Finding a way to climb up in PageRank without spending a ton of money is good for any small business. While URL shorteners have been around for many years, marketing experts say the manner in which they're used can impact engagement with current and future customers, as well as rankings.
The Redirect Risk
URL shortening companies use 301 redirects, which send your customers through their platform to eventually land on your content. While there has been a concern that using URL shorteners may cause PageRank dilution, Google Webmasters said that “if we see that 301, that will pass PageRank along to the final destination… as they relate to SEO… the vast majority of well-behaved URL shorteners have good uptime and also pass PageRank and anchor text because they use a 301 redirect.”
“URL shortened links from third party sources act similar to any other third party backlink,” said Dallas McLaughlin, Director of Interactive Marketing at The James Agency. “The higher the domain and page authority of the linking site, the more valuable the backlink and more impactful that link becomes to organic search rankings. The downside is that link shortened URLs are treated as a 301 redirect. However, recent research proved that 301 redirects are now much closer to passing high-90s to 100 percent of link equity making this more or less a non-issue.”
Use Reputable Companies
Make sure to send your campaign through reputable and established URL shortener companies. Bit.ly, Ow.ly , and Google's new Firebase Dynamic Links (FDL) that will be replacing Goo.gl short links on April 13th, are all trusted brands by customers and reduce service provider risk.
“Many URL shorteners do come and go over time, and when they do go out of business, so do your links from everywhere you have placed them, and where others have reposted/retweeted them. Be sure to go with an established company that has been around and will be around,” said David DeMar, SEO strategist at Colling Media.
“You also don’t want to make the mistake of using short URL’s and then landing people on unrelated content, (which can sometimes even be a home page), because if it’s not relevant to where the short link came from and topic, your bounce rates go up, and your time-on-site metrics go down – this can lead to a negative effect on rankings.”
With an increased risk of cyber attacks, customers are more cautious about clicking on links that aren’t attached to reputable domains.
“Users surveyed are reluctant to click on a URL with a top-level domain they do not recognize,” said McLaughlin. “This is why it's important to choose a well-known URL shortener.”
Customize Your Shortener
Another tactic businesses are using to build online trust and brand equity is to create their own branded shortened URL.
“Many URL shorteners offer you the option of using your own short domain, meaning that your shortened URLs will use your domain instead of the service’s domain,” said Ville Salminen, founder of Cordcutting.com and Flixable. “If you go this route, you can mitigate the service provider risk, because you would still own the domain even if the service ceased to exist. Therefore, your links wouldn’t disappear with the service. Another benefit of using your own short domain is that the domain will carry your brand, driving brand impressions, visibility, and, according to some sources, higher click-through rates.”
Compare Your Efforts
With any URL shortener solution, take advantage of their free analytic service to help track clicks, referrers, conversions, reach, social sharing, etc.
“We use different URL shorteners for different purposes depending on our clients’ needs. Stand-alone URL shorteners like Google's* work well in many cases when creating a simple short link. Since it's tied to the Google account you’re using, you get a user-specific page that tracks all your Original URL's, Dates Created, Short URL's, and basic tracking of the total number of click to the links. There are also paid shorteners, with varying degrees of features and data tracking,” said DeMar.
“Seeing the data allows you to begin executing some simple tests, trying different messages and seeing what works. Those little ‘wins’ add up over time, and sometimes you get lucky and your content really connects with readers.”
You can test the campaign with multiple link shorteners and discover which platform works the best and adjust accordingly.
“Major URL shorteners provide you with analytics that you can take advantage of when deciding which parts of your marketing campaign [need] more resources,” said Salminen. “For example, you could post one URL to one social media channel and another one to a different channel. By doing so, you would know almost immediately which social media channel is the most effective one for that campaign or post.”
The Ugly Link
So when is it best to use a URL shortener for campaigns? According to our experts, it’s when you need to improve the aesthetics and user experience.
“I recommend reserving the use of shortened URLs for places where the full URL would otherwise be visible,” said Mclaughlin. “That is, actually shortening a URL for visual reasons. For example, posting a full URL with the usual tracking parameters and dynamic variables visible inline with a Twitter or Facebook post can make your message look ‘ugly,' but a shortened URL saves on character count and is visually appealing.”
Shorter URLs also work well on print campaigns.
“Printed media is one place where you are better off using URL shorteners to replace your long original URLs. And if you use unique shortened URLs in print, you can then measure the success of your print campaigns as well,” said Salminen.
Other tips to using URL shorteners include:
- I’d also recommend reusing the same shortened URL each time that URL is reshared to keep all of your click and conversion metrics tied to the same referral source. – McLaughlin
- Clean up long URLs on social media and emails – DeMar
- Provide valuable and engaging content to land on – DeMar
- Keeping the number of moving parts (redirects) to a minimum is always the safest bet – Salminen
- There’s always a service provider risk associated with URL shorteners. That is why I would stress the importance of using reliable URL shorteners. – Salminen
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This article has been updated to reflect changes with the Google URL shortener service.