The 7 Deadly Sins of URL Shortening.
If you’re sharing content online, then you’re probably using a URL shortener.
And if you’re not, come talk to me, I know a really great custom URL shortener you can use. 😀
But did you know that there are some big no-nos when it comes to shortening URLs. Things that can be costing you reach, brand awareness, and worst of all, clicks (we all want more clicks, don’t we?).
And don’t worry, you’re not alone in violating these rules. I’ve seen Madonna do it wrong:
marketing legend Chris Voss is doing it wrong:
and even Rand Fishkin is doing it wrong (although noticeably better):
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 Extra Care of 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, to yes, even 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 is going to look when sharing with other people.
Well, for starters, it’s been proven to increase click-through rate by up to 34%.But there’s also an additional brand awareness / trust factor coming into play. And when people share your content online, they will likely keep 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.
1. Using a Random URL Slug
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 an employee’s time, even better).
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 shortlink, think about what it is from the content that you are sharing that will really wow people, and 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 a 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 – your 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, and if using a branded link shortener increases CTR, you will have first off, more clicks, and secondly, 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.
Better Tracking – Yes, you can track links just fine with a generic URL shortener, but when you use multiple custom domains, you can now 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 rebrand.ly when sharing our own blog posts. I do this to help separate out the two types of content into two 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 it’s 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.
Simply add your URL and fill out the campaign source – usually the website referring you, like “twitter” (bonus tip: use lowercase 100% of the time) – medium – something like “post” or “ad” – and campaign – like “social-media” or “summer-giveaway.”
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:
You can of course also see this in your Rebrandly dashboard, but with Google Analytics you may be able to 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 follower Twitter account 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. Bot’s are everywhere online and they crawl all your pages and click all your links, skewing your data. Some generic URL shorteners do not remove bot traffic from their reports, which is just ridiculously rude to marketers and get’s 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, and can compare results. While some of the discrepancy in clicks could have been real people that simply “bounced” before getting the page to load, if you’re looking at a discrepancy of over 25%, it’s probably due to bot traffic. 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 report says. 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 for using native analytics platforms for analyzing your clicks. In this case, I would prefer to go with the URL shortener data instead of the analytics data.
Now, if you’re using Rebrandly, we remove all bot clicks right away, and if you’re curious how many bots we actually removed, you can connect your ClickMeter account and take a look. There’s tons of ‘em:
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 for pure shrinking purposes. Since Twitter standardized all URLs to be 23 characters, size doesn’t actually matter when creating your link. 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:
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:
Instead just make it full length:
Or make it a little bit more benefit driven:
6. Link Shortening a Shortened Link
This is a pet peeve of mine. Ever click on a link and it is like 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 3rd. It should happen instantly so that it is hard to notice, but it’s a redundant practice. If you are going to shorten a link, make sure it is your end destination and not someone else’s already shortened URL.
7. Not Capitalizing Keywords
You want to know the problem with a lot of these generic link shorteners out there?
They treat uppercase differently than lowercase.
Imagine you’re speaking at an event, and want everyone to go to derric.link/slides (real example) to get the slide deck you’re talking on. 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 work. We don’t want to remember case.
That’s why Rebrandly is not case sensitive, so that people can find your links easier.
For that reason, you can easily capitalize all of your keywords. Make them stand out.
Remember, it’s all about getting attention and building trust. What stands out more?
Minor difference maybe, but you’re trying to do your best. So capitalize it up.
URL shortening isn’t all too tricky. You take something lengthy and ugly and make it short and cute. But somewhere along the way, people started neglecting their links, and 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.