Have you any idea about URL shortening? URL shortening is a mechanism of translating a typically long URL into a shorter alternative that redirects to the same original URL (uniform resource locator). It is also known as URL redirecting.
In the Internet world, the URL has a very significant role. It helps you to navigate across the web and acts as a way to move from one place to another online. Think about it, you either start by searching for some resource and then clicking a link, or by typing a link directly into your browser’s address bar.
However, standard URLs tend to be long, complex and unwieldy sometimes. And sharing such lengthy URLs on Twitter and other social media is quite annoying and cumbersome.
There are several URL shortening services online that convert a full, absolute URL into a much shorter one. Some of the social networking websites have their URL shorteners, such as t.co for Twitter, and lnkd.in for LinkedIn.
There are also other URL shortening services, such as bit.ly, etc. which works across the Internet and not just with specific social media sites.
In addition to providing an effortless way to share links with others, some of these services also help in tracking and compiling click statistics. A few also protect against malicious uses by checking the URL location against lists of suspicious Internet domains.
In this article, we will emphasize the necessity of short URLs, some popular shortening services and their limitations. Let’s start.
What is URL shortening?
URL shortening is a procedure on the World Wide Web in which a long URL is made substantially shorter. This short link still directs to the same page as the original extended address.
You will find that this shorter version of the URL is usually cleaner and more comfortable to share or remember. It is also known as URL redirection or URL redirect.
In URL shortening, a unique key is present for a long URL, after its top-level domain name. For example, the shorter version of the below link using TinyURL service is as follows:
Original URL: https://www.stemjar.com/uniform-resource-locator/
Shorter version: https://tinyurl.com/y8y8zayt
Here, https://tinyurl.com/y8y8zayt has a key of y8y8zayt. You click on this link, and you will still get the same webpage of StemJar.
This technique uses an HTTP redirect method, which facilitates the increased URL availability for specific web pages.
How can you shorten URLs?
You can easily create short and manageable URLs using online URL shorteners.
A URL shortener is a web service that transforms a regular URL into its reduced form.
You have to copy the full URL of a website and paste it into the URL shortening tool to get an abbreviated version that is around 10 to 20 characters long. You can perform this activity online, on the website of a URL shortening service.
A URL shortening service is a third-party website that converts the long URL to a short, case-sensitive alphanumeric code.
In simple terms, this means that a URL shortening service takes ridiculously long web addresses and makes them minuscule.
History of URL Shortening Services
With the emergence of Twitter and other social networking platforms, long URLs started to become undesirable due to their complexity.
And that’s how the first remarkable and original URL shortening service, TinyURL, came into existence in 2002. Seeing the popularity of TinyURL, similar websites are flourishing since then.
Traditionally, Twitter used to limit its tweets to 140 characters, although it has changed to 280 now. Any URL you share can quickly eat up those characters and restrict your actual message.
In the early stages, Twitter automatically translated URLs longer than twenty-six characters using TinyURL. But in 2009, it began using bit.ly instead and later developed its URL shortening service, t.co.
In the same year, Word Press also came with the wp. me URL shortener for mentioning any WordPress.com blog post.
Around that time, bit.ly and TinyURL gained momentum and became the most widely used URL-shortening services.
On 14 December 2009, Google also announced a service called Google URL Shortener at goo.gl, which initially was only available for use through Google products and extensions for Google Chrome.
After that, Google introduced a YouTube URL Shortener, youtu.be.
It was from September 2010 that Google URL Shortener became available via a direct interface. The goo.gl service offers analytics details and a QR code generator.
Why do you need to shorten URLs?
URL shortening is not something new in the Internet world, although many people are not aware of it or do not understand its benefits. As a crucial part of your web presence, there are several good reasons for using URL shortening.
Long URLs in a text can make the accompanying message challenging to read, and links can break if they fail to wrap correctly.
The use and popularity of shortening URLs are growing because of mobile messaging and social media websites. Let’s find out how URL shortening can be advantageous for you.
- First and foremost, short links look neat and clean than their longer counterparts. Often regular long links may be aesthetically unpleasing.
- Short URLs are more manageable to share, and thus you can easily communicate and enter them without any error. If you are copying a URL from a print source, it will also reduce the overall time for typing.
- Many web developers include several descriptive attributes in the standard URL. It leads to URLs that are hundreds of characters long and that consist of complicated character patterns.
Such URLs are laborious to memorize, type or deliver. That’s why you need to copy and paste long URLs for reliability and accuracy. Thus, short URLs may be more convenient in such cases.
- Shorter URLs will allow you to distribute the correct page link without worrying about space constraints, like on an advertisement piece or business card.
