Don’t Trust URL Shorteners?

Don’t trust URL shortners for links on the web unless you have to and here’s why!

After Digg started directing it’s URL shortener to it’s post / Digg story pages in this story July 19th, 2009 by Pete Cashmore, Mashable’s CEO you can see why.

Here’s what Jason Kincaid had to say about Digg’s Career Suicide and Delicious founder called URL shorteners Evil and potentially unreliable middleman.

Typically when you use a link-shortening service, anyone who clicks on your shortened link will be sent directly to the original article that you’ve linked to, without any landing page or barrier in between. This is how nearly every single link shortener works, from Bit.ly to Awe.sm, and up until now DiggBar worked basically the same way, though it inserted a frame at the top of the page.

But sometime in the last few days DiggBar has changed this core functionality: clicking on a DiggBar shortlink will send anyone who isn’t already logged in to Digg to Digg.com’s list of comments about an article rather than the article itself. So, if I linked to TechCrunch.com using the DiggBar, users would first have to go to Digg’s page about TechCrunch.com before they could actually make it over here. In short, this is totally ridiculous.

Another friend of mine says currently:

  • If you’re not signed into Digg, you don’t see the diggbar, ever. If you’re signed in at the time, you see it same as before.
  • Digg decided to leave things as they were except they did change all the OLD links back to diggbar links.
  • And if you believe Kevin had no idea they were gonna do thus, I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn I’d like to sell you.

Here’ my advice

First of all, why would you use a URL shortener to begin with? Ten years on the Internet tells me not to jump on bandwagons and you all should have been smarter than to trust a site like Digg with your links or any URL shorteners to begin with.

I see this mis-thinking all the time. Why trust your content and links to sites like Facebook and worst of all incoming links to a site like Digg? Your blog is where content belongs and your links should be coded to the blog, not thru a service.

This really makes no sense to me…

In fact the URL with keywords in it these days are now used by everybody. That tells me they no longer have any effect on Google.

So first you set up your blog so that links can’t be emailed with out breaking because they are a mile long for SEO that is now obsolete.

So then you have to use a URL shortener to get the links to work, thereby shooting yourself in the foot because the links do not accurately pass Google link juice on to your site.

And do not respond to me that some do, you cannot possibly know that they will a day from now, a year from now or if they do this very minute. You really have no idea how much of your link structure works or does not. DO NOT do this anymore, you could be committing traffic suicide.

What happens when thousands of incoming links to a site go Bye-Bye when a site changes it’s policy, gets acquired or just plain closes shop? Think about how many MAJOR sites have closed up shop since 1999? How about 10 major search engines that are no longer with us? Now we have two.

And Digg is certainly not on any kind of stable financial footing, why trust them to handle your links for any period of time? At least StumbleUpon’s URL shortener uses a 301 redirect. How many don’t? How many have you even checked on? Do you know the difference? Just don’t use them.

The web is about linking to other sites, not stealing content and using it for your own purposes.

Just by adding or removing 301 redirects a URL shortener gains or passes incoming link credit. Do you know the owners of URL shortners? Are they your friends? Can you name one person behind any of them? Oh, you know Kevin Rose? Why in the hell would you even use URL shortners for any thing but a 140 character Tweet?

Why would you even waste your time on Twitter? Have you looked at your traffic stats? How many sales did you make via Twitter last month? How many by Facebook? Do you even know if Twitter or Facebook traffic converts?

Did you read my Death of Social Bookmarking case study last month?

Second, how could you trust a site like Digg that allows it’s power users to sell front page placement but yet kicks sites off and bans domains for publishing anti Digg stories or self promotion?

As far as Digg traffic goes, look at what hits front page, 70 to 100 Diggs. It used to be 300 Diggs to get front page. To me that says traffic is down by how much? You do the math but to me removing the shout mechanism and now ripping off our traffic? The mark of a dying site trying to keep it’s head above the waves.

In this case it is Digg trying to keep it’s head above Mixx and Google Wave.

