Apr 30, 2007
If you’ve been using Twitter clients for some time now, you would notice that these usually automatically convert most URLs you post into shortened URLs. Twitteriffic, for example, uses tinyurl.com. Twitteroo, meanwhile, uses urltea.com. The goal is simple. Twitter gives you only a maximum of 140 characters to type in your message or your current status. And these short URL services let you convert long addresses into URLs less than 20 characters.
For instance, I can convert a URL this long:
into something like this:
(you can try it–the URL works!).
That’s easily a 300% decrease in URL length. You can achieve even more, if you have those Ã¼ber-long addresses common with query-type URLs. Some even tout the ability to hide affiliate URLs as one benefit of using these shortened URL services.
In my opinion, it’s great to be able to truncate your URLs into something shorter. For twitter purposes, it’s really useful. But then again from some points of view, short URL services are not that good.
The SEO POV
For one, from an SEO standpoint, short URLs tend to dilute the value of links. Granted that posting a URL on twitter or your blog will not necessarily include anchor texts, which is one of the most important aspects of keyword optimization. However, linking to urltea.com or tinyurl.com instead of the original page (say, racoma.com.ph) would be largely denying that original domain that all-important link from your site, or even from your Twitter page.
So instead of sending link juice over to a site you recommend (after all, you’re linking to it), you send it over to the short URL service. After thousands of links to their domain, guess who gets the link juice? Perhaps they’re redirecting HTML queries using 301 redirects. This should pass on some link juice, but who knows exactly if this is the case?
I guess people who actively want to deny link juice to external sites can even use urltea or tinyurl if they want to link. (Hmm. Gives me an idea.)
Usability and security concerns
Also, there are usability concerns when it comes to shortened URLs. Granted, they’re easier on the eyes because they’re shorter. But you never really know where these things link to unless you click on the link and get redirected to the original site.
I follow several people who use Twitter for their link-blogging activities. Along with a short description of what they’re linking to comes the URL–either from urltea or tinyurl. But I don’t get to know if the original site is coming from cnn.com, nytimes.com, digg.com or any other domain I might find trustworthy enough.
What if the original link is to a virus/malware/worm infested site that can attack my computer simply with my act of browsing? It’s a risk I have to take, because I’m interested in the recommendation the link-blogger has made.
I’m not one to complain if I don’t think there’s a valid reason to. But I think these two problems are worth looking into. And here are some possible ways to remedy these.
First, short URL services can use indirect redirects. For instance, after clicking on a link called
http://urltea.com/giv I can be shown a redirect page saying I will soon be redirected to this URL
http://racoma.com.ph/archives/thinking-of-turning-off-automatic-twitter-updates. Or maybe the redirect page can even ask me to click before being given access.
This way, I can more or less be sure that the site I’m about to browse is on a domain I trust. In a way, this solves the usability issue I mentioned above.
As for the link juice issue, however, I think it would be a matter of user preference on the part of whoever posts a link on their blog or Twitter using short URL services. I think if you want to share the link love, you’d best directly link to the original site. But if you really have to truncate the URL (i.e., in instances like twittering) it may be best to post both the shortened URL and at least the original domain.
Crude, but these might work.
Any other thoughts or ideas?J. Angelo Racoma is a technology and automotive journalist and blogger. See more of his work at e27.sg, Android Authority and Tech Wire Asia. Follow him via Twitter at @jangelo.