Most people using the web have noticed that sometimes the links they click look a little bit shorter and different, but they lead to the same place and that’s really all that matters. From a small business owner or Webmaster perspective, the way a URL looks is a little bit more critical. URLs that are shortened change the way the long URL looks, but offer significant benefits to small business owners.
Some of the most popular URL shorteners you may have seen include Buffer (buff.ly), bit.ly, Google (goo.gl), and Hootsuite (ow.ly). These are free URL shorteners that any business can use, and in many cases popular websites like Twitter are already using shorteners whenever you post a link; however these are not your only options. You can actually create a vanity URL shortener just for your business, and that’s where the benefits really start to surface.
How URL Shortenters and Vanity URLs Work
Once again, a URL shortener is a service that takes your long URL and turns it into something shorter. This helps to make the link look clearer to users and take up less space (more on the benefits later). There are three different ways to look at and use shortners:
Option #1: A social network shortens a link automatically. No work needed for the website or user.
Many social networks and other sharing platforms have URL shorteners installed, so if necessary, a URL will be shortened automatically and the website and sharer won’t need to do a thing. This will only happen if someone posts a link directly to Twitter or another social sharing network (not through a sharing button), so it isn’t seen too often. Nonetheless, it’s still a possibility. For Twitter, this shortener is t.co.
Option #2: A website uses a free URL shortener. No work needed for the user, but the website does need to install the free shortener:
Websites can install free URLs shorteners so that any link published on that site is automatically shortened when shared—the user doesn’t need to do a thing. Twitter is an excellent place to see several of these free shorteners:
As you can see, when I posted this link the link automatically used the Hootsuite (ow.ly) shortener for me. This happened because the website where I clicked the sharing button for their article had the bit.ly shortener installed. In the second example, that website had the Bit.ly (bit.ly) shortener installed. Again, the user didn’t have to do a thing. If you’re interested in learning about getting started with one of the shortening services, you can learn more about them here.
Extra Option: No shortener is used.
I think this is worth mentioning in order to avoid confusion. If you’re ever looking at a sharing network such as Twitter, you might notice that sometimes a shortener isn’t used. This means that Twitter didn’t need to shorten the link because the tweet was short enough, and it means that the website doesn’t have a free URL shortener installed.
Option #3: Create a vanity URL shortener. No work needed from the user, but the website does have to create the vanity URL shortner.
When you see a shortener that is very specific to that company, it means that that company created this vanity URL shortener. Anytime one of their links is shared on Twitter or elsewhere, it will automatically shorten. This often happens when someone clicks a social sharing button on the website that created the vanity URL. Below are a few examples:
In the example above, Kissmetrics have their own “kiss.ly” vanity URL. A few other examples include: The Huffington Post (huff.to), Mashable (on.mash.to), Eloqua (elq.to), Search Engine Journal (sejr.nl), and many, many others. Take a look at your Twitter feed and see all of the different kinds!
So are they only used for Twitter? Twitter’s 140-character limit makes it a network where you’re going to see shorteners the most. However, other social networks will also use URL shortners or allow you to manually use a shortened URL. Aside from sharing links on social networks, you don’t have too many more opportunities to use shorteners. You can manually use them in an article or something through one of the tools like Hootsuite or Buffer, but this isn’t nearly as common.
The Benefits of Creating Your Own Vanity URL for Your Company
- Custom URLs look professional.
- You have consistent branding no matter where your content is shared.
- It creates what many call “link trust,” which means readers will feel more confident sharing your content.
- They help you stand out on and make you more memorable social networks.
- Vanity URL shorteners also give you data and analytics (more on this later).
- If you’re hosting your own shortener, you’re not passing link juice to any third party.
Step-by-Step Guide to Creating Your Own Vanity URL
- Choose a hosting service. It is possible to host your own custom shortened URL, but this is by far the more complicated and less popular option. Most choose a service to host the custom URL for them. Bit.ly is the most popular, which you can sign up for here.
- Choose the actual vanity URL. Of course your first step is actually choosing a vanity URL. The rule of thum is to keep it fewer than 8-10 characters and keep it looking similar to your regular domain name. Domai.nr is a good place to go for ideas.
- Buy the vanity URL. There is no free option here; you have to buy it using any domain registration site such as iPage or GoDaddy. I recommend buying it from the same place your website is hosted.
- Setup the shortener. If you’re using Bit.ly, you can visit your “account settings” tab and then go to “advanced.” You’ll see an option for “custom short domain” where you can type in the vanity URL you just bought. Other services are similar.
- Find your DNS settings page. This is a cruicial step in order to verify your new shortener. You need to find your Domain Name System (DSN) page and look for the domain’s “A record.” This point is a few steps long, so visit this article to follow along or simple ask your domain registrar for help.
- Choose your domain. Visit Bit.ly or whichever service you chose to use and select this new shortened domain to let the service know that is what you want to use.
In the end, when it comes to sharing on social networks your link is most likely going to be shortened regardless. You may as well brand your website while you’re at it. If you’ve ever created a vanity URL shortener let us know in the comments below how it went and what results you’ve seen.
Amanda DiSilvestro gives small business and entrepreneurs SEO advice ranging from keyword density to recovering from Panda and Penguin updates. She writes for HigherVisibility.com, one of the leading SEO companies in the United States.