racoma.com.ph

Essays on tech by J. Angelo Racoma

The Problem With Short URL Services

| 21 Comments

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:

http://racoma.com.ph/archives/thinking-of-turning-off-automatic-twitter-updates

into something like this:

http://urltea.com/giv

(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 über-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.

Suggestions

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?

Author: J. Angelo Racoma

J. Angelo Racoma is a technology and automotive journalist and blogger. See more of his work at e27. Follow him via Twitter at @jangelo.

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21 Comments

  1. I use shorty and keep the juice for myself. Yes I am egocentric like that. ;-)

  2. Maybe Twitter should allow us to use anchor texts instead of tinyurl. No more redirection which is a lot faster for users/readers while good for SEO.

  3. I think they’re using 301s. I’ve been monitoring my referrers and there aren’t any of the short url domains, just the actual sites that use the short url services. So I’m surmising they are using 301s.

  4. I use tinyurl for shortening image links. that seems helpful to me…

  5. TinyURL now offer a preview of the destination url for exactly the reason you described.

    http://preview.tinyurl.com/2yytud

    You will get to see the full url and not get automatically redirected. No more nasty surprises!

  6. I always look at the URL before I click on it. So if it’s a shortened URL, it turns me off because I get no clue where I’m going. This is another why Twitter is a pain; it ruins usability like that.

    #2 – Agreed.
    #5 – Well I hope Twitter *does* use that feature. As well as its posting clients.

  7. The fact is that as more people want to say more with less, short URL services will become even more necessary.

    I always wonder though, what exactly is their business model? What do they get in return for providing the free servers to handle all those redirects?

  8. will they receive my traffic stats instead of my url?

  9. Check out http://traceurl.com

    There you can choose the prefix of the generated URL. Thus the short URLs don’t look that cryptic. On top of that you can monitor accesses to the URL, meaning count accesses and see where the visitors come from.

  10. This service allows you to register a free short subdomain name by saves you from having to use long URLs that can break in your emails, forum posts, IM messages & etc. Use the service to point or hide your long and ugly URL from the visitors so that your short and professional domain shows in the address bar when your visitors visit your site.

  11. As far i know, the shortest url redirection service is http://dn.vc and it feature like masking and keyword.

  12. I prefer http://nutshellurl.com to shorten my links -

    Uses 301s and you can also check where the URL will lead you (similar to tinyurl preview) before you click it.

  13. Very interesting site. Thanks you
    .

  14. cool Site. Thanks…

  15. Hi,

    I have a utlity called WhoURL Link – http://www.whourl.com

    The problems with converted link is the SEO, yes thats true, but this utility its a friendly, there is also a link that fits to your blogs, website content, twtter etc..

    Try it,

    Bart

  16. Hi,

    Loving the input, I find myself using short url providers all the time, different providers (tinyurl.com, snurl.com, urltea.com) for all the different features they provide and they are all pretty useful sites.

    I liked them so much I decided to make my own short url service (http://UrlSnub.com) for my own personal use… on the site I added all the features I though would be usefull.

    o. simple short url creator (ie. input long url select options “expire/password/custom tag”)
    o. multiple short url creator (ie. create many short urls at once)
    o. Tracker Tool (ie. to preview site before clicking it)
    o. Free members area (ie. manage short urls “statistics/emailer/edit/delete”)
    o. API Tool (ie. for adding into your applications)
    o. Most Popular (ie. displays most popular short urls)

    and many more features to come! :)

    I guess I did a great job as the site is blowing up fast. Ofcource I plan to add many new resourceful features to the site, but check it out for yourself, let me know what you think. :)

  17. I recommend on http://www.k7u.info – very easy, fast and cool short URL service.

  18. I use http://whylong.com, because:
    * The name is nice
    * It lets you choose your own tag
    * Links are available immediatly
    * All links are reviewed for suspicious sites within 24 hours.
    * Has a nice clean and simple layout

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