URL shortening servies are nothing new, so why are we bothering to write a post about them now? As with many aspects of social media, there are many that have some awareness of the technology, and even some concept of the benefits of using them - yet quite often, more than 95% of the people are using less than 5% of the functionality. There's not THAT much you can do with a simple URL shorter though, surely?
More than likely, if you're using a shortener, it's probably Twitter's fault! After all, with just 140 characters to work with, and with many websites hell-bent on getting as many keywords into their page URL's as possible (chasing the all-important search rankings), the inclusion of a fully-fledged link would leave scant room for any meaningful insights, opinions or comedic musings. That's where services such as Bit.ly and Ow.ly come in, to name two of (probably) thousands.
Aside of the shortening value itself, why should you as a business owner be bringing this technique into your social media arsenal? One word ... Tracking! A common feature of many URL shortening services is the ability to track the number of clicks on the links you post in your social updates, blogs, eBooks, emails ... wherever you fancy! In fact, you could create a different shortened "tracking" link for each individual channel, to more easily see which marketing channels are getting the best level of engagement, and thereby generating the greatest volume of inbound traffic to your website. So which ones are the best, and why?
This is the official shortening service of Stumbleupon - one of the greatest sites for generating traffic for small businesses. In addition to shortening, the service offers real time analytics (showing how many people click on links, including those who came via StumbleUpon), as well as suggesting the best times to post to your streams, based on historical data (much like Buffer). There are also lots of other options for sharing links, and promoting your content to Stumbleupon users.
One of the old school, Bitly provides a simple-to-use dashboard and system for shortening and tracking URL clicks. In addition to real-time traffic & analytics data, you can also customise links to be more relevant to the topic you're linking to. For example, if you have a post about raspberry cupcakes, you could specify a url such as http://bit.ly/RaspCups. There's more sharing functionality here, and a range of extensions to help shorten on the go, without the need to return to Bitly.com over and over.
The main benefit of using this service, provided by Hootsuite, is the integration it offers with the analytics inherent with the social media engagement console itself. Not only can you shorten using this service, straight from the client's update box, but clickthroughs and other stats can be built into more complex reports, that also track your Facebook insights and Twitter stats. This allows for easier correlation between social clickthroughs and audience action.
That's the long and short of URL Shorteners. How will you employ shortening and click tracking into your social media activity this year?