By TinyURL Marketing
Last updated on August 17, 2023
What are URL shorteners? What are URL shorteners used for? Why would someone want to pay for a URL shortener when there are plenty of free options? We dive deep into the history, uses, and value of URL shorteners in this comprehensive guide.
URL shorteners have been around for a long time, but not many people understand how they work – or how to use them most effectively in their online business.
We’ll cover all there is to know in this comprehensive guide to URL shorteners. By the end of this post, you’ll understand how URL shorteners work on a technical level and the surprising benefits and use cases they can provide to the modern business owner.
Let’s get started!
A URL shortener is an app that allows you to take long, unwieldy URLs and turn them into shorter, more aesthetically pleasing URLs.
Here’s how it works:
The original URL still exists, as the shortened URL merely redirects the user to the longer URL. Truly, it’s as simple as setting up a digital signpost for your browser to follow.
It’s a simple process, but URL shorteners have a surprisingly wide array of benefits and use cases. We’ll discuss all those at length, so stick around!
Back in 2002, a man named Kevin Gilbertson was sending emails to his unicycling newsletter subscribers.
He was having a lot of trouble with getting the longer links in those emails to work, as the formatting limitations of the time meant that many of them weren’t clickable upon sending.
To fix this problem, Kevin –a 24-year-old computer engineer– developed TinyURL, the world’s first URL shortener.
Word started spreading quickly, and users started signing up en masse once they realized the service’s potential. Within a few years, TinyURL had become a staple tool for businesses and users worldwide.
Users weren’t the only ones to take notice. A few people saw the monetary potential in such a tool, and nearly 100 competing services sprung up to try and capitalize on the demand. Some of the more notable ones to follow in TinyURL’s footsteps include bit.ly, Rebrandly, and the now defunct goo.gl.
Eventually, the link shortening services began offering advanced use cases like branded domains, link analytics, and more.
The rest, as they say, is history.
To understand how URL shorteners work, we need to go through a quick primer on how URLs work.
URLs, or Uniform Resource Locators, are the addresses of webpages on the internet.
They’re made up of several parts:
Together, these parts guide your web browser to the correct webpage on the internet.
A URL shortener is a tool that generates short and catchy URLs that send traffic over to long and unwieldy destination URLs.
It’s like a nickname for a long, complicated name. The short URL is easier to share and remember but still leads to the same webpage as the original long URL.
Here’s a step-by-step breakdown of how a URL shortener works:
When someone clicks on the short URL, the URL shortener redirects them to the original, long URL. Here’s how that process works:
There are several types of URL shorteners, each with its own method of redirecting users to the original URL:
A branded domain is a domain that incorporates the name of the brand or a variant of it within its structure.
Take, for instance, the New York Times. They utilize a customized vanity domain – https://nyti.ms/ – which seamlessly redirects to their main domain.
This strategic use of a branded domain serves to amplify their brand recognition, as each shortened URL inherently carries the brand’s name. It also fosters a sense of trust among users, who are generally more inclined to click on a link that features a familiar and reputable brand.
Some link shorteners provide analytics on the use of the short URL. This can include data such as the number of clicks, the geographic location of users, and the sources of the clicks (like social media, email, or direct traffic).
Some custom URL shorteners provide analytics on the use of the short URL. This can include data such as:
The time of day the URL was clicked.
The type of browser, OS, or devices used when clicking the link.
For example, here’s a view of a TinyURL link analytics dashboard:
There’s a lot we didn’t show in this screenshot; we’ll share more a bit later in the post.
While custom URL shorteners can make your links prettier, they also provide many more surprising benefits.
URL shorteners are like a magic wand for unwieldy web addresses, simplifying long and complex URLs and making them more readable, memorable, and shareable.
This makes the links easier to use and helps avoid typing errors, broken links, and formatting issues that can occur with long URLs.
For instance, an ugly URL like this:
…can become something as simple as “amzn.to/product“.
This not only makes the link easier on the eyes, but also makes it more user-friendly. It’s a win-win!
