It doesn’t take long scrolling through Twitter to find short, customized links. Whether they’re cute, recognizable little ow.ly or bit.ly links or other URL shorteners, there’s an appeal to using them. The customizable ends make it easy to clean up longer, more complex links, and the fewer characters the better on platforms like Twitter where we only have a few to begin with. There are some big questions about them though: what are the benefits, can it harm SEO, and are they worth the trouble?
First off, there are more reasons to like URL shorteners than just having pretty links (although that can be a big one). Another reason many businesses use a URL shortener is enhanced analytics. Most of the top URL shorteners, like Bitly, have URL tracking that allows you to keep an eye on the timing and geographic location of clicks, as well as other helpful stats. This isn’t the only way to get that information, but it can be a clear, visually-appealing way to keep track of and review information. It also makes it easier to write a good hook and still include the link on Twitter, where characters are an invaluable resource.
One of the most common concerns when it comes to clicking shortened links, as a consumer, is security. Because these shortened URLs are customized and can mask the actual destination, many hackers and scammers use them to attract internet users and trick them into clicking on an otherwise suspicious link. Many URL shorteners now offer previews of the destination URL if a consumer hovers over the link, but not all do, and more cautious clickers may still be scared off.
A major concern among creators and advertisers about shortened URLs is the specter of SEO problems. The bots controlling SEO can be finicky, and no one wants to do anything to set them off and direct fewer people to your site. Realistically, though, URL shorteners have yet to show any significant harm to a site’s SEO or traffic. Search engines treat these customized, shortened URLs just like any other 301 redirects.
The good news: the redirect doesn’t directly hurt your SEO. The bad news: slower load times, caused by these redirects, might. If your site is usually speedy and made to be quick-loading, this probably won’t be an issue, but if your pages tend to load slowly or have a lot of information on them, shortened URLs may be slowing that down even more with these redirects.
Long story short…
URL shorteners can be helpful to create aesthetically pleasing, shortened links, which are especially helpful for platforms with character limits. They don’t directly hurt SEO, but they may shorten load times, which is important to be aware of. If you’re starting with a small audience, it is possible that some potential clickers will be afraid to click on a shortened link because of the potential for hacking. To combat that, use a shortener with a preview feature whenever possible to put their fears at rest, and accept that you might get slightly fewer clicks from more cautious readers.
So is it worth it? That’s up to you.