Two online requirements for which I am certain:
- Search engine optimized URLs, which makes my entries look like this: http://michaelcheek.com/2011/05/26/branded-url-shorteners-for-your-business-and-yourself-inexpensive-easy-and-well-branded
- A URL shortener, which makes that 122-character into this 21-character URL: http://mykl.co/lc1Akc
The basic idea with a URL shortener is just that. Take a really long, complex URL and shorten it to something simple. This can be extremely helpful for use when you need someone to recall simple URLs in a television ad, you have limited number of characters, as in a tweet, or you’re creating a QR code.
QR or Quick Response codes are bar codes becoming very popular in retail outlets (you can see an example to the left). Smart phones use applications to decode the information in QR codes. Often the data is as simple as a phone number or a URL to a mobile website or a link to a video. The more data crammed into a QR code, the bigger the block needs to be. So by shortening the link, the smaller the block (and the easier for the phone to decode), as explained in this earlier entry.
Several URL shorteners are available, many of them for free.
Bit.ly Puffs Up Shortening
Among the most popular is Bit.ly with its puffer-fish logo. Bit.ly integrates itself easily and automatically into several services including WordPress and Twitter, making it extremely easy to use and track. For me, I’ve added a plug-in with my blog, which is WordPress-based. Every entry, page or anything generated on my website at http://MichaelCheek.com automatically generates a bit.ly link. That shortened link is then used and published to Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and through my RSS feeds.
When I go back and look at an individual posting or page, I can see results within WordPress. For example, the recent post “Five Myths About Social Media” at http://michaelcheek.com/2011/05/24/five-myths-about-social-media/. The graphic to the left shows 22 global clicks to the Bit.ly’s http://bit.ly/kPCVks link within WordPress.
Keep in mind it only “counts” is someone uses the Bit.ly link http://bit.ly/kPCVks. Visits to http://michaelcheek.com/2011/05/24/five-myths-about-social-media/ are ignored.
The great thing about using Bit.ly is it keeps track of things too. As I’ve mentioned, I’ve integrated this URL shortener with Twitter as well. So if I go to Twitter and I paste the long URL http://michaelcheek.com/2011/05/24/five-myths-about-social-media/ into it, Bit.ly remembers the short version for me and inserts http://bit.ly/kPCVks.
This data is further tracked at Bit.ly for universal tracking with a more robust statistics. Bit.ly will not replace your analytics at all, but it acts as a supplement. Looking at an individual link is also possible. Bit.ly also makes it incredibly handy with an integrated QR code on the individual page.
Bit.ly also allows you to alter the details following the slash. Rather than the random six characters, you can make it more appropriate. But don’t expect some commonly used phrases to be available.
This is why branding might come in handy. And yes, Bit.ly supports it with Bitly.pro. But not so fast. We’ve got another option to cover.
Your URL Is Yourls
Bit.ly operates as a service on the web and offers a lot of handy options but, in my opinion, has one major drawback: Once a short-link is created, you cannot alter it (the importance of which becomes clearer when we get into branding).
Further, having worked in corporate environments, some IT organizations require a certain level of security around servers (I didn’t say this, but I think it’s more about job security than the usual excuse, which is Sarbanes-Oxley compliance; any legal counsel familiar with law would say doesn’t apply to public domain marketing materials).
Rather than going through the expense of building your own, consider Yourls available from Yourls.org. Again, it’s free and an extremely easy application to use. It would also be an easy install for any IT professional to install. However, if you aren’t an IT professional, consider using GoDaddy.com as a host and have it installed there. I know there’s been a bit of controversy around GoDaddy and its founder, Bob Parsons. However, the only hosting company I could find that makes Yourls as an application and easy installation is GoDaddy. Ultimately, this is a business decision.
Yourls also offers a plug-in for WordPress that also integrates with Twitter, essentially working the same exact way as Bit.ly’s. And Yourls offers statistics, although its engine doesn’t give the robust universal statistics, which is a little disappointing. Instead, Yourls invests in a greater insight into single URL data and hits, locations and more.
Yourls also requires you BYOD: Bring your own domain. It’s not a service you can use without a domain. You have to have a domain to install Yourls under.
