Turn Readers into Visitors with Short URLs

Make it as Easy as Possible for People to Find You

Recently, I saw a printed flyer with the following call to action:

For more information or to sign up, please visit
https://docs.google.com/document/d/1QvxtR69vFLfy
F5WdfqnKg6dKl_Fbf3ppWo7rf6vdyEo/edit!

I’ll be surprised if they had more visitors than you can count on one hand. It’s not easy to type that URL in correctly, and most people won’t even try. How do you get people to actually visit your site? Use a URL shortener.

Photo © 2013 Colter Reed

What is a URL shortener?

URL shorteners take a long URL, like:

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1QvxtR69vFLfyF5WdfqnKg6dK…etc

and shrink them:

http://goo.gl/Dkt62

When should you use a URL shortener?

You should use a URL shortener if:

  • The URL will be visible. When the URL is visible to your audience, you probably want to shorten your URLs. An exception is for well-branded URLs that are already short, like twitter.com/csreed. This applies to printed material as well as some online situations where the URL will be visible to the reader.
  • Space is at a premium. When you’re laying out a flyer, newsletter, or brochure, long words are harder to lay out. Long URLs are a nightmare. By keeping the URL short, you don’t have to worry about line breaks (“Am I supposed to include the hyphen?”) and you save more room for your thoughtful and well-written copy.
  • People will need to type in the URL. If you’re putting a URL in a printed document, the length of the URL directly impacts how many people will type it in. Short, sensible URLs like apple.com/trailers are okay, but long URLs full of gibberish should absolutely be shortened.
  • People will need to memorize the URL in seconds. During Superbowl XLVII, the trailer for Star Trek: Into Darkness ended with the URL AppStore.com/StarTrekApp. The URL was visible for just a second or two. It needed to be short and memorable. Advertisers use a similar trick when they shrink facebook.com/TacoBell down to [f]TacoBell.
  • You want to track clicks. As an added bonus, most shorteners let you see how many people have clicked on your shortened link. For example, you can append + to the end of any bit.ly or goo.gl URL to see some basic measurements.

Public URL Shorteners

The two easiest services to use are goo.gl and bit.ly.

To shorten a URL with goo.gl, go to http://goo.gl. Paste your long URL into the large text field and click “Shorten Link”. The short URL will appear on the right, ready for you to copy.

To shorten a URL with bit.ly, go to http://bit.ly. Click on “Paste a link here…” (at the top, next to the puffer fish) and paste the long URL. If you create an account with bit.ly (optional), you can get j.mp URLs, shaving two characters off each URL.

Custom Services

It’s also possible to set up a custom URL shortener to create short URLs using a domain of your choosing. This provides readers with a branded URL that stands out—you immediately know where the link came from and/or where the link goes. Some examples include YouTube (youtu.be), iTunes (itun.es), The New York Times (nyti.ms), and National Public Radio (n.pr).

If you’re interested in setting up your own shortening service, check out the following resources:

Question: What advice would you give someone on when and how to shorten a URL? What about when not to shorten a URL? Share your thoughts in the comments, or on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook.

About

Colter writes software and blogs about personal growth and productivity. He lives in Silicon Valley (California) with his wife and children, recently took up golf, and watches mostly British TV shows.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic. For more information, see my comments policy.

  • Lani Jackson

    Shorten a URL whenever possible. Attention spans in general are in shambles, and people have so many things going through their minds, I would say it’s safe to assume that unless the URL is short and logical, it won’t stick.

    That’s another reason to shorten the URL: those strings of characters make no sense to most people. The lack of organization makes them difficult to remember. If you want someone to get to your URL, make it logical as well as short. Of course, that makes me wonder how much control ‘you’ really have over the URL?

  • Chadwick

    Great blog! Is your theme custom made or did you download it from somewhere? A design like yours with a few simple adjustements would really make my blog jump out. Please let me know where you got your theme. Thanks