32 Comments

  1. Posted August 26, 2009 at 8:03 am | Permalink

    WOW , I never thought about it like that! thanks for sharing Chris

  2. Posted August 26, 2009 at 8:05 am | Permalink

    I own jut.org, which I use for my own personal use, and yes it is a Short URL service (if anyone wants to use it, it is free, I but I set it up for myself, so i am not removing it!)

  3. Posted August 26, 2009 at 8:11 am | Permalink

    The thing I hate about your posts is that they always add more things to my to do list! Thanks for opening my eyes Chris. Looks like I’ve got some changes to make.

  4. Posted August 26, 2009 at 8:12 am | Permalink

    http://www.jut.org/short links here now…

  5. Posted August 26, 2009 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    You might also notice if you retweet this that I did not have to use a URL shortner because this blog does not have to use shortner services because it’s link structure does use the keyword permalink structure, it uses a simple query string.

    It does not break in email and neither do my other sites.

    Thanks for qualifying my thinking Joe, before URL shortners we used tracking links like you use Joe. The over use of short URL’s could potentially kill your traffic down the road.

    Two of my best traffic incoming links are from StomperNet, TechCrunch and another major site that linked here over two years ago. What would happen to that traffic if they had used a tiny URL service that had since gone under?

    What would happen if the URL service got hacked and URLs were redirected to malicious sites? Remember that Twitter get hacked twice and was down due to a denial of service attack.

    Google is indexing Twitter statuses heavily so what happens if you use a URL shortner on Twitter and then the Google result from a high traffic search term is not directing traffic to your site because it is down, no longer working or hacked?

    What if spammers decide the URL service you are using is now the spammer link of choice and all your emails go in the trash because the domain is blocked by URL filters? Tiny URL has that problem for a time.

    In the end, don’t use services that are not your own, that you can’t put your absolute trust in and if you can’t absolutely say you KNOW they will be here in a few years then don’t trust them.

    Make sense?

  6. Posted August 26, 2009 at 8:37 am | Permalink

    So, what is the bottom line? Do we redirect through a short named directory set up at our own site? Or do we send visitors to an explanatory page at our own site first and there provide the full link?

  7. Posted August 26, 2009 at 8:49 am | Permalink

    “First of all, why would you use a URL shortner to begin with?” you ask.

    We use them for tracking, we use them because Twitter won’t live without them, we use them to protect our affiliate links when people might try to keep us from earning a commission on a sale from, let’s say, Clickbank.

    LOTS of good reasons to use them… and certainly some for not.

    Choose wisely.

  8. Posted August 26, 2009 at 9:02 am | Permalink

    Sure Chris, I know what you mean, I paid 800 for this short domain, and set a short url script on it myself, and it works for my own use, but I don’t think I will be promoting it (I don’t want spammers using it but if they do I can disable/edit their link)

    What I would suggest for anyone that wants their own such shortner, they can buy a short url they like, and get a script and install it, but that is up to your readers.

    I would also like to note that I don’t promote a blog right now, I mostly promote my youtube, which has had over 2 million views so far, and right now I get about 2500 to 3000 views a day on there. Mostly from the google keyword “utube.com” http://www.google.com/#hl=en&source=hp&q=utube.com&aq=1p&aqi=n1g-p1g-s1g8&oq=utube&fp=35e5f905b5e4329b My Youtube video called “UTube.com VS YouTube.com Lawsuit” has over 1.1 million views. I wish I could do that to a few more videos!

  9. Posted August 26, 2009 at 9:04 am | Permalink

    Vevstad, if you use WordPress, use the urls like http://www.canadianshopper.org/hosting (I can help you do that if you need help)

  10. Posted August 26, 2009 at 9:04 am | Permalink

    @Vevstad,

    The bottom line is except for Twitter and even then if you don’t have to, don’t use short URLs.

    There is no reason I see to use them, except in circumstances where they must be used.

    Putting a landing page between content and the visitor is a bad idea unless it adds value.

    I did that today by writing an article that brought more value to you all (or I hope I did) by linking to the original content that was written by people like Mashable’s CEO, Delicious’ founder and TechCrunch.

    I believe this article is a good demonstration of not just Tweeting links but writing a blog post that includes great content by linking to it and expanding on it from my own authority point of view.

