URL shorteners like Bitly are incredibly important tools for character-conscious tweeters, bloggers, and anyone else using a platform where digital real estate is limited. That’s why the revelation that Bitly links can pose serious security risks is a concern for so many. While these specific bugs are already being patched, the episode raises a deeper question: What do you really know about that shortened link you’re about to click?
While Twitter recently announced that media attachments and links will soon no longer count toward their 140-character limit, the convenience and simplicity of URL shorteners is still undeniable. But when users are confronted by “Bit.ly” or “T.co” followed by a random string of characters, how can they know what it is they’re navigating to without some context? Not only is that a user-safety issue, but it’s a missed marketing opportunity, as well. That’s where branded short domains come in.
Rather than using a generic link shortener, some companies are using the versatility of Top-Level Domains (TLDs) to deploy their own on-brand links for their social media. You may have interacted with these shortened links without noticing them, which is part of the point; they blend into your message seamlessly. YouTube, for instance, shortens its sharable video links with the “Youtu.be” domain (artfully employing Belgium’s ccTLD), saving valuable characters while still keeping their brand visible.
Aside from being on message, branded link shorteners also increase engagement, leading to 34% higher click through rates over generic shortened links. It’s no wonder that brands such as The Washington Post, Kickstarter, Nerdist, and Smosh, all use branded shorteners regularly in their social media as calls to action. Of course, even with hundreds of country codes, not all brands’ names will find a neat fit.
Fortunately, new generic domain extensions are giving other brands a chance to shorten links, too. Liverpool Victoria, for instance, registered LV.SOCIAL to send their Twitter users to posts on their Facebook page. The Seattle Times, Washington state’s largest daily newspaper, uses the ST.NEWS domain as a branded link shortener to make sure that they are recognized as the source of every story they tweet out.
This very blog uses RS.NEWS when sharing links on our social media accounts. An additional advantage of registering your own shortened domain is customizing the text after the slash to be more descriptive than a random character string. For example, a recent blog entry with a full URL of “rightside.news/domains-vs-pay-per-click-new-tlds-work” was compressed to the concise “rs.news/seotlds” once we posted it to Twitter.
While all link shorteners shorten, not all of them will put your brand first. If you’re tweeting or posting links to Facebook with any regularity, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be looking into setting up a branded short domain.