Why are you still using URL shorteners?

Part of my job includes looking after social media. That means I can’t hide from the torrent of advice from Social Media Experts.

It seems one of the standard lines is still “use bitly on twitter”. I’ve developed an excessive perhaps slightly irrational rage with that one.* It came up again at the Science Online** conference and I was asked to explain. So here’s a hastily scrawled listicle to get the ridiculous rage out my system. See if you can spot which of the reasons is the one I actually feel preposterously strongly about.

6 reasons you shouldn’t be using link shorteners

It’s another site tracking and profiling you

I find it difficult to get all that worried about the whole tracking and profiling thing, but I get why people don’t like it. From the social media management point of view, it’s another tracking and profiling system that you’re exposing your users to.

They’ll break

I guess it’s not really a big deal if all of your old links in throwaway tweets break one day when a URL shortener shuts down, but still…

You don’t know what they’re paying for

Large tech companies whose brand and entire business activity is 100% reliant on domain names registered from dictator-led and war-torn countries? I wonder how you deal with the frictions that might come up in those kinds of relationships…

I can’t see when you’re linking to something nasty

Some of them make some attempt to filter out scams and viruses. But the ones you’re using don’t filter out the Daily Mail.

Yes, I could go to the provider’s site and run a lookup to resolve the target URL. No, that’s not gonna happen.

I won’t click your links anyway

I also can’t see when you’re linking to something that I just don’t want to read. If you’ve done a really good job of making it clear what you’re linking to in the post itself, I might, if I’m really interested, still decide to click. But if neither your text nor the URL make it clear what your link is for and why I should, I’m not clicking it.

Perhaps it’s just me who still looks at link tooltips and decides whether to click. But I think that if there’s one good thing that has come of the SEO arms race, it’s URLs that help me decide whether or not to click on them. Sometimes I won’t click on your URL, because I can see that it’s something I’m not interested in or it’s a story I’ve already heard. But just as often it will be the words in your URL, attached to the brand in the domain name, that tempts me to click — even when the rest of the tweet or post didn’t tempt me.

Of course, if your content is rubbish that I don’t want to read, you might think that disguising that fact is a clever trick. Whatever. If you hide what you’re linking to, I won’t click.

Maybe it’s just me. Maybe somebody should do some actual research into the effect link shortening has on click and engagement rates before endorsing them? Maybe the research has been done but nobody can find it under the avalanche of search engine optimised rubbish telling us to use URL shorteners.

I never found out the punchline.

All of the reasons for using them have been obsolete for years

Link shortening: once upon a time URLs filled up twitter’s character limit. It’s many years since twitter made all links count for an equal number of characters.

Click tracking: another one twitter rolled into the built-in functionality: twitter analytics gives you far more useful info about engagement than link shorteners do.

Beautifying links: beauty’s in the eye of the beholder, of course, but link shorteners make really ugly links. Twitter’s UI and most apps have this covered.

* I removed several swear words from this, not out of self-censorship but because the hyperbole just looked a bit too ridiculous for the topic

** nope, still not going to call it “spoton”.

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