A good URL shortener (aka link shortener) lets you do two things: 1. Share links that don’t use too many characters. 2. Measure performance.
For a human being, there are times when being short is patently not helpful: for example, reaching the infuriatingly high top cabinet in the kitchen where your partner keeps all the best snacks. (Popcorn! Just! Out! Of! Reach!)
But if you’re a URL, shorter is better, pretty much every time.
That’s why URL shorteners are such handy tools. Any long and unwieldy website address can be reduced to just a few characters in the click of a button.
And unlike a certain kitchen cupboard, URL shorteners are in reach of anyone with an internet browser—social media managers, regular everyday Facebook moms, small business owners, and TikTok tweens of all heights.
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.
Bonus: Get a free social media strategy template to quickly and easily plan your own strategy. Also use it to track results and present the plan to your boss, teammates, and clients.
What is a URL shortener?
URL shorteners are tools that create a super short, unique URL that will redirect to the specific website of your choosing.
Basically: they make a URL shorter and simpler.
Your new, shorter URL will typically include the shortener site’s address, plus a combination of random letters.
For example, if I punched in a URL like animalplanet.com/tv-shows/puppy-bowl/full-episodes/puppy-bowl-xvi into the Hootsuite Ow.ly shortener, it would generate ow.ly/uK2f50AJDI6. This cuts the link down by 48 letters, but still gives you access to cute dogs doing a bad job of playing football.
In some cases, you can even customize this mini URL with a custom phrase. Oh, the power!
Why use a URL shortener?
There are a lot of good reasons to use a URL shortener if you’re going to be sharing a link.
Long, unruly links look suspicious
If you’re linking to a specific page buried deep on your website, or are using UTM parameters to track your visitors, 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, 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!
Keep things looking neat, tidy and, well, friendly with a URL that’s as short as possible.
A custom URL shortener lets you brand your links
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 shortlink offer a chance to name drop your brand. Hootsuite’s link shortener, for example, lets you create a vanity shortlink in just a few clicks.
Especially if you’re using a free web hosting service, or have an ISP that’s less than exciting, a custom URL shortener is a way to keep your brand front and center whenever you’re sharing links.
Link shorteners allow you to track performance
Most link shortening sites will offer tracking metrics. This is information about who clicked your link, where, and when—information that will help you calculate the campaign’s ROI.
To easily track source traffic, create a variety of shortlinks using different UTM parameters. Combine this with other analytics tools—like Google Analytics—and you’re setting yourself up for marketing success.
Short URLs allow you to get the most out of character limits on social media
Twitter has a strict character limit of 280, so keeping posts concise is key. Shortened URLs give you that much more room for that poignant observation about politics, or the perfect punctuating emoji for your killer joke about hot dogs.
Source: Twitter screenshot
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 also useful for IM or email, where longer links may be hard to read, or disrupted all together by line breaks.
Shorter links are more memorable
Beyond the functional benefits of a shortened URL, they’re just snappier and easier to remember.
If a wedding publication is trying to collect submissions on a Google Form, for example, directing followers to docs.google.com/forms/d/1ezpZnYSA08L3nlsLzgjKToA76qKYgFpKzW5FMaKLoxI is a bit of a mouthful. A custom shotlink like bit.ly/submitRW, on the other hand, is easy to understand and recall.
Try out a shortlink on business cards, print ads, or physical signage. If people can actually type into their browser with just a few keystrokes, you’re more likely to earn some traffic.
How do URL shorteners work?
URL shorteners work by creating a redirect to your long URL.
Entering a URL into your internet browser sends an HTTP request to the web server to pull up a specific website. The long and the short URLs are both simply different starting points for an internet browser to get the same destination.
There are a few different types of redirect HTTP response codes, but look for ones that use a 301 permanent redirect: the other varieties may hurt your SEO ranking.
10 URL shorteners to try besides the Google link shortener
Google shut down its popular URL shortener back in spring 2019, but on the bright side, there are dozens of alternative options out there.
On the downside… 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, or that have built-in analytics. A URL shortening site that’s been around a while might also be more reliable and reputable, likely to avoid service closure or disruption.
Owly is integrated right into the Hootsuite platform, and is included with every plan type (including the free version).
The benefits here are that you can see your shortlink metrics right alongside your other social analytics, so you can view the performance of your brand holistically.
Twitter features a built-in URL shortener that automatically reduces any long URL down to 23 characters, leaving you plenty of room to express yourself.
Any link you share—even an already shortened one!—will be transformed into a t.co URL so that Twitter can record metrics, and sift out any spammy or dangerous sites.
There’s a ton of data to chew on if you use Bitly. Here, you can see each link’s performance with metrics like demographic data, referral sources, and click-throughs via the robust Bitly dashboard.
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.
4. Tiny URL
The site itself isn’t going to win any design awards, but who cares? It does everything you need: create a tiny new URL. Customization is possible without logging in, making it an efficient option when you’re in a rush to share the latest episode of your MasterChef Junior podcast.
One cool feature here: you can add TinyURL to your browser toolbar, so you can create shortlinks for whatever site you’re currently on.
With Rebrandly, you can create a branded shortlink 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 share 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.
Plus, Rebrandly features both tracking, optimization, and scaling tools in their variety of packages (paid options starting from $29 monthly).
Bonus: Get a free social media strategy template to quickly and easily plan your own strategy. Also use it to track results and present the plan to your boss, teammates, and clients.Get the template now!
Get real-time notifications when links are clicked with the help of Hyperlink, or change the settings to hourly, daily, or weekly summaries.
Hyperlink also provides per-click details: find out the device, location, and referral info for every visitor, and a live tracking dashboard.
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!)
Custom domains are available with paid plans, which start at $39 per month.
Shorten, track, and manage your URLs quickly with Tiny.CC’s simple interface.
Custom URL slugs are available, and if you register an account, you can track the stats for the shortlink.
Bit.Do is another simple and sweet option that has all you need: the ability to customize, traffic stats, and even an automatic QR code generator.
Short branded domains are available here too, but the pricing is a bit more than the others on this list at $85 a month, so you might be better off choosing another service if branded URLs are the way you want to go.
ClickMeter’s nice visual dashboard makes it handy to get the most from your links.
At a glance, you can monitor broken links and latency, find the visitors yielding the best conversion rates, track views and clicks, and more.
With packages starting from $29 a month, it’s a favorite of agencies and publishers for its robust offerings—and handy link shortening functionality, of course.
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.
You don’t need an account to use Cut.Ly, or even to customize the URL, but an account will get you access to real-time analytics, including click-throughs and social media referrals.
Cut.Ly also has a free custom URL shortener button you can add to your browser toolbar, so shortening your link just takes one click.
The smart redirects of Clkim’s system are, well, smart. Based on contextual triggers, the URL can redirect users based on mobile operating system or geography, so they’re accessing your site in a way that works best for them.
There’s also the option to do destination A/B testing to learn which landing page converts better. Plus, Clkim offers retargeting based on custom lists of people who have clicked on your shortlist.
The bottom line: Whatever combination of speed and detail you need, there’s a shortening service out there for your lengthy link. Try a few, try them all—just make sure to keep it short and sweet.
Drive more traffic to your website and save time with Hootsuite. From a single dashboard you can manage all your social media profiles, shorten links in one click, measure success, and more. Try it for free.