URL shorteners like bit.ly are now ubiquitous among content creators and sharers. They’re most often used in social media posts, and are appealing for their short aesthetics and can even offer analytics to help you track statistics. But since these are links to a third-party service, do they hurt your SEO performance?
What are URL Shorteners?
A URL shortener is a service that will allow you to take a long and potentially complex URL (Uniform Resource Locator), also known as the web address, and shorten it to something shorter and more aesthetic. Consider the two following URLs:
The first URL is the actual address of the article you are reading, whereas the shorter one is a link processed by bit.ly to shorten it. Clicking either link will get you to the same page, though the bit.ly one is more aesthetically appealing. Furthermore, by using a URL shortener like bit.ly, you are also able to gather additional stats about your links like number of clicks, locations, and referrers. The downside is that instead of linking directly to your page, the user goes through the third-party service.
URL Shortener Benefits
URL shorteners wouldn’t be as popular as they are if there wasn’t a reason.
Content Marketing Benefits
URL shorteners let you limit the number of characters needed to get your message and link across. Before Twitter decided that links did not count against the maximum character limit, URL shorteners were a godsend, allowing marketers to get in extra phrases or hashtags into their posts. With less space taken up by the URL, you have more chance to make a case for clicking your link.
URL shorteners also allow you to brand your links. Larger companies will have custom short URLs for their own links. You may have noticed twitter’s t.co domain for example. Whether through a named service or a custom URL, branding links helps you accurately and concisely convey what the reader can expect to find when clicking the link.
Traffic Monitoring and Analytics
There are both free and paid options with URL shortener services, and these include various levels of analytics and data. By putting all your links through a service, you will be able to see how many people clicked, which posts are the most popular (and at what times), locations, referrers and more. While much of this data is duplicated in Google Analytics, the UI in a URL shortener is designed specifically for shared links, so you may be able to glean more.
No Follow Adjustment
URL shorteners will typically ignore any nofollow attributes in links, allowing search engines to follow these links and potentially boost SEO performance.
It may seem like an obvious point, but shortened URLs tend to look better than full length ones. With potential readers being bombarded constantly by links to click, you want to maximize your click-through rate by every means possible.
URL Shortener Negatives
So what kind of negative results can we expect if we use URL shorteners?
Shortened URLs are typically 301 redirects, and as such should not pass any SEO benefiting “link juice” to the service provider. In 2011, Matt Cutts of Google addressed this in a YouTube question and answer session:
Note that a potential problem is brought up here, and that’s whether or not the URL shortener service is set up properly and trustworthy. If everything goes according to plan, they will simply act as a 301 redirect to your desired landing page. The potential for misuse or setting up multiple 301 daisy chains remains, so you want to use a reliable service.
URL shorteners often get a bad rap because they are used by spammers to hide the often complex and potentially threatening URLs they are trying to get you to visit. As a result, some sites do not allow you to post shortened URLs and require the original web address, like Pinterest.
Which URL Shortener Should You Use?
There are countless URL shortener services out there, but for the sake of brevity we will only cover the top 2: goo.gl and bitly. You can review a more comprehensive list of URL shorteners afterwards, but in most cases you should stick to either of these top two unless you have pressing reasons to choose another.
Goo.gl from Google
Goo.gl is the URL shortening service offered by Google itself. It offers not only link shortening, but also insights about your links.
Bitly is our choice for URL shortening. It has an easy-to-use GUI that offers quick insight into performance, and allows us to easily test “custom” bitly URLs.
Other URL Shorteners
There are many URL shorteners to choose from. This list of 26 popular services covers all the major players, as well as those with more targeted features, like integration with various services or revenue sharing.
Should You Be Using URL Shorteners?
Short answer: yes. If you are using a URL shortener in 2017 and beyond, from a reputable provider, you should not expect any negative SEO benefits. Using an SEO shortener allows you to create concise and aesthetically pleasing links, while also being able to glean additional information about your performance. Some sites prevent the use of URL shorteners, but where available, you should use them in your content marketing campaigns. Just remember not to use them where the URL is not visible, like with anchor text.