by Jeffrey Barrett*
URL shortening services have existed since back when URLs had to be under 80 columns to fit in an email unbroken. They have become a mainstay, in no small part, because of the Twitter explosion. These services simply shrink a long URL like http://www.burrellesluce.com/freshideas/?p=230 which consists of 46 characters, to a small one like http://tiny.cc/8Hfyo, only about 20 characters. Go ahead, give both links a try; with either one you wind up at this article.
Everyone loves a short URL when composing in a 140 character bounded space. It leaves much more room for your thoughts, but there is danger in their proliferation. These mini-addresses are wreaking havoc for the destinations of these originates. When you click on a link to a website, such as http://www.burrellesluce.com/freshideas, logs show where you were when you made that click. But when you click on http://tiny.cc/p4YIm, a truncated version of that same link, it shows up under the name of that service. This is useless for understanding which actions drove you to the site in the first place and tracking the effectiveness of a given marketing campaign. If this was done for an ad driven content site it could impact the revenue of ad sales.
New services, like Tr.im, provide a partial solution to the lost metrics. Unfortunately, if Tr.im – a free service with no business model – folds its tent, you will lose the metrics it does provide. Furthermore, it’s likely your existing systems do not integrate with the shorter services. The end result: the need to manually massage your metrics.
There is a call for technology that will make it possible for people to easily run their own URL shorteners. Still in its early stage, RevCanonical is one possible solution. The application “checks to see if the link owner has published a shortened version of the given page using HTML link element.” Although it has some short comings (Chris Shiflett highlights a few), it is worth keeping an eye on. Your company and clients could benefit from getting behind the sort of technology that is needed to regain the knowledge of where their visitors came from!
If you really want to be prepared, though, it might be time to buy the shortest domain you can that either sounds like your “main” domain or has the key letters of your domain. Then you will be able to provide the convenience of a shorter URL without sacrificing your tracking and metrics.
*Bio: Currently I am the chief architect of BurrellesLuce 2.0, the portal used by thousands of PR professionals to monitor, share, organize, and measure online and print news. I started as a web developer for Merck & Company and I am an accomplished technologist with a focus on large scale system architecture and implementation. With over ten years of experience designing and deploying technical solutions for a wide range of companies, I most recently managed web projects for NBC Universal, where I delivered social networking applications and supported high traffic applications. Prior to that, I served as director of technology for Silver Carrot, a marketing firm, creating and delivering the technology that powered high-performance online campaigns. In my spare time, I enjoy reading about economics and anything that has to do with modeling social interaction and social media. LinkedIn: Jeffrey Barrett; Twitter: @BurrellesLuce; Facebook: BurrellesLuce