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 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 link shortener, it would generate ow.ly/uK2f50AJDI6. This cuts the link down by 48 letters.
In some cases, you can even customize this mini URL with a custom phrase.
4 reasons to 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.
1. Long links can 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.
4. 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.
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.
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.
12 URL shorteners to try (besides the Google link shortener)
The Google URL shortener was shut down 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 detailed 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.
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).
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 shortened URLs are the way you want to go.
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.
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 URL 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.