The URL Slug: How to Choose the Right Keyword When Creating Short Links

What is a URL Slug and How to Choose The Right Keyword for Your Short Links

Using Keywords in Your Short Links to Build Link Trust and Drive More Clicks

Ever see those ugly short links?

With unpronounceable URL slugs?

Like “bit.ly/k9Tu5” or “tinyurl.com/6Mm4z.”

Doing this with your short links is a total missed opportunity for building link trust and increasing click-through rate.

And you’ve probably known that for a while now and still share random-generated links…

I won’t deny that sometimes it’s OK. Sometimes it’s easier. Sometimes it doesn’t matter much.

But it’s always a missed opportunity to go the extra mile and impress your audience. Stand out. Be different. “Innovate.”

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So I want to share with you a lesser known secret about URL slugs, when using them to create short links, that will help improve your click-through rate and make you stand out from the crowd.

Let’s dive in…

But first…

What is a URL Slug?

A URL slug is the part of a URL or link that comes after the domain extension. In websites, this can be used to SEO optimize the URL by showing Google the structure of your site and the contents of the page in question.

How is the URL Slug of a Short Link Different?

But for a URL shortener, it doesn’t work the same way…

You see, URL shortener’s use 301 redirects to forward you from one link (the short link) to a webpage (the destination URL), which is typically the long URL on your site where you want people to go.

A 301 redirect is telling Google, “Don’t look here, look there.” And that is for everything, including the so-called “link juice” you would get from having a keyword and SEO driven URL slug.

So, no, adding a keyword to your short link is not going to improve your SEO… Directly.

And you should not just create a bunch of short links with great keywords in the URL slug, then share them online, just in the hopes of this magically getting you better search engine rankings. That will not happen.

Instead, you need to think about the URL slug of your short links in an entirely different way…

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How Can Using a Keyword in My Short Link URL Slug Benefit Me?

Using the proper URL slug in your short link could lead to more clicks on a certain link or anchor text within a blog post or piece of content in a few ways:

  1. If it is memorable, people could recollect it at a later time and type in the short link.
  2. If it is benefit-driven or compelling, people may see the URL slug and be convinced it’s what they are looking for from within the link (yes, the URL slug itself is selling the click).
  3. If it is masking a confusing, lengthy, or scary looking URL.

While the link itself is never a standalone reason to click, there will be people reading your headline, title, anchor text, description… Whatever is encouraging the click and describing the destination… That are still a little bit up in the air on clicking.

Top Shop Missed Branded Short Link with Keyword URL Slug Example

If you’ve got something actionable inside the link, it could be the tipping point. And this is especially true when the actual destination URL is:

  • Somewhere the user is unlikely to have heard of.
  • A very poorly optimized page URL that has random numbers or unclear text describing the contents of that page.
  • An affiliate page or link.
  • A URL with UTM parameters or code in it.

People are still a little paranoid about tracking parameters and ugly URLs, and they are still a bit paranoid about generic looking short links as well. Your job is to make it look clean and custom.

Example of Short Link with Proper Keyword in URL Slug

So by masking your ugly destination URL within a short link, you can influence user behavior and therefore have an indirect effect on traffic and rankings.

Note: Please don’t mask links in a malicious way. Tricking people into going somewhere they ultimately do not want to be is just wrong and scummy. Don’t be scummy. Instead provide value with your link masking efforts.

What Keywords Should I Use in My URL Slug?

So this is not about SEO. Which means your strategy here varies greatly from your permalink URL slug strategy.

This is why most people are in fact doing it wrong.

Instead of writing your URL slug for Google, you have to write it 100% for the user.

What is the benefit they are getting from clicking the link and how do you convey that in as few of characters as possible?

Making the URL Slug Benefit-Driven

Let’s take a recent blog post we did here on the Rebrandly blog called “UTM Parameters Made Simple.”

We actually missed an opportunity ourselves when creating the short link to this post, because we used, “rebrandly.news/UTM-Parameters.” That is the main keyword of the blog post, so naturally it seemed like a good fit.

But there’s a problem…

No one wakes up in the morning wanting to learn about UTM Parameters.

They actually want the benefit of UTM parameters, which is better tracking and attribution of their marketing efforts. They want to know what’s working and where to spend their marketing budget.

So a better URL slug for this post would have been, “rebrandly.news/Better-Tracking” or “rebrandly.news/Track-Your-Marketing-Bro” or something along those lines.

Does that make sense?

So instead of copying the SEO optimized keyword or main concept of the blog post into your URL slug, you should copy the benefit of the post.

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Making the URL Slug Memorable

Beyond making the URL slug speak to a specific benefit and really entice a click, you need to make it legible, and memorable.

Being memorable helps in two ways.:

  1. It helps you find the link a little faster making it easier to share with others.
  2. It helps others easily recall the link, and the brand behind it, in order to build a lasting impression.

Backing Up Your URL Slug Keyword Choice with Data

We are currently conducting a study into just how much lift in CTR you can expect from doing this, but the study will for the most part be inconsequential, as it will vary widely from channel to channel. For instance, some channels like LinkedIn (and possibly even Facebook) it may matter nearly not at all, while others, like Slack, or an industry forum, it may have a huge impact.

Regardless of the results (and I hate not backing claims with data, but in this case it feels fairly safe), we can be fairly certain that the value of using a custom URL slug over a generic “6Jle0” is always going to be better.

Your link will be memorable, easier to type, and clear as to the destination and purpose of the link.

Final Thoughts

URL slugs for URL shorteners are not about SEO. So you need to rewire your brain when it comes to creating short links.

In order to maximize the effectiveness of your content, you need to think about every aspect the user comes into contact with, including the link they are actually clicking on.

Yes, it is one of the least important aspects of crafting great content. Start with the image, then move onto the headline, and the hashtags… Then finally the link itself.

Most people skip this last step. This last optimization. This last opportunity to do something kinda cool and unique with their content.

But you’re not going to miss your chance to impress anymore, right?

How else have you been using the URL slug of your URL shortener?

Are there more opportunities I didn’t discuss?

Have any data of situations where using a keyword over random-generated text made an improvement?

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

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Further Reading:

This Article is About:

  • Slug URL
  • URL Slug
  • What are URL Links
  • Shorten a link

Originally Posted: July 13th, 2017.
Post Updated: May 16th, 2019.




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.