Short URLThere’s a new breed of domains cropping up on the Small Business scene. They are becoming vital for local and hyperlocal business owners who want to (and in some cases must) command a brand presence online. If you’re online for any amount of your business day checking email, updating your Facebook Page Timeline, ordering supplies or checking out the competition on Google, you undoubtedly see these domains frequently. You likely recognize the big brands by theirs: nyti.ms, chil.is, youtu.be, abc.tv, n.pr, among many others. They are called short URL’s (a/k/a “tiny URL’s,” “short links,” or “shortened URL’s”) and they’re providing several powerful components in your Web presence marketing arsenal that I wish to discuss: what they are, why brand them, how to get important business information from them, and how to create short URL’s.

What is a Short URL?

A short URL is simply a hyperlink that takes your full URL (e.g., my last blog post’s URL (i.e., Web address), https://w3cinc.com/2014/08/making-time-managing-social-media-small-business/) and shrinks it to a shorter URL (which is http://w.w3cinc.com/1ux6TJZ). Most browsers cap the length of a URL to about 2,000 characters, and with the proliferation of Web services today, they continue to increase the character length for the needed functionality of their tools. Google’s own blogs range from about 59 to 90 characters in their Web addresses, and you should shoot for around 60-70 characters in length for business’ blog and Web page URL’s. That doesn’t solve many many challenges associated with having a long URL, but it is a good Search Engine Optimization (SEO) practice. However, the earliest URL shorteners were created to solve a practical problem. When you share long links that are typically greater than 40-150 characters in length they get broken by email, Webmail and mobile email applications. As well, when Twitter came onto the scene with their 140-character-length restriction for tweets, there was a renewed purpose for short URL’s. Now, short URL’s certainly aren’t new in a chronological sense, but they have come a long way since they were first created. More uses (and domain options) have come to be, which has lead to a Small Business opportunity to differentiate and stand out above the competition.

Why brand your Short URL?

There are several good reasons to brand your short URL. I have chosen to go with branding my short URL as w.w3cinc.com. Because I control my own domain, w3cinc.com, I can change my short URL by redirecting all those shortened URL’s to another domain in the future without hindrance. There are many services that provide generic URL shortening such as goo.gl (by Google), tinyurl.com, and ow.ly (by Hootsuite). If I were using a generic URL shortener, if they shut down or decide to delete a short URL, I could lose the long-term effect of a link I published weeks, months or years ago. So, beyond longevity of the links, branded short URL’s (“vanity URL’s”) build rapport with your target audience and exposes your business’ domain, even if you’re sharing content not on your website. Also, if your target audience trusts you, they will be more likely to click on the vanity URL you share over a generic, short URL. For example, if you see a tweet,

21 Steps to Developing the Best Web Marketing Strategy | http://ow.ly/123456

and you see this tweet,

21 Steps to Developing the Best Web Marketing Strategy | http://w.w3cinc.com/webstrategy

next to it, which would you be more likely to click? I am going to make the educated guess that the second would be more trustworthy and appealing. I have seen our clicks increase by a good 20-30% when compared against generic short URL’s  when sharing on social networks for W3 Consulting. Vanity URL’s provide you with brand security, greater brand exposure, and more clicks. 

Why track Short URL data?

As I said in my post about QR code strategy, data is power on the Web today. And, there are whole heaps of data you can collect with short URL’s. Of course, for the reasons I stated above, I recommend a vanity URL but a generic URL shortener will give you some or all of the data you want to be collecting. The better and more data you collect from a variety of Web, Mobile and Social Media activities, the better business decisions you will be able to make. I know it sounds pretty basic, but there’s a huge amount of technological complexity that has been synthesized with these tools to make your business decisions easy. All you need to do is capture the raw data in these tools. One example of how collecting data can drive better business decisions is a commonplace issue I see with businesses advertising online. When faced with focusing their searches to make better use of their adspend they frequently don’t look at the organic traffic they are sharing out there in Social Media and via email newsletters and other sharing activities. There is data, like the how many times do your blog post links sent to Twitter get clicked (and when), where are those visitors to your blog coming from (geographically, via which social network), and who is the greatest influencer/syndicator of your posts.

How to Create a Branded, Short URL

I recommend that you peruse your business and sales operations manual. Where in the processes do you frequently have to refer to information for your company? If the answer is not frequently, you’re likely missing a sales opportunity every time you’re on the phone or emailing with a potential client. If the answer is frequently, how often are you directing them to your website versus promising yet another email with attachments of marketing collateral? These are opportunities where you can create standard subdomain (subdomain.yourbusinessdomain.com) and subdirectory (yourbusinessdomain.com/subdirectory) forwards to your website or materials you can post on your website for ease of referring and access. Therefore, one way to create branded short URL’s is to employ subdomains and subdirectory forwards. This is a manual process and quite tedious, but there are several reasons why you might do so. One is if you have only one or two items for which you are always referring clients to on your website. Another is if you have a really short website address to begin with and the subdomain or subdirectory is also short. And, finally, if you handle a lot of phone conversations with your customers on a regular basis and want to streamline the process, or even reduce phone calls with these kinds of links.

If you self-host the WordPress content management system (CMS), you have the capacity to install a plugin that lets you create your own branded, short URL’s from your own website (named eponymously “Short URL“). While this might prove generally impractical and not create the shortest Web address, it does have some pretty useful applications.

And then there are tools for creating short URL’s such as Bitly.com. Here is a quick overview of how you can setup Bitly to handle your short URL’s while branding them at the same time (so you control the links should you ever leave Bitly, of course).

1. Go to bitly.com and signup for a free account.

2. Register a branded, short domain with your domain registrar of choice. Or, you can create a subdomain as we have done with w.w3cinc.com; you can seek instructions from your current domain registrar.

3. Under the “Advanced” tab, you will see instructions for setting up your branded short domain in Bitly.com.

Screenshot 2014-08-22 20.35.46

4. Once you’ve done the setup, make sure to add this new domain in Google Analytics. (Here’s one set of instructions for this.)

Now, you can share and collect the data for all of your Web, printed and electronic communications easily for your Small Business. How might you use your new branded, short URL?

 

The Short URL – When Shorter Is Better!
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