UTMs (a shortened version of a geekier Urchin Tracking Module) have been around for a few years now. One could say they rest peacefully on the plateau of productivity, as marketers around the world unconsciously use them throughout their busy days.
However, despite not being a hot marketing topic anymore, its convenience, allied to its ease of use, make this practice, that of shortening long URLs, used by more teams, in multiple situations, across industries.
What is URL shortening anyway?
Shortening an url is as easy as turning a long link like this:
Into something more pleasing to the eyes like this:
It’s really that simple. But why, you ask?
When short URLs first appeared, it was mainly due to the limit of characters in Twitter and other instant-messaging services. Twitter now has their own automatic link shortener (t.co), but back in 2002, TinyURL were the first ones to offer this service. The technology is now, at least, 16 years old. By the same time, this was the most sold phone in the world:
So yeah, it’s been around for a while.
Many more services have surfaced since then, as the reasons to use URL shortening grew.
Normal links can be overwhelming and hard to distribute. More specifically, if you’re using UTM parameters to attribute the sources of your traffic, it’s highly unlikely that someone will remember the full link the next time they want to access it quickly.
Short URLs are more aesthetically pleasing and easy to share.
On another note, many use this service as a way to track the clicks their link receives, as most URL shortener websites will provide this.
Pros & Cons of URL Shorteners
As many things in life, URL Shorteners have both advantages and disadvantages. Let’s start with some positives.
Benefits of URL Shorteners
Not only do shorter links look nicer, as we’ve already established, they also increase trust and build brand awareness, especially if you’re able to fully customize how they look (which we will get into as well).
Trust and effectiveness
As most brands use a reduced number of different providers (Bitly, TinyURL, etc), people got used to seeing these services in their digital experiences. Whether you’re using a branded shortened domain or not, people will be comfortable clicking your links.
With the rise of tracking, attribution and other marketing concerns links got messy. They’re full of parameters, utms, and other tactics to deliver as much information as possible to the marketer. Perhaps there’s a correlation between the “cleanliness” of a link and its click-through-rate (that’s another post right there).
Disadvantages of URL Shorteners
The major downside is that links from services like Goo.gl and Bitly can easily be blacklisted due to the amount of people using – or better yet, misusing them. Since you can’t tell where the link is leading based on random numbers and letters, these short links may come from hackers and spammers, which decreases link trust.
Another point is that these services may shut down and, in that case, so will all of your links, or they can simply expire.
Centralization of power
I read dystopian novels, so bear with me. Somehow, it gives me the chills to think that so much information is passed through a few selected companies. The internet should always aim for its own decentralization, not the other way around.
If we create and store links, from millions of websites, with one or two main providers, that’s an absurd power to have. That potentially gives power to other forces to control, ban, censor specific links (they don’t like) and favor/prefer others.
No free lunches = public analytics on each link
If you’re using Bitly, for example, all of your links will start with “bit.ly”.
A big inconvenience of a generic short link is that anyone can see its stats by adding a ‘+’ to the end of the URL.
That opens the door for very easy surveillance by your competitors to any of your campaigns. They can track the format of your links, how you structure campaigns and, more importantly, which geographies you’re targeting, and if you are succeeding or not (based on clicks, for example).
Ultimately, URL shortening most likely won’t deliver drastic positive results, but it’s worth considering for its benefits. It’s up to you to decide if this marketing tool is a right fit for your brand or not.