Twitter is all the rage today. Everyone seems to be using it and everyone seems to have need for a URL shortening service to help them to post links back to their content elsewhere on the web. Mind you, I’m not suggesting that you try posting only links back to your site, but when you do, you need to be economical with your 140 characters.
Just so you know, in case you don’t think it’s only a matter of posting to a site like Twitter, there is another reason to consider using a URL shortening service. If you have affiliate links on your site (and who doesn’t have them?) you may want to shorten those links to something more manageable and “pretty.”
Finally, let’s not forget about the fact that Twitter, while it’s the best known, isn’t the only place you may need a URL shortening service. Posting Facebook status updates? You may want to shorten your URL there as well. While you get 420 characters, wasting a large chunk on a URL doesn’t seem like a good idea. How about Plurk or Jaiku?
The Standard Way to Do This
Okay, there are two ways (really three ways) to go about setting up a URL shortening service. I’m going to tell you what they are and why you may or may not want to use each one.
Option 1: Shorten On the Fly
I mentioned in a post the other day that I use a service called Hoot Suite to broadcast numerous backlinks to my blog with just a single blast. It makes my life simple and easy when it comes to building backlinks.
If I wanted to make it really easy, I can simply click “Shorten URL” and Hoot Suite will automatically shorten the URL for me using either Bit.ly or Ow.ly. Simple, no fuss, no trouble. The problem with this approach is that it doesn’t let you track how many clicks each of your links is getting. You simply get your stuff out there and hope for the best.
Option 2: Set Up an Account
I happen to have an account with Bit.ly and if I wanted to, I could go directly to Bit.ly and enter a long URL which could then be shortened for me to something which is a bit more manageable. The advantage of doing this (it’s really just a variation on option number 1) is that you can track your links. This means you can see how many people click on any particular link.
Also, if you run a WordPress blog, your links can be shortened automatically for you and then tweeted without your having to do anything extra to make it happen.
Option 3: Roll Your Own
Here’s the option I chose ultimately to use: I rolled my own. That means that I have set up Yourls on a custom short domain (in my case, I use dolr.tk for my personal finance blog – just pronounce it out loud and you’ll see why it works for that). The nice thing is that I can have just two characters after my domain instead of the usual 5 characters. This gives me extra room for tweets.
In addition to the slightly more roomy situation there though, I have another reason for wanting to use my own domain. Those who have been around the web for a while may remember a service called TinyURL. They were the original URL shortening service. Unfortunately, they went out of business about a year ago, leaving millions of dead links floating around the web.
If you roll your own URL shortening service, you avoid that problem for a fairly minimal cost. I’m paying just $37.50 for 5 years for my short domain (you can go to dot.tk to find out more about their services). If you want a .com short URL, it will cost you a little bit more but not much more at most domain registrars.
Bottom line, I see no reason, if you are serious about your web business, not to roll your own. If you can’t figure out how to install Yourls, you could hire someone to do it for just a few dollars. I was lucky enough to have someone on the Warrior Forum who helped me out for free, but it’s not hard to find someone on a place like Fiverr.com to do it for just $5 if need be.