A Uniform Resource Locator, commonly called URL, is a link that references the result of a website by specifying its location for easy retrieval. In simpler terms, a URL is the location of a specific website, page, or file on the Internet. 

A URL usually contains 3 unique elements, the protocol, domain name and the path. 

The protocol tells your browser how to communicate with a website’s server, in order to send and retrieve information. It’s what enables a URL to work in the first place. A domain name is an identifier for a specific site, which will generally bring you straight to the home page if nothing else is added to the end of it. The path on the other hand is what directs the browser to a specific page on the website.

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URL And Domain Name

A common misconception about the URL is that it is also the domain name. The terms, although used interchangeably, are entirely different. A domain name is a part of a URL and the URL contains the domain name alongside other detailed information that creates a complete web address.

What are URL Shorteners?

URL shorteners, which can also be referred to as link shorteners, are tools that take a long generated URL and turns it into a shorter one as you so desire. 

What is a Custom URL Shortener?

A custom URL shortener is when a domain is connected to a URL shortening tool as a base for all the short links you create. What this means is that, in the case when a shortening tool is used, rather than using the generic one that the tool has, you use your own custom domain.

This is very important especially when the link has to be shared on the internet as it helps create a sense of trust and increases brand awareness.

A Brief History of URL Shorteners

Since the internet came to be, links have provided a means to journey from one place to another online. It usually starts with one search that provides varying answers that require you to click on a link. If that link doesn’t satisfy your curiosity, you go back and click on another link and you keep clicking on different links till you find the exact thing you need.

Other times, you have a direct destination in mind and that will require you to type the direct link into your browsers address bar. However, the case is, links provide the only means by which we get around on the internet. 

In the case where a content is found useful or you have details to pass across from the internet, links are still the same thing you have to share in order to pass that message across. It is then left to you how you decide to share the said link. You can share the links directly, embed them in an anchor text, or you can even use a custom shortened link. 

With the need to share contents on social media channels, the use of lengthy URLs just seemed old fashion and irrelevant. Especially for a place like Twitter that had a limit of 140 characters, adding a long link just meant you had limited words to type afterwards because all the characters in the link would be counted as well. This would be the case unless the link is shortened.

Now, Twitter has an integrated URL shortener that shortens lengthy URLs

What Can a URL Shortener do?

Since the inception of URL shorteners, people have come to the realization of the amazing things that a URL shortener can do.

Link Shortening: It is easier and more appealing to share a short link than a lengthy one for various reasons. 

  • For when you have multiple numbers in the URL you intend to share
  • When you have to include a link in your presentation
  • When you have to share your link via word of mouth during a networking session 
  • When you want to share ideas on a forum.

Link Masking: Shortening a URL allows you to mask the original web address and this is bad for the end-users as it allows for spammers and hackers to hide harmful links from us. Chrome came up with a security protection feature that takes care of such harmful links.

Customarily, masking a link means taking a URL from a content you intend to share and simplifying it to share an important point in your message.

Other good reasons for masking a link might include:

  • beautifying or rebranding an ugly affiliate link.
  • shortening a lengthy domain
  • tracking a URL 

Link Analytics: Majority of the URL Shortening services provide a tracking feature. This feature enables the user to track the user activity-number of clicks, geographic location of the user who clicked the link on the shortened URL. This helps users analyze the reach of the link. 

Using a URL Shortener

There are times when using a URL shortener is important and times when it is totally not needed.

You can use a URL shortener when you have to track a link that is sending traffic to your site.

Another reason to use a URL shortener is when you have to add a link to your online profile. In this case, if you must use a URL shortening tool then it is of great importance that you customize the link. Using a link on your personal profile and it’s carrying the name of the shortening tool used just looks tacky.

During a chat or when you have to include a link in an email, there is no need to use a  link shortener. This is because with chatting or emailing platforms, you have the opportunity to embed the link in an anchor text. 

When linking from one page to another with the use of anchor text, there is no need to use a link shortener.

Add a shortened URL to a print piece: To run a print ad in a magazine for one of your products. You hope the ad will drive traffic to your site, but there’s a problem: the ideal page you want to send people to is a loooong one.

But if you shorten that URL down, you might have something not only more memorable, but more printable, too. You’ll save more of that valuable real estate for the actual ad content, and devote less of it to trying to make a long string of URL characters look pretty. 

But it doesn’t have to stop at print ads: a shorter URL can work for all kinds of print situations:

  • Thank-you cards
  • Coupon inserts
  • Even letters to donors

URL Shortening Tools

With the increased need for links to be shortened came a rise in the number of tools that can be used to shorten URLs. Some of the tools include analytics and changes your domain name to theirs while replacing the permalink with a series of numbers or letters.

Lots of social media channels have included a way to shorten URLs in their dashboard as well. Google launched goo.gl in December 2009 and unfortunately shut down the service in 2018.

We’ve compile a couple of URL shorteners you should consider using.

