URL Shorteners: What, Why, and How?


What are they?

In their most basic form, URL shorteners provide a simple web interface where the user can paste any cumbersome URL into a text box, click a button, and be returned a much shorter URL.  The user then can share the short URL with the intended audience.  Any users visiting the shortened URL will be redirected to the original URL.

For example: the URL for the Google Apps For Education Community on Google+ is: “https://plus.google.com/u/0/communities/101802680117484972712“.  I ran that URL through Google’s URL shortening service (goo.gl), and created the following shortened URL: “http://goo.gl/zDhkM“.  Anyone who clicks or types in that goo.gl link, will be redirected to the longer and messier original URL.

There are several websites that provide this service; a few of the more popular options are:

If you want more information on the concept of URL shortening, check out this Wikipedia article.  OK, on to the good stuff.

Why should you use them?

Are you providing a link on any printed material where a user would be expected to manually type the URL?  If so, a shortened link is often times easier to type.  Using a shortened URL is also less visually distracting, producing a smaller break in the flow of a paragraph.

star_smallTip: Provide a QR code as well for any printed links.  QR codes and smartphones are becoming increasingly popular and are the easiest way to connect the reader of your printer material to the intended online content.

Are you sharing on social media?  Using my example above, the full Google+ link is 61 characters in length, while the shortened version is only 19 characters.  Twitter only allows 140 characters per tweet; shorter link URLs mean more space for your accompanying message.


Do you want to track clicks?  Most URL shorteners keep a log of some basic information about those who clicked your link and can provide you with a report containing that data.

An example of this data (from goo.gl) is provided to the right (click to enlarge). Number of total clicks, a graph of clicks over time, browser and platform breakdown, even a breakdown by country of origin is provided.

How to use them?

While the overall feature set provided by these services are not identical, their core functionality is consistent.  For the purposes of this post, I’m going demonstrate the goo.gl  service.  I use goo.gl as my URL shortener of choice because I’m a Google Apps user; the goo.gl service can store information in my Google account without having to set up yet another account.  Check out the video below to see the goo.gl service in action.

But I want it to be even easier!

No problem.  If you are using Google Chrome as your browser of choice (if not maybe it is time to make the switch), go get the aptly named “goo.gl URL Shortener” extension from the Chrome Web Store.  Here is a direct link: http://goo.gl/GPNfL.  For a quick walk through, check out the following video:

Please leave any questions or comments below.

2 thoughts on “URL Shorteners: What, Why, and How?

  1. True. You don’t need to be signed into a Google account to use goo.gl, but you do need to be signed into the service (before shortening your link) in order to collect click data.

Leave a Reply