    If you want to share great links and not blog about it then I suggest using Google Reader to share the links out your Google Reader Shared Items and your Google Friend Connect friends. That is a platform that is here to stay, unlike Digg that seems to continually shoot itself in the foot out of desperation.

  11. Posted August 26, 2009 at 9:06 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the heads-up Chris, I’ll be in good shape when I get up to speed with your Google info and get the Permalink thing you spoke of figured out.

  12. Posted August 26, 2009 at 9:21 am | Permalink

    @Work At Home Dad,

    What do you mean Twitter can’t live without them? I tweet links all the time when they are short enough. I just Tweeted this link and I did not use a URL shortner. That is my point, you have been sold a bill of goods.

    You DO NOT have to use a URL shortner. Also redirects will pull phishing filter blocking when you use them for PalPal links. Sure URL redirects to preserve affiliate links are a must, but just try getting a ClickBack URL thru email filters or a redirect to one. ClickBank URLs are currently getting email deleted by spam filters. You are better off getting affiliates to a landing page and then using a redirect.

    But that can of worms is for another day and for my email delivery blog, not for this post.

    And if you take a good look at that blog then you might notice I know a little something about URL filters. One destroyed my entire business exactly a year ago for no reason…

    But we are not talking about affiliate link protection or tracking links, we are talking about the overuse of URL shortners, especially what has happened to the Digg tiny URL service.

    Of course tracking on your server for analytics is important, any one that knows me knows I have said a million times testing is everything. But that is not what we are talking about. We are talking about whether or not URL services will be here tomorrow. Don’t use them for tracking, that is not what they are for. If you want to track links, do so with a professional script on your server, not some free service.

  13. Posted August 26, 2009 at 9:25 am | Permalink

    Chris, thank you for your insights on this. I hadn’t thought of URL shorteners being such a problem.

    I use a WordPress plugin in my blog for shortening URLs and tracking. It’s called Pretty Link and it basically appends 3 random digits after your own URL. So if one has a short-ish URL and a long filename, this would help solve the problem.

    What do you think of something like Pretty Link?
    I appreciate your thoughts. Thanks for sharing!
    ~cj

  14. Tony
    Posted August 26, 2009 at 9:31 am | Permalink

    Hey Chris-

    What did you mean by…

    “So first you set up your blog so that links can’t be emailed with out breaking because they are a mile long for SEO that is now obsolete.”

    Are you saying that using keywords in linking doesn’t work any more?

    Maybe I mis understood.

  15. Posted August 26, 2009 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    PrettyURL sounds great to me, although I have not used it. I would always prefer a link you own. There are times to use outbound tracking links. You might notice I use AWeber for my email delivery and I use their tracking links to track email click thrus so I can measure what you are all interested in to deliver better content.

    AWeber is not going anywhere soon, they are over 10 years old and in my mind the best.

    But my incoming link structure does not depend on them, it only is dependent for a short time.

    Got a URL for the plugin? I would love to look at the documentation to see if it uses a 301 redirect.

    Thanks for the great feedback!

  16. Tony
    Posted August 26, 2009 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    I would also like you to explain further the permalink strategy.

    Also, do you recommend a script to put on sites for tracking?

    What about googles free service?

  17. Posted August 26, 2009 at 9:56 am | Permalink

    @Tony,

    Take a look at the link structure of GooglingSocial.com

    http://www.googlingsocial.com/?p=362

    It uses query strings, it does not use keyword URLs, all I can say is I have out ranked Scoble, Mashable, TechCrunch and Cnet for major keyword terms and have a PR 4 blog and less than 600 incoming links total.

    They are PR 7 and 8 blogs with over 100,000 incoming links. I out rank them most times.

    Now you tell me if keywords in URLs are that important.

    I can’t say it is fact, I can only say it is fact that GooglingSocial ranks extremely well and does not use a keyword permalink structure.

    Also if you have a blog set up DO NOT change it’s permalink structure, leave it as it is and live with it, with or without long URLs. DO NOT change your link structure in WordPress, if you have been using whatever, stick with it. You could easily break all your incoming links.