Space is a precious commodity on services like X (formerly Twitter), where there’s a strict 280-character limit, or SMS, where there’s a 160-character limit.
Every character counts, and long URLs will eat up your limit quickly.
In these situations, a URL shortener can make your life much easier. For example, if your URL is 100 characters long, a URL shortener might shrink it to just 20 characters. That leaves you with 80 extra characters to get your message across in a more detailed fashion.
Branding is crucial in today’s digital world. You want your audience to recognize your brand instantly, and believe it or not, URL shorteners can help with that.
For starters, some services allow for custom URLs, which can include your brand name.
URL shorteners can also be a powerful branding tool. They allow businesses to create branded links that reflect their identity and message.
By using custom domains that are relevant and meaningful to their brand, businesses can increase their brand awareness, engagement, and conversions.
Here are some examples of businesses that use custom URL shorteners to improve their brand recognition:
Malware and scams are everywhere, and most people are understandably wary of clicking on links they don’t recognize.
That’s another area where URL shorteners shine. If a link is shortened using a custom domain, it can appear more trustworthy, increase click-through rates, and drive more traffic to your site.
For example, “tinyurl.com/blog-post” is less trustworthy than example.com/blog-post (where your branded domain fills in for “example”), as people can make a clearer, more direct link to your brand.
Another situation in which URL shorteners can help improve trust is in trimming long links filled with extra parameters.
Long links filled with UTM parameters and other link clutter can intimidate some people or otherwise appear off-putting. Replacing those with shorter links whose intent and destination are clarified in the alias is more likely to generate clicks.
Last but not least, many link shorteners offer analytics. This means you can track how many times your link was clicked, where those clicks came from, and when they happened.
You likely already use an analytics tool, but the tracking and analytics capabilities of a premium URL shortening service can shore up weaknesses in tools like Google Analytics where you can’t differentiate between different sources of direct traffic.
We’ll discuss the tracking and analytics capabilities in more detail later in the post, so keep reading to learn how it can upgrade your marketing capabilities.
SMS marketing is a powerful tool in the modern digital landscape.
However, the 160-character limit per message in SMS marketing can make it challenging to include long URLs while maintaining cost efficiency.
Link shorteners are a powerful tool in the SMS marketer’s toolkit, as they help save valuable message space, fit more content, and calculate click-through rates (CTR) for their campaigns.
They also enable the creation of branded links, which increase trust and recognition among recipients.
Imagine sending a link that reads “example.com/YourBrandSale” instead of a long, complex URL like example.com/product_12/?_encoding=UTF8&pd_rd_w=kYZwu&
It’s not only more readable but also reinforces the quality of your brand with every message.
Email marketing is another area where URL shorteners shine.
With an average ROI of $36 for every dollar spent, email marketing is a golden opportunity for marketers. But, like any digital strategy, it has its challenges – especially when it comes to links.
Link shorteners help you avoid these issues by providing short, clean, and branded URLs that effectively track direct traffic without the need for unsightly UTM tags.
Author’s note: Tracking direct traffic sources was a particularly tricky problem in my business, and TinyURL was surprisingly effective in helping me figure that out. We highly recommend reading this guide on how to get more value out of direct traffic if you’re having issues tracking direct traffic in your business.
Moreover – as we previously mentioned – custom URL shorteners are mobile-friendly.
This is vitally important, as 81% of all emails are opened and read on mobile devices.
With the majority of people reading emails on their phones, it’s essential that you mitigate the negative effects of long URLs that will quickly eat up valuable screen space. Once again, shortened links are the answer.
Offline marketing – including traditional channels like print, radio, TV, or billboards – can benefit greatly from URL shorteners.
While offline marketing can be difficult to measure and track, link shorteners paired with QR codes can bridge the gap between the physical and digital worlds.
Here’s an example that shows the full potential of link shortening in offline marketing:
Let’s say you make three billboards, each with a QR code pointing to your home page.
If you create identical QR codes with a direct link to your website, you won’t know which billboard drives the most traffic.
But if you create separate shortened URLs for each billboard and embed them into unique QR codes, you can use the link analytics on your URL shortening service to identify which billboard is most effective.
