Until recently I was convinced that when sharing links to Twitter it’s mandatory to use URL shorteners to make the posts shorter. I’m sure that I’m not the only person that was confused by this misconception.
Did you know that URL shorteners are not actually shortening anything when used with Twitter? Since 2011, Twitter implemented their own shortening service, therefore services such as bit.ly are no longer necessary.
According to their help center, any shared link of any length will be automatically shortened to a http://t.co link. So, any link within tweets will take 23 characters out of the maximum of 140 characters length limit, even if the original link is shorter than 23 chars.
Now, let’s think a little bit: why would you share a shortened URL on Twitter anyway? I would consider only two possible reasons:
- making a really ugly and long link look prettier, or
- keeping track of click metrics.
Anyway, Twitter is giving now excellent statistics about the tweets on their statistics page, therefore the usage of other URL shortening services is no longer necessary. So, the second reason is kinda busted.
I can give you another reason for not using third party URL shorteners. A reader that clicks on a plain link inside your tweet is redirected only once by Twitter. But if you use a third party URL shortener, the visitor is redirected twice, first by Twitter and then by the third party shortening service, hence, an additional network round-trip.
As a side note, the use of full links without shorteners could be more appealing for visitors. I didn’t run any test in this respect, but others did (Woops! Link no longer available, sorry 🙁 ).
What about analytics?
According to this post, there is another danger, namely skewing Google Analytics reports, which are far more important than the simple statistics offered by, say, bit.ly. The clicks coming from a shortened link within a tweet is reported as direct rather than coming from Twitter, so basically, you lose the ability to correctly track the source of the traffic! But if you use plain links, GA will see Twitter traffic as coming from t.co.
What about Facebook, another major social platform? Well, Facebook doesn’t use automatic URL shortening, but due to a more generous length of posts, the use of long URL’s isn’t really an issue.
But Still I Want to Shorten my URLs
If for some reason you still want to shorten your shared links, tag them before shortening using campaign tagging parameters.
Tagging combined with a shortener might be a smart approach. To properly tag an URL I recommend using the Google URL builder. You may use any information, but “Campaign Source” field should be filled with the social network name where you are planning to share the shortened link.
Read the referred article for more details.
The URL shorteners are not really useful, but if you decide to use them, tag your links before shortening, otherwise you’ll find yourself in the situation of not being able to get proper analytics of your traffic. You have to consider, as well, that the use of URL shorteners might, in fact, lower the click-through rate.