    But on your next blog don’t believe Google rankings depend on that. It is more important to link to authority sites and create the social indicators I teach you to create in the members site. I know you are new there Tony, but stick with it and take each step week by week.

    DO NOT under any circumstances change the permalinks on your blog if you have already been publishing posts under a current setting.

    If you need help, I am here for you, you are a paying member and get premium access to me, but before you make any decisions make sure I have the full story and advise you. If you need help on this email me and we can set up a phone chat. Cool?

  18. Posted August 26, 2009 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    articlewritingnews, PrettyURL is not the best, i would opt for a keyword like I posted earlier as in /hosting rather then /123.

  19. Posted August 26, 2009 at 10:20 am | Permalink

    @Joe,

    To my SEO mind if it don’t use 301s then I would not use it.

    I asked Jack Humphrey and Paul Myers to chime in here in the next few days and give us the lowdown on exactly what to use for tracking on your sites.

    This ain’t my strong point, I don’t do affiliate links. But I can use Google Analytics to produce most of the numbers I need. But really, this post was about NOT using free services that will not be here in the future to create incoming links to your site that will break at some point down the road.

    Many people like me used Digg to get social incoming links and then look what they have done…

    That is not to say social bookmarking sites do not return positive indicators to Google.

    That is what I am really trying to teach here, but I am sure experts like Jack and Paul will have the exact solution they recommend for you all.

    And yes, there is a URL filter that is blocking ClickBank links, they just disappear but I don’t have exact data on that yet.

  20. Posted August 26, 2009 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    Case in point: Cnet article on tr.im coming up short…

    http://news.cnet.com/8301-13577_3-10306202-36.html

  21. Posted August 26, 2009 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    The ups-and-downs of tr.im have revealed the problems with relying on external URL shorteners.

    You can create a URL shortener for your own site and control your brand – see my recent article:
    http://sean-o.com/short-URL

  22. Tony
    Posted August 26, 2009 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

    I was going to use su.pr which is stumbleupons.

    The reason it sounded interesting is because they said it would also help give you link juice which they accuse the others of not being able to do.

    I would like to know if this is true?

    Is this one different than the others in this way?

    Does it have anything to do with the 301 follow attribute that I honestly don’t understand?

    The only reason i would use this is for twitter and that’s only if the original link would not fit in the tweet.

    thx,

    tony

  23. Posted August 26, 2009 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

    Chris,

    As far as the link shorteners, I just got a short (4 characters + .com) domain and use Tracking Ace on it. I don’t use it often, though, as I don’t do much active link campaigning. It’s mostly for special cases. In general, if I need a redirect, I use a PHP redirect in a directory with a short (1-letter) name.

    Sorry. Nothing fancy to recommend. You need someone who’s got more focus on link-dependent activities than me. I definitely agree with the idea of not depending on an outside service for things like this, though. That’s just begging for trouble.

    On the Clickbank issue… Clickbank.net is not currently listed in any of the major public blocklists. If there’s a problem, it’s in either local lists at ISPs or in some security or ad-blocking software.

    I haven’t seen any reference to a current problem elsewhere, but that doesn’t mean it’s not happening. It’s not uncommon for these things to go unnoticed for a while, as the recipients don’t usually know that something was deleted before they saw it.

    Paul

  24. Posted August 26, 2009 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

    Chris it depends on the type of redirect the shorten services uses. 301 redirects are permanent where as 302 redirects are temporary. In my view this is where the service can rip unsuspecting users off because at any stage a shorten URL service can change where the redirect points if passing links via 302 redirects. Not 301’s.

    As far as I know Digg presents the source URL as the preferred version of the URL through a 301 redirect.

    Digg also uses the meta “noindex tag” to keep the Digg frame URL out of search indexes.

    Digg also include link rel=”canonical” information to indicate that the original URL is the real (canonical) version.

    Additional URL properties like PageRank and related signals, are thus transferred through the redirect as well. This renders most,.. of if not all of the same SEO benefits to the destination page than what they would receive if not running through the Digg bar frame.

    My 2 cents worth,… that’s 1.65 cents AUD actually.