A comprehensive analytics dashboard – like the one on TinyURL – can even show you which days of the week, times of day, and locations generate the most traffic, helping you plan out future campaigns with more precise data about what works best.
Additionally, custom branded domains can make links easier to remember and type, enhancing the effectiveness of offline marketing campaigns where you rely on people remembering the link and manually entering it into their phone.
UTM tags are parameters added to the end of a URL to track the source, medium, campaign, term, and content of web traffic.
While they’re useful for measuring and optimizing online marketing campaigns, they can also make URLs long, complex, and unappealing.
Link shorteners offer a neat and aesthetically pleasing solution. They allow online marketers to create custom short links for each distribution channel or ad CTA, thereby performing the same data-tracking functions as UTM links without the ugly link clutter.
Another best practice for using custom URL shorteners is to leverage branded domains.
Branded domains are custom domains that reflect your brand’s identity and message. Instead of the link shortener’s domain, you can use a domain that aligns with your brand.
You can easily create a branded domain in TinyURL with just a few clicks. If you don’t have one, TinyURL makes it easy to register one through the dashboard.
If you already have a branded domain – or if you want to use a subdomain that branches off of your primary domain – it’s easy to transfer DNS to TinyURL and set everything up.
If you’re using TinyURL for a business use case, We don’t recommend using TinyURL.com as your domain. While it’s a terrific product, it’s also been freely accessible to the internet at large for over 20 years. Spammers have a long history of abusing free, public services, and you don’t want your audience to associate you with that crowd.
We also recommend ditching the default alias in favor of something custom, as it will give your links a better chance of being noticed and clicked.
When you’re using URL shorteners, one of the first things you’ll notice is the default alias.
These are the random combinations of letters and numbers automatically generated when you shorten a URL, resulting in something like https://tinyurl.com/g3f1d35. While this may be the quickest solution, it usually isn’t the best approach.
Default aliases can be cryptic and off-putting to users. They’re often a jumble of characters that don’t provide any context or information about the link’s content. This can make users hesitant to click, as they may perceive the link as untrustworthy or irrelevant.
Instead of relying on default aliases, consider using custom aliases that include keywords or phrases related to the link’s content.
For instance, if you’re promoting a Halloween sale for your online store, you might use a custom alias like “spooky-discounts”. This results in a URL like https://tinyurl.com/spooky-discounts, which is far more descriptive and user-friendly.
As we mentioned, one of the most powerful features of premium URL shorteners like TinyURL is their ability to provide detailed analytics about your links. These analytics can offer valuable insights into how your links are being used, helping you measure and optimize their performance.
We’re not saying you should replace your current analytics program with that of a link shortener. That wouldn’t be a good idea.
The real opportunity lies in using the analytics capabilities of both.
Augmenting the comprehensive data-tracking of a dedicated system like Google Analytics or Adobe Analytics with the smart implementation of an enterprise-level URL shortener like TinyURL can supercharge your marketing efforts.
We already discussed the potential for using TinyURL to track the performance of offline marketing campaigns in a way that normal Analytics can’t. But there’s so much more you can do:
UTM links are a common tool for tracking the performance of online marketing campaigns.
These links include parameters at the end of the URL that provide information about the source, medium, campaign, term, and content of web traffic.
While UTM links are incredibly useful for measuring and optimizing your campaigns, they can also make your URLs long, complex, and unappealing to users.
URL shorteners can shorten your UTM links, making them more readable and shareable without losing tracking capabilities.
Moreover, custom URL shorteners can provide additional analytics that complements or even replaces the information provided by UTM parameters.
For example, they can show you how many clicks each link receives, where those clicks are coming from, and what actions users take after they click. This can give you a more comprehensive understanding of your campaign’s performance and help you make data-driven decisions to improve it.
Finally, a URL shortener can be a great tool for integrating your online and offline marketing efforts. One way to do this is by pairing shortened URLs with QR codes.
