What is a URL Shortener and What Does It Do?

June 20, 2012
A URL shortener is an online application that converts a regular URL (the web address that starts with http://) into its condensed format. The user only has to copy the full URL of a website and paste it into the URL shortening tool to come up with an abbreviated version that is around 10 to 20 characters long.

Regular URL - http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/09/us/more-casinos-and-internet-gambling-threaten-shakopee-tribe.html?_r=1&hp

Shortened URL - http://nyti.ms/P7eg6B

Why Are URLs Shortened?

There are three key reasons why a URL will need to be condensed.

1. Twitter posts have character limits.

A tweet can only go as long as 140 characters, so sharing a full URL with your followers can be difficult. When posting links?with your tweet, the ethical thing to do is to introduce it first and state why you're sharing it. This may be impossible without a shortened URL.

2. Shortened URLs have more aesthetic appeal.

The reason why Twitter has limited its tweets to under 140 characters is because online readers have a very short attention span and prefer getting straight to the point. A shortened URL will make your tweets look less cluttered and will not require your followers to guess what the link is about because you have room to talk about it in brief. Posting too many lengthy URLs without descriptions will no doubt get you unfollowed.

3. Some URL shorteners come with traffic monitors.

For an online marketer, researcher or just someone who is curious how his or her tweet sharing activities are faring online, there are URL shorteners, like bit.ly, that allow you to track the number of clicks the shortened link got over a certain period. Knowing your metrics allows you to better optimize your Twitter experience, identify posts that get your followers more engaged, and basically know what appeals to your network. One of the best ways to get more followers?is to contribute valuable information to the network. Posting short URLs of interesting websites is a great way to start. Note: Shortened links are not exclusive to Twitter and may be used with other social networking platforms like Facebook and Pinterest. Twitter also has its own internal URL shortening application, which shortens web addresses to a http://t.co link.

Some Precautions

  • Like regular URLs, shortened links can also still lead you to a malicious website that can harm your computer or compromise your privacy. Be careful when clicking links without introductions, or better yet from people with unverified accounts.
  • T.co is exclusive to Twitter and may not be used for other social media applications. Here's a list of popular URL shorteners you can use both for Twitter and other platforms.
  • If you didn't use an external URL shortening tool before posting on Twitter, take note that if you type any URL of any length on the message box, t.co will automatically convert it to a t.co-driven short version. There is no way to opt out of the t.co shortener (unless, of course, you had already preconverted the link externally).

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