    Now whats happening with my mail server settings,..You can answer this last question in an email if you don’t mind.

  25. Posted August 26, 2009 at 9:41 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for another wakeup call that’s so timely.

    I’ve heard of how bad it is for marketers to use url shorteners and now you’ve just highlighted the main issues that we need to be aware of.

    Many thanks and much appreciated.

  26. Posted August 27, 2009 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    I also have 3 LLLL.coms (4 letter .coms) and just wanted to post again that TR.IM decided to stay in business… And one of the programmers is personally paying for any shortfalls in donations and giving the site to “the community”…

    http://blog.tr.im/post/165049236/tr-im-to-be-community-owned

  27. Posted August 27, 2009 at 11:41 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the rant, Chris!

    As always great value and know-how.

    The history of business tells us not to trust ANY company with our future well being.

    Again, REALLY GOOD STUFF.

    Your friend,
    Brian Adrian

  28. Posted August 28, 2009 at 5:29 am | Permalink

    There is a lot of great information on this post, and it is really interesting since I do use bit.ly for my tweets. When long links get added to Twitter they automatically get shortened (as most know or find out soon enough if just starting).
    I wrote a short series of posts on one of my blogs describing a few URL shortening services and how they are different from each other, but now you post this, Chris, and new light appears. I am going to come back here when I have more time and reread all the great comments. I like the idea of having your own short url domain.
    The news of having your own script on your own short url is interesting.

    I also appreciate the awakening comments about Twitter since I spent quite some time this summer using it. With Twitter though the Tweets are fleeting so if you are tweeting only to make sales what are the chances that your tweet gets seen before being buried amongst the masses? How many tweets never ever get seen?

    I think you have written another “ahead of its time” post here Chris. Nice work.

  29. Posted August 28, 2009 at 5:31 am | Permalink

    Hey Chris,

    Another great lesson – thanks. I have a question, a tiny bit off topic, but here goes. I installed the onlywire plug in into my WP site because of its promises to simplify the process of getting new posts distributed to the social sites like Mixx, Reddit, Digg, etc.

    However, nearly 6 months later – and about 15 posts or so – and I see no real evidence that I’m getting any backlinks or google love from any of it. What’s your thought? Is this a complete waste of resources and time?

    Scott

  30. Posted August 28, 2009 at 8:17 am | Permalink

    You don’t need to Joe. It’s good; I have tried it. You can try aafter.com. This is my recommendation. It is also free and fail-safe and good for social bookmarking sites.

    Misty

  31. Posted September 30, 2009 at 7:57 pm | Permalink

    If you want a URL shortener that solves the trust problem, try http://z-9.us. Instead of re-directing you to the target page, or trapping you in a frame, this URL shortener always lands you on a page at z-9.us, which simply shows you the complete, long URL, where you can then click it, if you want to. In other words, you get to look at the long URL before you leap there.

  32. Posted January 16, 2010 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

    Wow. This is a very interesting post, I never thought about url shorteners like that… It is something to think about for sure…

2 Trackbacks

  1. By Should You Use URL Shorteners? on September 2, 2009 at 10:10 am

    […] Chris Lang makes a convincing case to ditch your URL shorteners, this is not 100% related to search engine optimization, but I think it is important enough to discuss. The only time I’d say you should use an URL shortener is when you are promoting affiliate programs and you want to mask your affiliate ID. Even then, there is a better alternative. Why not set up a page on your website that uses a keyword as a part of the folder and link to that page every time you want to promote your program. Then, when your site visitor clicks a link and heads over to that page they are redirected to your affiliate program’s landing page and the sale closed. Why would you want to do it that way? […]

  2. […] Chris Lang makes a convincing case to ditch your URL shorteners, this is not 100% related to search engine optimization, but I think it is important enough to discuss. The only time I’d say you should use an URL shortener is when you are promoting affiliate programs and you want to mask your affiliate ID. Even then, there is a better alternative. Why not set up a page on your website that uses a keyword as a part of the folder and link to that page every time you want to promote your program. Then, when your site visitor clicks a link and heads over to that page they are redirected to your affiliate program’s landing page and the sale closed. Why would you want to do it that way? […]