- A short URL may be desirable for technologies that limit the number of characters in a message or post, such as social media sites like Twitter and other instant-messaging services.
- QR codes with URLs are often shortened by a URL shortener to decrease the overall printed area of the code to improve scanning reliability.
- Your business can also gain from a URL shortening service as you can track and compile live statistics of your audience.
List of popular URL shortening services
URL shortening services are secretly evolving. Below is a list of few in-demand URL shorteners in today’s web space.
Bit.ly is at the top of the URL shortening game. With Bitly, you can get all sorts of analytic data to determine who the audience is and how they got to your site.
The extensive and comprehensive data that Bitly provides in the form of live click data, geographic location, and more have made it the most popular and widely used URL shortener.
This kind of information is vitally important to webmasters and companies as it displays the source of clicks when they are coming, and what interests them.
TinyURL is a comparatively easy shortener that needs no registration and also allows you to modify the keyword. The service is free to use, but there is no analytics.
With TinyURL, you can easily customize the end letters and numbers as per your choice. It is an excellent additional feature if branding is important to you or if you want to make your link easier to memorize.
Another popular alternative, Ow.ly is a URL shortener from the leading social media application, Hoot Suite. But in this, you have to enter a captcha code.
You can also distribute files, images, and videos easily with Ow.ly in several formats. The genuine advantage of using this link shortener comes with using it in conjunction with Hoot Suite itself for all your social media marketing.
Is.gd is an also a simple service that allows you to customize your short URL without putting much effort. Here too you do not need to perform any sign-up.
You can log statistics from their links.
There are no other additional features or services, so this is a good choice if your objective is to get the work done quickly and smoothly.
Goo.gl is the official URL shortener from Google. It lets you track your short URLs. As you reduce your links, Google will display them below along with the extended URL version. It also shows the corresponding goo.gl link and the number of clicks on it.
You can also experience a visual glimpse of your engagement for a different perspective.
As of March 30, 2018, Google’s URL shortener is only available to active users, and the data generated by those shortened URLs will be open until March 2019.
At that time, Google will completely disable the URL shortener, and all associated data will disappear.
Are there any disadvantages of using short URLs?
Just like the two sides of a coin, URL shortening has their own set of limitations too. The convenience that a URL shortening provides also introduces potential problems, which makes it a questionable service.
Short URLs, for instance, will be vulnerable to link rot. If the shortening service stops functioning, all URLs related to the service will also be of no use.
Many spammers or illegal internet activities can also use URL shortening for malicious purposes. That’s why many have been removed from online registries or shut down by web hosts or internet service providers.
Shortening URLs can have significant privacy repercussions. Due to their shortness, they can be subject to brute-force scanning. It means that attackers can guess multiple shortened URLs and read all of the working ones.
Additionally, short links offer the user no clue as to where they lead and can be used to redirect users to infected content.
Although disguising of the underlying address can be desirable for legitimate professional or personal reasons, it is prone to abuse.
Some URL shortening service providers are on spam blacklists, because of the use of their redirect services by illegal websites trying to bypass those very same blacklists.
That’s the reason; some websites prevent short, redirected URLs from being posted.
Should you never use long URLs?
Although short links offer numerous benefits and are immensely popular too, long URLs still serve a significant purpose.
Various websites tend to make their links appear more human-readable and thus more SEO (Search Engine Optimization) friendly.
Short URLs are easier and advantageous to send and use on social networking platforms. However, if search engines want to crawl your site, longer URLs will be comparatively more descriptive.
A long URL informs a lot about the content of a page. So, you need to implement both strategies and make a balance between them.
Do short URLs expire?
Almost, all URL shortening services claim that their links will never expire as long as the company is up and does not discontinue the service.
Despite that, a permanent URL is not necessarily a good thing as it can be prone to malicious attacks. Sometimes after the primary use, these URLs become obsolete but remain in existence.
Some URL shorteners also offer a time-limited service, which will expire after a specified period. For example, an ordinary, easy-to-say word as the URL with a lifetime from 5 minutes up to 24 hours,
Final thoughts on URL Shortening
Seeing the rapid evolution of the Internet and the smartphones, the demand for sharing more web content is also simultaneously increasing. Shorter URLs are becoming more and more fundamental to that cause.
It does not matter whether it is for personal use or professional, shorter links are trending. It is less complicated to text or share a short URL than a long one.
Efficient use of an excellent shortener to reduce the number of characters in a URL is the way to go on the web nowadays, especially if you want to keep all your online friends and followers content.
URL shorteners, in their way, function as aggregates of data. It can lead to some applicable innovations in how you share and digest content. Although there are some limitations, URL shortening can prove to be a boon for you, if you utilize it effectively.