Does Size Matter?
Earlier this month, many of our readers heard about the Libyan government shutting down the popular URL link shortening service called VB.ly. NIC.ly, the official registry operator for the .ly domain space, the official country-code top level domain of Libya, is now scrutinizing anyone using all .ly shortening services. In fact, NIC.ly has gone as far as restricting four character or less .ly registrations to only Libyan nationals. This decision is already having implications for companies that utilize .ly (bit.ly and ow.ly come to mind) in their URL shortening services.
What is a URL Shortener?
URL shorteners are not new. In fact, URL shortening services have been around since 2002, transforming long URLs into short manageable links. Among the most popular url shortening services are Bit.ly and Tinyurl. Twitter and its 140 character message limit has been the driving force behind these services in recent years.
Prominent Companies/Organizations Using URL Shorteners:
What are Some Advantages of Shortening URLs?
1. K.I.S.S. - Keep It Simple, Stupid!
Long URLs are cumbersome. With character limits in tweets, status updates and other modes of short-form publishing (micro-blogging), a shortened URL enables users to communicate rather than waste valuable space. Social media and the mobile Internet have made character limits front and center for millions of users.
2. Comprehensive Tracking (aka Click Analytics)
A number of URL shortening services now provide comprehensive tracking features. For example, Google's URL shortener goo.gl includes a dashboard that shows statistics. These statistics include clicks over time, top traffic referrers, top countries users are visiting from, and even the type of browsers used or the user's operating system.
3. Potential SEO Benefits
SEO via URL shortening is debatable. However, according to SearchEngineWatch.com , "Goo.gl could work into Google's ranking algorithm and become a factor in real-time search results, and possibly even regular search results if the shortener proves popular. With all this data on what links are being shared and clicked, Google can see what's trending, and likely use this as a ranking factor."
What are Some of the Disadvantages of Using a URL Shortener?
1. Potential Domain Hijacking Threats
There is a possibility that someone could hijack the domain and forward all of the active shortened URLs to a malware.
2. Gone with the Wind?
As seen with the registry operator of .LY, a ccTLD registry can easily change their registration policies or many even go out of business. Additionally, small ccTLD registries many also have under-provisioned DNS systems increasing the likelyhood of DNS look-up failure.
3. Middleman and Reliability
According to Joshua Schachter, founder of the popular bookmarking site Delicious.com, "The extra layer of indirection slows down browsing with additional DNS lookups and server hits. A new and potentially unreliable middleman now sits between the link and its destination. And the long-term archivability of the hyperlink now depends on the health of a third party ..."
Innovation Moving Forward...
1. In the future, perhaps registries or registrars will include URL shortening capabilities with every domain. This could be a very powerful tool for branding.
3. Twitter may offer the ability to hyperlink text within 'tweets'.
What are your thoughts on URL shorteners? Please feel free to leave your comments below.