URL shorteners can turn any long and unwieldy website address into a short and sweet URL at the click of a button. Not only are short links easier to digest, but they can help you meet certain character limits and make your link performance seamless to track.
It sounds like magic, I know, but anyone with an internet browser can use link shorteners: social media managers, regular everyday Facebook moms, small business owners, TikTok tweens of all heights — and you!
Here’s everything you need to know about how to use URL shorteners and why they should be an essential part of your social media tool kit.
A URL shortener is a tool that creates a short, unique URL that will redirect to the specific website of your choosing.
Basically: they make a link shorter, simpler, and easier to look at. Your new, shorter URL will typically include the shortener site’s address plus a combination of random letters.
For example, if I punch in a URL like animalplanet.com/tv-shows/puppy-bowl/full-episodes/puppy-bowl-xvi into the link shortener in the Hootsuite Composer, I can click Shorten with Ow.ly to create a short, handy URL that uses fewer characters.
In some cases, you can even customize this mini URL with a custom phrase — we’ll dig into that more later.
If you’re sharing links across your social and communication channels, URL shorteners can be super handy. Let’s go over a few benefits of a short URL.
If you’re linking to a specific page buried deep on your website or are using UTM parameters to track your visitors (more on that below), you might find yourself wrestling with a lengthy URL.
An oversized URL will look clunky pretty much anywhere you use it—in social posts, shared via text, or pasted into an email.
But worse than that, long URLs also look super suspicious. With so many letters and backslashes and numbers and question marks, anything could happen when we click that link! Anything!
You’re sharing those links because you want traffic, so the last thing you want is for your audience to hesitate to click on your link because it looks like spam.
To ensure your link gets as many clicks as possible, use a link shortener that reduces the amount of questionable-looking characters. If your shortened link includes an identifiable keyword or phrase that lets people know the link is associated with a brand they trust, even better.
As we mentioned above, you can (and should) use UTM parameters to track where your traffic and clicks are coming from. Most link-shortening sites will offer tracking metrics that include information about who clicked your link, where, and when—info that will help you calculate your social media ROI.
To easily track your traffic’s source, create short links using different UTM parameters. Combine this with other analytics tools—like Google Analytics—and you’re setting yourself up for marketing success.
To keep things looking neat, tidy, and trackable, use a URL shortener that creates a link as short as possible. Link shorteners like Hootsuite’s Ow.ly make it easy to create custom UTM parameters while automatically shortening the link to make sure it’s clean and simple.
If brand awareness is part of your social media strategy, a custom URL shortener is one more tool to help spread the word.
URL shorteners that allow you to customize your short link offer a chance to name-drop your brand. Hootsuite’s link shortener, for example, lets you create a vanity short link in just a few clicks.
If you’re using a free web hosting service or have an ISP that’s less than exciting, a custom URL shortener can keep your brand front and center whenever you share links.
Depending on where you’re distributing your links, you may have to keep the character count in mind. For instance, for non-paying users, Twitter has a strict character limit of 280 — which includes links.
When you need to get a compelling point across in just a short sentence or two, keeping posts concise is key.
Shortened URLs give you more room for that poignant observation about politics or the perfect punctuating emoji for your killer joke about hot dogs.
Even for posts on Facebook or Instagram, where the character limits are in the thousands, it’s still best for readability and engagement to keep things short and sweet. Short URLs help avoid TL;DR syndrome.
Another benefit of shorter links? They’re great for messaging or emails, where longer links may be hard to read or disrupted altogether by line breaks.
Google’s URL shortener was discontinued back in 2019, but on the bright side, there are dozens of alternative options out there.
On the downside, though, there are dozens of alternative options out there. How do you know which to choose?
Our advice: look for shortener services that allow you to customize your link, have built-in detailed analytics or easily integrate into your social media workflow. A URL shortener that’s been around a while might also be more reliable and reputable and likely to avoid service closure or disruption.
Here are our top eight picks for the best URL shorteners.
Not only does Ow.ly shorten long links, but it can automatically apply tracking parameters at the same time. You can easily add UTM parameters for the traffic source, medium, or campaign all in one place. This takes the heavy lifting out of creating custom links yourself.
And because Ow.ly is integrated into your Hootsuite account, you can easily track and measure your link’s performance directly in your analytics dashboard.
Owly’s link settings seamlessly integrate with everything else you do within Hootsuite, so it’s an easy and secure option if you already use Hootsuite as your social media platform.
Best for: Marketers and small business owners looking for an all-in-one link shortener and tracker that integrates with your analytics platform.
Pricing: Hootsuite offers a range of plans suited for individuals and enterprises alike. Plans start at $99 per month.
Looking to hone in on custom URLs and QR codes? Bitly is a standalone app that creates digital connections such as links, QR codes, and link-in-bio pages.
Bitly’s link-shortening tool can create a unique back-half for your URL. This means you can add a branded topic, campaign name, or keyword if you want your link to include certain words instead of randomly generated characters.