QR codes are scannable codes that link to web pages or other online content. When a user scans a QR code with their smartphone, they’re taken directly to the linked content, making it a seamless experience.
URL shorteners can help you create these QR codes and link them to your shortened URLs. For example, TinyURL enables you to create QR codes in multiple file formats:
With TinyURL, you can track and measure the usage of your QR codes, just like you would with any other link. You can see how many times each QR code is scanned, when and where those scans are happening, and what actions users take after scanning.
This can be particularly useful for offline marketing materials like posters, flyers, or billboards where users are unlikely to type in any links you share with them.
Not sure if a URL shortener is right for your business? Consider whether you could use help in any of these areas.
Driving traffic to key online destinations is critical to any business strategy.
These destinations could range from your company’s main website to a specific blog post, a scheduling form, a social media page, or any other digital platform where you want your audience to engage.
Link shorteners can be a game-changer in this process by transforming a long, complex URL into a simple, attractive link that encourages clicks and conversions.
If you’re investing time and resources into creating content, it’s only natural that you’d want to know the effectiveness of your efforts. This is where the analytics provided by URL shorteners come into play.
URL shorteners can provide you with valuable data about your links. They can tell you how many people are clicking on your links, where these clicks are coming from (e.g., from social media, email, or your website), when they are clicking (allowing you to identify peak traffic times), and what actions they are taking after clicking (such as making a purchase, signing up for a newsletter, or downloading a resource).
This information can help you understand how your audience interacts with your content and can guide your future marketing strategies.
Sending the wrong or broken links can be detrimental to your business. It can lead to a poor user experience, lost sales, and a damaged reputation.
URL shorteners can help you avoid these issues by easily editing your links without changing their appearance or breaking them. This is particularly useful when you need to update a link in a piece of content that’s already been published or shared.
For instance, if you’ve shared a link to a product that’s no longer available, you can update the link to direct users to a similar product or to a page where they can sign up to be notified when the product is back in stock. This way, you’re not losing potential customers, and you’re providing a better user experience.
Trust and brand recall are crucial for any business. When your audience recognizes and trusts your brand, they’re more likely to engage with your content and convert into customers.
URL shorteners can help you build trust and improve brand recall by allowing you to create branded links, which can increase your brand awareness, engagement, and conversions.
Your website’s domain name is often the first point of contact between your brand and potential customers. It must be memorable, meaningful, and appealing.
URL shorteners let you hit ‘reset’ on domains you’ve already selected. If you’re rethinking a domain name you decided on long before you stopped to think about link aesthetics and performance, you can easily set yourself up with a shorter, sleeker domain and use it to set up redirects.
As your business grows and your digital presence expands, managing your links can become daunting. A premium link shortener can help you take a more organized approach to your links.
In addition to the time and location-based data We shared earlier, a premium service like TinyURL lets you:
Tag links for easier organization
Filter by tag or alias to easily find the links you need
View analytics during a certain period
View top referral sources and languages
View top browsers, operating systems, and devices
These data points can help you keep track of your links and understand which ones are performing well and which ones need improvement.
If any of these points resonate with your current business needs, then a URL shortener could be a valuable tool.
It’s not just about making a link shorter, but about enhancing your brand, improving user experience, and gaining valuable insights into your audience’s behavior.
Remember, the key to successfully using a URL shortener lies in understanding your business needs and how a URL shortener can address them.
Whether you want to drive traffic, track results, avoid incorrect links, build brand recall, rethink your domain name, or better organize your links, a premium link shortening service like TinyURL can be a powerful tool in your digital marketing arsenal.
Branded domains for link shortening can go a long way towards reinforcing brand recall and keeping your business top-of-mind among customers.
In this article, we cover how you can best use branded domains with a custom domain link shortener.Read more
URLs can get long, complex, and distracting, but they’re an essential part of promoting your podcast. This is where URL shorteners come in – they make it much easier to direct people to your show’s site, social profiles, and other digital properties.Read more
This article covers some of the basics of how to sell on Instagram, as well as tips and tricks to give you an edge over competitors who are already there.
Spoiler: link shortening comes in handy!Read more