Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Search Insider: Are Shortened URL Services Sustainable For SEO And Social Traffic?

Are Shortened URL Services Sustainable For SEO And Social Traffic?

With a number of different services popping up to meet the need for dissemination of links through various networks, shortened URL redirects have become a basic utility in social networking channels, and Web marketing as a whole. But as the use of short URLs has become mainstream, and will not likely be going away any time soon, marketers should be asking themselves if services based on a third-party domain offer a sustainable long-term approach for driving traffic through social networks, reaping search benefits filtering through to their own domains.


Here are some issues marketers should be aware of when programmatically utilizing a short URL service on a third-party domain:

Each service effectively controls all social traffic and search links to your site. If you are using a third-party redirect service, that service has the ultimate control over the gateway to your future and current traffic. Would most marketers host their Web presence on a third party-domain beyond their control? The answer for most is a resounding no, and for most enterprise marketers, traffic control should be no different.

Some services don't utilize 301 redirects. For the purpose of attributing and passing through backlinks to your final landing page, a 301 redirect should be in place. This tells the engines about the final destination URL, and where search credit should be applied. So in many cases where 301s are absent, the short URL gets the credit, as the accrued links have been applied to their domain, not yours.

Some engines do not effectively apply 301 redirects, with consideration to applying backlinks. Google does the best job of all engines in terms of applying link equity, but the other engines can be a bit spotty. If there are gaps in applying unknown links at the domain level, it is preferable to have them directed at your own domain.

If the service utilizes a CCTLD, then you are putting full faith in the stability of that country code. Many services are popping up on somewhat obscure CCTLDs due to their catchiness, but political stability and Web policies might be worth checking into if you plan on utilizing or setting up a service (some have only been recognized by their current names for 10 to 20 years). At least one CCTLD has been retired (.um), though reportedly it was for lack of use. If an obscure CCTLD would not be suitable for your Web presence, then why would they be suitable as a gateway for all traffic? In case you're wondering, here are a few common CCTLDs used for short URL services, and the countries they represent: .ly, Libya; .im, Isle of Man; .am, Armenia; .gd, Grenada, and .ma, Morocco.

Users don't always know whether the landing site is to be trusted or not. When I click on a shortened URL service, I don't click it because I trust the URL itself, I click it because I trust the user who posted it. I'm also hearing of a growing number of people who are hesitant to click on a URL from a source that is not well-known or trusted by them. However, a short URL on a trusted domain, say "" or "" would be less of an issue with regular users of those sites. Trust can be built with an existing domain, or on a new domain.

The short URL service gains the domain branding impression, your company's domain does not. Traffic is one thing, but impressions are also worth mentioning here. Even if users don't click, they still view the domain. That's part of the reason why is one of the most recognized domains in the world.

Some services shut down completely without notice. Some services have gone down completely, leaving all social traffic and link benefits hanging for the site owner. Potential reasons why future services may shut down may range from not being able to support the cost of running a service, to just not wanting to maintain it any longer. In the end, these services are free, and users should have no expectation that they will be run indefinitely, or that uptime is guaranteed.

If any one of these snags applies to a URL service that you are using, here is how it can impact your search program, and social traffic flow:

-- Links are not properly applied in all search engines.
-- Backlinks may disappear altogether.
-- Long-term social and Web traffic will disappear.
-- If trust is lost in a service due to spamming, it could diminish the likelihood of some users to clickthrough, or link to your final destination site.
-- Branding impressions are lost.

Longer-term solutions for retaining control of traffic and links in search and social

Retaining control of some search benefits and social traffic is as easy as controlling your own domain name, though obviously not all traffic can be controlled because a user can go with the short URL service of their choice. But the benefit of passing the first link on your domain to your followers and friends can do a lot toward pulling traffic and link credit to your proprietary site. Marketers who plan on engaging heavily in social media and networks for disseminating information should seriously consider this option.

Solutions for setting up a service on your own domain vary. One alternative is to set up a short naming convention off the root domain for redirecting. If you use WordPress, there are plugins that allow for manual creation of shortened URLs, or you could use the default numbering convention based off the domain root. And a third option is the tried and true URL rewrite. If you already have a short domain, a rewrite will present a clean and short URL that serves both as the shorty, and also as the actual URL. You can design the URL with a serialized convention, use relevant keywords or both.

Short URL services won't be going away anytime soon (I'm sticking with for sending links to other sites, even though I have no idea who runs it or why), and the concept of utilizing a short URL is effective in helping links travel quickly through networks. But giving serious consideration to your URL strategy is worth doing if you are thinking long-term for both search and social.

Rob Garner is strategy director for digital marketing company iCrossing and writes for Great Finds, the iCrossing blog. Contact him via email at

Search Insider for Wednesday, April 22, 2009:

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