Thursday, May 07, 2009

Does Size Matter With URLs?

Bigger is usually better. A bigger house or paycheck come to mind. When it comes to sharing links across social media like Twitter, smaller is better these days. While URL shorteners have been around for years, they have exploded in popularity as millions of us have looked to cram as much information as possible into 140 characters. Mashable recently posted a list of more than 90+ URL shortening services that are out there today.

But does URL shrinkage harm your SEO efforts? That seems to be the hot topic around the use of URL shorteners these days.

But First, A Quick Primer In URL Shorteners

In case you're not familiar with URL shorteners, here's an example of how they work:

Let's say I wanted to send out a link to my recent blog post about free Twitter analytics tools. If I sent the link as-is, it would look like this:

If I used a URL shortener like TinyURL, one of the oldest URL shorteners and the category leader, it would look like this:

If I was posting the link to Twitter, I might want an even shorter URL. In this case, I could use a service like to make the link even shorter - like this:

Sure, it's still 17 of my precious 140 characters, but my original link was 80 characters. That's quite a difference. As you can see, URL shorteners make it easier to work with character limits on Twitter.

What You Should Know About URL Shorteners and SEO

There are many factors that determine the relevancy of your content on search engines. One major factor is the number of other sites that link to your content - commonly referred to as inbound links. Traffic is another major factor, as the more popular your content is (the more visitors you get on a page), the more important your content appears to search engines.

Some URL shortening services are better than others when it comes to SEO. I won't bore you with my analysis of the tools, since search engine marketing expert Danny Sullivan has already done this work for all of us. In a recent post about URL shortening services you should use for SEO, Sullivan reviews the most popular services with his SEO hat on. In his analysis, URL shortening services TinyURL,,,, and Snurl / Snipurl get the best grade.

I personally use for my URLs, because it's one of the shorter ones, it provides some great tracking of clicks, and it supports tweeting directly from the service - three features that are important to me. But why should you use these services over the others? Here is what I got from Sullivan's analysis (with my own two cents added):
  • 301 Redirects - without getting into the nitty-gritty of how redirects work, you want a 301 redirect for your shortened URL. 301s are considered permanent redirects, so search engines will give credit to your long URL. This is what you want. If your link is shared in a lot of different places, you want the actual page (the one with the long URL) to get the credit. This will improve the ranking of your long URL page.
  • Tracking - if you're going to share a link, you might as well use a service that will let you track the results. I love for this, since I can see the total number of people who have clicked on each link I've shared. For me, this is valuable information that helps me determine the types of information my Followers want me to share with them.
  • Stability - as I mentioned above, if a URL shortening service takes its servers down for maintenance, all your short links are temporarily disabled until the service is back up. You have no control over this, since you're relying on a third-party to serve up your redirects for those shortened links. It's best to use the popular services that have been around for a while, or else you risk losing all that link equity you've built up with your shortened URLs.
Sullivan also discusses client support in his post. This is less of an issue for me, since I use for my shortened URLs, regardless of the client I'm using. I do this to keep things consistent. However, clients like TweetDeck support many of the most popular URL shortening services, while Web-based clients like HootSuite have their own built-in services ( for example).

Another feature that's offered in many of the URL shorteners is a vanity domain option. For example, I've created a TinyURL link for my LinkedIn profile called This is really just an effort on my part to protect my personal brand, but it's a nice additional feature when trying to narrow down your choice of which service you would like to use.

If you want to know more about URL shorteners and/or their impact on SEO, you should check out some of these posts:
Which URL shortening service do you use? Do you have any additional suggestions for how to use URL shortening services in conjunction with your SEO strategies?

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