A free account offers analytics and customization for one individual, but Basic and Enterprise subscriptions are available, too, which offer branded links, QR codes, richer data and multiple users.
While Bitly makes it easy to create a custom URL, if you plan to create over ten unique links per month, you’ll need to upgrade to a paid plan.
Best for: Solo business owners who are looking for a free link shortener to get started with.
Pricing: Bitly has a free plan that includes ten links per month, five of which can have a custom back half. Paid plans start at $8 per month.
Another standalone app, TinyURL is a straightforward option that gets the job done. Founded in 2002, TinyURL is the oldest link shortener out there, and it does everything you need it to do: turn a long link into a tiny new URL.
Customization is possible without logging in, making it an efficient option when you’re rushing to share the latest episode of your MasterChef Junior podcast.
One cool feature here: you can edit your TinyURL links. This comes in handy if your website has changed or you initially set up the wrong parameters and need to update them.
TinyURL’s basic plan offers free URL shortening as long as you’re okay with seeing ads across the website (its free plan is ad-supported). Otherwise, you can upgrade to a paid plan with additional features like URL editing, link tracking, and customization.
Best for: If you need to put together a short URL in a pinch, TinyURL is an efficient option.
Pricing: TinyURL has a free plan. Paid plans start at $9.99 per month.
With Rebrandly, you can create a branded short link of your own with a custom domain—even with a free account.
SujindersCookiePalace.com might be a great main URL to have, but when it comes to sharing on social, that character count adds up. A short, branded URL just for link sharing, like su.jinders, still gets your business name in there, without taking up precious space.
After you’ve signed up for a free account, you can connect your domain name and create up to 25 branded links per month.
Rebrandly also features tracking, optimization, and scaling tools in various packages.
One downside to Rebrandly? Its free plan only tracks up to 1,000 clicks. If you happen to share something that goes viral or tend to see more traffic to your website than this, then you may want to consider upgrading to a paid plan.
Best for: If you run a small business and want to share unique links across your various channels, Rebrandly’s free plan is a great option.
Pricing: Rebrandly has a free plan. Paid plans start at $13 per month.
Can’t wait to see how much traffic your URLs are getting? Get real-time notifications when links are clicked with the help of Hyperlink,
If the idea of frequent click notifications sounds *a bit* too distracting, you can also change the settings to hourly, daily, or weekly summaries.
Hyperlink also provides insightful per-click details and a live tracking dashboard: find out the device, location, and referral info for every visitor.
The app (for iOS and Android) is a nice complement to the Chrome extension for those who need to share links on the go. (You’re busy! We get it!)
Hyperlink also offers custom links and branded domains, but those features are only available with a paid plan.
Best for: Marketers who want to gain real-time insights on the go.
Pricing: Hyperlink has a free plan that includes up to 100 links per month. Paid plans start at $39 per month.
Another standalone app, Tiny.CC is a simple URL shortener. Similar to TinyURL, the free link shortener is no-frills and easy to use.
Simply enter a long URL and shorten it in seconds. You can also create a custom short URL, all without an account.
Best for: If you have a side hustle or small business, TinyCC is a useful and budget-friendly tool.
Pricing: If you want access to some of TinyCC’s premium features, paid plans start at $5 per month.
Data is valuable for your insights, right? Well, third-party companies are often interested in that information, too, which is why a cottage industry has popped up of businesses that actually pay you to shorten your links with them.
Shorte.ST is one of the higher-paying URL shorteners of the many on the web, with payout rates varying depending on your audience’s geography. (For example, Shorte.ST pays $14.04 CPM for U.S. traffic.)
In addition to cold hard cash, Shorte.ST offers a dashboard of thorough stats for review.
Best for: Affiliate marketers or anyone who wants to monetize a blog.
Pricing: Shorte.ST is free to join. You can find details about payout rates here.
Cuttly is an all-in-one link management platform. Whether you want to shorten a URL, generate QR codes, or set up a link-in-bio microsite, Cuttly offers many features.
You don’t need an account to use Cutlly or even to customize the URL, but an account will get you access to real-time analytics, including click-throughs and social media referrals.
Cuttly has a free custom URL shortener button you can add to your browser toolbar, so shortening your link takes one click.
If you opt for a paid plan, you get access to branded QR code generation to create a cohesive brand across your links, QR codes, and anything else in your link-in-bio page.
Best for: Marketers or small business owners looking for an accessible link management tool.
Pricing: Cuttly has a free plan that includes up to 30 links per month and link analytics for the last 30 days. Paid plans start at $12 per month.
You can make your URL smaller by using a link shortening tool. A URL shortener takes a long link and creates a short, unique URL that will redirect to the specific website of your choosing.
To shorten a URL for free, use a free link shortener such as Bitly, TinyURL, or Rebrandly.
To shorten a URL without Bitly, use a Bitly alternative. There are several URL shorteners to choose from, including Owly link shortener, TinyURL, Rebrandly, and other free link shortening tools.
Google URL shortener was discontinued in 2019. There are other URL shortener alternatives, such as Hootsuite’s Owly, Bitly, and more.
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