Branding Is in the Domain
Here’s the fun part: Getting the domain. For those of you not familiar, it’s the word followed with the “dot-com” or “dot-net.” Your goal, if you choose to accept this mission, is to make it memorable and, if possible, two letters. Here’s the difficult part for companies in the Americas (which will be easiest for to get). Your options are as follows:
- .ag (top level domain for Antigua andBarbuda)
- .bz (top level domain for Belize)
- .ca (top level domain for Canada)
- .co (top level domain for Columbia)
- .gs (top level domain for South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands)
- .me (top level domain for Montenegro)
- .ms (top level domain for Montserrat)
- .mx (top level domain for Mexico)
- .tc (top level domain for Turks and Caicos Islands)
- .tv (top level domain for the islands of Tuvalu)
- .us (top level domain for the United States)
- .vg (top level domain for the British Virgin Islands)
- .am (top level domain for Armenia)
- .at (top level domain for Austria)
- .be (top level domain for Belgium)
- .cc (top level domain for Cocos or Keeling Islands)
- .de (top level domain for Germany)
- .eu (top level domain for European Union)
- .es (top level domain for Spain)
- .fm (top level domain for the Federated States of Micronesia)
- .fr (top level domain for France)
- .in (top level domain for India)
- .it (top level domain for Italy)
- .jp (top level domain for Japan)
- .nl (top level domain for Netherlands)
- .nu (top level domain for the island state of Niue)
- .se (top level domain for Sweden)
- .tk (top level domain for Tokelau)
- .tw (top level domain for the Taiwan)
- .ws (top level domain for Samoa)
- Almost all three-letter domains are taken, especially if it makes any sense. But you can try.
- You will have the most luck with four- and five-letter words with the domains to follow.
- If you are a publicly traded company, start with your stock symbol.
- Remove the vowels from your company.
- Try different phonetic spellings of names.
- Adding in numbers helps.
- Make it memorable and easy, if at all possible.
Doing It for Yourself
I’ve done both, using Bit.ly and Yourls. Both have pros and cons.
With Bit.ly, you can integrate your own domain. It’s remarkably simple if you understand just enough about Domain Name Server or DNS to make one edit. And I do.
“Michael” has long been the most popular name in the world, but .el doesn’t exist as a top level domain. Mich.ae was available but only if I lived in the United Arab Emirates, so that was a no-go. Mich.al wasn’t available from Albania. Anyway, long story short, I wanted to make it relatively easy on myself and ended up with the phonetic Mykl.co (notice if you go there, you just end up at Bit.ly). I considered Mykl.ch in Switzerland, but I went with .co because it was on sale (look, I’m still looking for a job).
With Bitly.pro, once the domain is registered in your name, just point the DNS “A” record to the IP address provided by Bit.ly in the Settings area. After a little while for propagation to happen over the Internet — as little as an hour, as long as three days — you’ll be all set.
So to reach my generic resume at http://michaelcheek.com/media/michael-cheek-resume/index.html, you can visit http://mykl.co/jTBj0y, which is the same thing as http://bit.ly/jTBj0y. The last six characters do not change and, yes, capitalization does matter.
With Yourls, it’s a bit more fun. I’ve also got the domain UGoo.me, which is an idea for the future and I’ve not really done anything with. I’ve put Yours in the subdirectory named “2,” although I certainly could have put it at root so it could have worked right at http://ugoo.me. With Yourls, I get to name my forwards, so rather than being stuck with six random characters, I can make it anything I want. In the case of my resume, I’ve chosen just the letter, “r.” Therefore, the forwarding link to my resume is http://ugoo.me/2/r. Even with the extra subdirectory, I have three less characters than Bitly.pro’s and it’s easier to recall.
The other benefit with Yourl’s is let’s say I reorganize my site and move my resume to some other location like http://michaelcheek.com/resume/. The Bitly.pro (and therefore Mykl.co) links are all useless. But with Yourls, I can go and change the link to reflect the new URL. If you’re putting a URL out into the public space (or a QR code, for that matter), being able to change where that URL goes is a distinct advantage. As marketing campaigns and brands evolve, you will not lose the simplicity of the domain and links so you can maintain efforts.
Because It’s About the Brand
While Bit.ly offers recognition online, in the end it might be more about your brand and make it worthwhile to create recognition. For me, it would be about the brand. In the end, the investment is minuscule compared to what it could create over time.
So let’s review…
Both provide excellent choices and both offer great opportunities to push your brand forward. Start shortening your URLs for yourself with your own brand.
This entry also appears in Michael’s Idea Lab.