short links

The Importance of a Shortened URL: The Sasquatch Defense

Before we get into this blog post about the use of customizable URL shorteners, let’s clear the air about one other thing: Big Foot is real. Without a doubt. I know, because I’ve seen him in various documentaries, most notably, 1987’s gripping “Harry and the Hendersons,” http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0093148/ which recounts a failed attempt to integrate a Sasquatch into a typical suburban American family. A Big Foot even landed a sweet endorsement deal with Jack Links Beef Jerky, and yet the lamestream media all but denies the existence of this gentle, pungent creature.

What does this have to do with customizable URL shorteners? If you’re like me, you probably have hundreds of online articles, videos and other Sasquatch-related media bookmarked. You cite that media when you give your annual Big Foot Power Point presentation, hard copies of which you give to attendees.

The problem is, many URLs are long, cumbersome, difficult to remember and hard to retype in your web browser.

For example, The Atlantic posted a great story titled “Why Bigfoot Sightings Are So Common Across Cultures.” But no one want to retype: http://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2016/10/sasquatch/505304/.

That’s when you use a service such as Bitly to access the URL “theatln.tc/2eJycC.”

Note that The Atlantic’s website appears to include a plug-in that integrates its name into the shortened URL, but also limits the customizable options of Bitly.

I also like Tiny URL, a free service that allowed me to generate this customized link: tinyurl.com/BFcommon.

Shortened links are also useful for directing print readers to sites with additional data, such as a videos  or interactive slideshow that augments the print experience.

Shortened URLs also means it’s easier for your audience to access public documents, such as the government’s top secret 800 page spreadsheet chronicling Big Foot sightings in Acadia National Park for 2016. Obviously, you can’t reprint the entire thing to include in your Acadia Big Foot Society newsletter. But you can post the report online and provide a short, snappy customizable link in your mailer that will make it easier for folks to access the raw data.

Shortened links makes it easier for your audience — whether live or print — to access any content with a URL, and to pass that content on to others. And using a clever, succinct, shortened URL will really set you apart from those UFO nuts. Believe me, those guys are cray-cray.

Next: We’ll show you the how to use shortlinks online, and give you a look at the tools offered by Bitly to help you gather analytics.

A Crash Course on Google’s Link Shortening and Tracking Services

There are a few jobs in the world where a keen sense of tracking is necessary. These include bounty hunters, meteorologists, storm chasers, wildlife biologists, Sasquatch enthusiasts, and marketers. Unfortunately, unless you’re a marketer, this post isn’t going to help you a whole lot. If you’re curious about the kind of tracking marketers partake in, then you should stick around for a bit.

We’ve explored the idea of short tracking links before with services like bit.ly, owl.ly, and tinyurl.com. and (spoiler alert) have more posts coming about those services. These services are perfect if you have a URL you want to shorten, but don’t have access to the website or it’s analytics. Google now has a link shortening service that is more or less a stripped down version of Bitly, so between this service and Google Analytics, Google is more or less a one-stop shop for your link shortening/tracking needs.

Google Link Shortener

This service varies slightly from Google Analytics (which I will also discuss in a bit), but it’s basically Google’s version of Bitly. You can copy any link and shorten it, then measure it’s progress (who shared it, where they’re from in the world, that sort of stuff). It’s completely free, meaning that you don’t get to customize shortlinks, and anyone can view the shortlink stats. The URL format is goo.gl/[random letters and numbers] . Below is a look at the different bits of data you have access to with a Google link shortener (my sample link was from a random blog post, I haven’t actually shared it anywhere so that’s why the data looks a bit empty).

googlshortener

Google Analytics

Google Analytics gets you the nitty-gritty information, but doesn’t shorten any links. It’s a free service that requires a bit of setup to start collecting data, but it’s something that only you can look at for your own website. Doing this gives you much more in the way of statistics- you can see things like how people reached your site (Facebook, email, Google search), average length of visit, most popular page, and more. The amount of information at your fingertips with Google Analytics can be overwhelming if you aren’t sure what you’re looking for. Nicole wrote this great post a few years ago that will point you in the direction of metrics to begin with.