11 Best URL Shorteners to Shorten and Track Links

1. PixelJoy

URL shorteners Pixeljoy

For Pixeljoy, it’s more than just short URLs. Pixeljoy offers you a lot more features that let you turn your URLs into growth tools. You get to own the link with Pixeljoy, using various features like branded links, call-to-actions, UTM builder, retargeting pixels, conversion pixels, analytics, custom tracking and more. It’s just the whole package.

Start here to shorten, brand, and track your links with Pixeljoy.

2. Rebrandly

When it comes to creating customized links, Rebrandly offers a package that allows you to customize your links, as well as manage different domains and monitor link statistics.

They provide a plan that offers up to 5 custom domains. The tool also comes with a Google Chrome extension, that allows users to instantly create shortened URLs that can be used for websites without having to access the main tool dashboard. Rebrandly has a free plan but the paid plan is from $29/month.

3. Bit.ly

Bitly

This is a good URL shortening tool. A huge part of its appeal comes from the fact that it is simple.

It is a free tool that allows you to shorten URLs by just pasting the original links. It generates a short URL for you and all you have to do is copy and paste to your desired location.

You can as well register to get access to more options like a customized link and tracking, It has a comprehensive dashboard where you can track data points, including the location of your visitors, organic shares as well. Bitly has a Bitly Enterprise that allows users to create campaigns and create secure links. 

Bitly has a free plan as well as a paid plan that costs $35/month

4. TinyURL

TinyURL allows you to shorten your URLs and also customize it for free. It also provides users with the option to add it to a browser toolbar for Mozilla users and as a Google Chrome Extension. This tool also suggests a shorter URL for you and gives users the option to customize their links. 

Not only that, TinyURL also offers a bookmarklet, a small piece of javascript you add to your web browser’s toolbar that generates a short link from a webpage with the click of a button. It then leads you back to TinyURL where you retrieve the link. Although TinyURL is entirely free and anonymous to use, it doesn’t contain any tracking reports on the links and their reach.

5. Ow.ly

Ow.ly is a URL shortening tool that is a part of Hootsuite, one of the best social media sharing and monitoring tools available. This integration makes it easy for users to integrate the links to your social media posts, which comes in handy when sharing content.

6. Hyperlink

For Hyperlink, it is a URL shortening tool that has the ability to deliver push notifications to the mobile device of a user whenever a generated link is clicked on. It also provides further analytics and tracking that allows users to learn more about their audience including their location. 

The tool has a free plan that has unlimited links generation but if users want to create customized links with this tool, they will have to upgrade to the premium version. This goes at the cost of  $10 per month and it enables users to add a custom domain. 

7. Branch.io

Branch.io is a URL shortening tool that allows users to create deep-links, and also integrate with other applications, and track links. The features of this tool help makes mobile SEO effort efficient. Especially since mobile SEO is becoming even more important as the year goes by, it is best to optimize and shorten your mobile links for better accessibility. 

8. URL Shortener by Zapier

Zapier’s URL Shortener is a good option for automatically creating and saving a shortened link for every performed action. 

The tool used to be formerly part of Zapier’s Formatter but now has its own set of integrations that allows users to generate a Zap (Zapier’s automated workflows). URL Shortener by Zapier price is also a free tool.

9. Buff.ly

Buff.ly is a URL shortening tool that is a part of Buffer (a social media management tool that helps share and track your posts on different platforms). The URL shortener works to prevent links from breaking and makes integrating links into a post easier. Buff.ly is a feature that all users of Buffer should utilize.

This tool provides you with options as well. You can choose to use Buffer’s own “buff.ly” shortener, or the shorteners at bit.ly, j.mp, or even go ahead to create custom solutions.

To shorten your links with Buffer for business all you have to do is log into Buffer and click “Settings,” choose “link shortening” in the drop-down menu and follow the promptings from there.

10. Shorby

Shorby is a shortening tool that was designed with Instagram’s “one link in bio” rule in mind. It provides a customizable short URL “profile” that can be updated. What this means for creators on Instagram is that instead of having to change the short URL in your bio, you can just add your latest content to Shorby and leave the link as it is.

Not only that, you can create call to action boxes for popular communication platforms, such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Skype, or even your phone number. The tool gives access to track with the link also. Shorby isn’t free, and the amount you pay depends solely on the range of content you want to display. The paid plan has a basic start package from $9 per month, to add Google Analytics and advert tracking, you have to pay $29 per month.

11. Polr

Polr URL shortener is an open-source project that allows people to host their own URL shortener as long as they have the knowledge to. It’s available through the Polr project page and from GitHub. You can use the tool as-is or fork it if you have the programming abilities to do so. (If you’re so inclined, it’s written in PHP and Lumen, using MySQL as its primary database.) 

Though similar to Yourls, another free and open-source URL shortener, Polr has a slicker look and is designed with a modern and minimalist feel. If you just want to test out the basic interface, Polr offers a demo page.

There’s virtually all you need to know about URL shorteners. We are happy to answer specific questions that this piece does not cover.