Beware of automatic URL shorteners

Technical PR, Electronics PR, Industrial PR, Engineering PR
In these days of Twitter, e-mail marketing and analytics most people use a URL shortening service, like Bit.Ly, Tiny URL or is.gd. But did you know that there are some social media related services on the InterSuperHighway that will shorten your URL for you; whether you like it or not?

They include the excellent Ping.FM and TwitterFeed.com; both of which I use regularly. But where’s the danger I hear you say?

Well, when you shorten your own URL you can write your own extension for it. For instance, a recent article I wrote about CSS site Zen garden was treated to the URL http://bit.ly/ZenAndTheArtOfCSS. As you can see, the extension I gave the URL makes it clear that it was generated by a human based on the article content. An auto-generated URL would have just had a load of random numbers after the forward slash.

This creates confidence in the reader and increases the likelihood of clickthroughs.

All good so far! But what happens when your carefully designed short URL is then re-shortened by TwitterFeed or one of several similar services? That’s right; it ends up as a load random numbers again. And what if the URL is then auto-retweeted, again using a service like TwitterFeed?

You can very easily end up with some of the random numbers being cut off the end. This happens when the entire message doesn’t fit into the character limit of the social networking site on which it is being posted. And a shortened URL with some of the numbers taken out is still a shortened URL, but one that leads somewhere else entirely. Possibly somewhere you definitely don’t want to send your readers.

So, the moral of the story is, if you want to make sure your URLs lead where you expect them to, eliminate the auto-shortening functions from any online services you use.

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Richard Stone

Stone Junction is a cool technical PR agency based in Stafford. We work for all sorts of businesses, with a particular focus on technology, technical and engineering companies. We like being sent cake and biscuits by clients, journalists and prospects.

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