas? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Further Reading:

This Article is About:

  • Guide to URL shortening
  • URL shortening tips
  • URL shortening mistakes
  • How to create short URLs

Originally Posted: August 17th, 2017.
Post Updated: July 19th, 2018.

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Head of Growth at Rebrandly. Derric is a lifelong entrepreneur and passionate about helping startups and marketers not suck. He speaks, practices, and blogs about growth and digital marketing on Rebrandly and across the universe.