An example of Audience Overview statistics for one month (as you can see, there are a ton of options for viewing preferences)

An example of Audience Overview statistics for one month (as you can see, there are a ton of options for viewing preferences)

Unfortunately, not all the information is 100% accurate (sometimes “users” includes the same person visiting your website on a different browser). But, if you are a website that has user ID’s (like eCommerce sites where you create an account), you can set up User ID tracking to “zoom in” on individual user activity. It takes some time and light coding to set up, but if you’re really serious about that sort of thing, check out this article that explains the set up.

If you don't care to follow individual users, you can get a "clumped together" look at how people move around on your website with the User Flow feature.

If you don’t care to follow individual users, you can get a “clumped together” look at how people move around on your website with the User Flow feature.

One thing you can do is set goals (and then track them), so if you have a page in particular that you want people to get to, setting a goal in Google Analytics can help you focus your marketing techniques.

Although shortening links and tracking links are two separate services, sometimes you can get both in one service, like Bitly or Google’s link shortener. But if you want an in-depth look at tracking, you’re better off using Google Analytics to set goals and make more informed marketing decisions. Stay tuned for more about link shortening throughout the month!

Kassie is a distance runner and a distance reader really. She lives in Ellsworth Maine and, while she might be quiet when you meet her, will throw out something witty when you least expect it.

A Complete Guide To Short Tracking Links: The Where, Why, and How

You may have noticed weird looking links in your online life,  like in your Facebook or Twitter feed. And you may also notice them in places like magazines.

Here’s an example (I blurred part of the page name because it’s a naughty word):

shortlinksonfacebook

These bit.ly, owl.ly, tinyurl.com and other links are basically short links. People use these services to make shorter links… and to track those links.

First, let’s talk about the short part.

The actual link above, unshortened, would be: http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/2013/02/20/scientists-unravel-mystery-of-flying-squid/

As you see, that’s way longer. That link would barely fit in a tweet by itself, let alone leaving room for any kind of commentary. Because Twitter has a 140 character limit.

But you may ask yourself, “Facebook has no limits. Why do I care about using short links on Facebook?”

This is where the tracking part comes in:

bitlydataonlink

We see that this link was first shortened in 2013, so this isn’t new news. The 6,566 clicks in the last hour is likely from this one Facebook share.

Now the ‘I ******* love science’ Facebook page isn’t owned (at least that anyone knows of) by National Geographic (the place where the flying squid article was posted). So the only way the can know if people are clicking on something they are sharing on a website that doesn’t belong to them is to use a  short/tracking link.

If you are sharing a link to your own website, you can see the data (who clicks and beyond). But these short/tracking links are specifically for:

1) When you need something short (like you have a magazine article and want to send people to the online video corresponding to it). The less someone has to type, the less likely they are to mistype!
2) When you need to track something you can’t normally (a click to a Twitter profile from Facebook, a link to another website, etc.)

So let’s look at this flying squid post in more detail:

76,702 people clicked on the link (from Bitly.com)
35,986 people liked it (from Facebook post)
8,819 people shared it (from Facebook post)1,719 left a comment (from Facebook post)

A majority of your fans/friends will never say a word about what you post. As you see, most people don’t. The lowest commitment thing you can do when someone shares a link is click on it. The next level of interest is liking it, etc. The highest level of interest is someone saying something about it… and as you see most people never get there. Of the 76,000+, less than 2,000 people actually said something about it.

So thinking the only people interacting with you are your commenters is a mistake. Many people will tell you what they like (and don’t) silently with a click (or a lack of click).

The I ***** love science Facebook page is smart: they are actively tracking what people do and don’t like and refining what they share accordingly.

And now that you know that you can make tracking links using services like bitly (free), you can do the same!

Nicole runs Breaking Even Communications, an internet marketing company in Bar Harbor Maine. When she’s not online, she enjoys walking her short dog, cooking with bacon, and trying to be outdoorsy in Acadia National Park.