Top Five Questions You Need to Ask Before Choosing a URL Shortening Tool
If you’re using social media or sending SMS marketing messages then you know all about link or url shortening. Or do you? Are all services the same, and are there options you didn’t even know you had?
Here are five questions you should ask before choose a service to shorten your links in your SMS messages.
- Does it shorten links? This looks like a silly question doesn’t it? Maybe it is, but I put it in there because there are a lot of tools out there people use for social media that include link shorteners, but aren’t standalone link shortening service. Hootsuite is one that comes to mind. If you’re a member of Hootsuite, you can use the built in ow.ly link shortener for all your social media posts. You can also use it to shorten any link, even one that you’ll insert into an SMS message. So if you’re already using some online tools, take a look at them and see if they also shorten links. It may make your life easier if you don’t need to learn a new tool or use multiple services for marketing analytics.
- Can you use a custom domain name? You probably immediately recognise URLs with “bit.ly” as shortened links. Have you ever seen a very short URL with something that looks more like a “real” domain name? These are often called branded or custom domain names. They all begin with a domain you purchase just like your standard domain names, only you purposely choose a short one. For example the website TheNextWeb.com uses “tnw.to”. Even bit.ly is a custom domain name, it just happens to belong to a service that shortens URLs for other people. Using a branded domain name will let anyone that sees your link know it comes from you and is legitimate. Generic bit.ly URLs often raise suspicions because there’s no way to be sure where they come from or where they go. You can go to domai.nr (a custom domain and domain name service) and search for available short domain names based on your organisations name, initials or other abbreviation. Be prepared though. The pricing for these types of domains can be much more expensive than a standard domain name. It all depends on what you pick. Domain name combinations that are actual words, or sound like words will probably come at a premium price.
- Does it provide or include analytics? One of the main points of using URLs in SMS messages in marketing campaigns is to help track how well it’s working. The URL sends traffic to your website or landing page whether you track it or not of course, but tracking will help you calculate the return on investment of your SMS messaging use. All the major URL shortening companies provide analytics packages. Some are integrated into the service, others integrate with Google Analytics. Some provide analytics for free, some require paid subscriptions.
- Who’s running the service anyway? One thing a good shortening service must do is work all the time. The larger, more popular URL shortening companies have large customer bases and good reliability. But there are lots of other people and companies out there running their own services. It isn’t actually hard to do at all. While you might get a good deal (even free) on services, if the company behind it isn’t running on a reliable server or hosting then you can’t be sure your links will work when you need them to. Not much would be worse then to send out thousands of SMS marketing messages and have none of the links work because the service is down. Before making the final choice of service, make sure they are reliable and not someone running it all on an ancient computer in their garage.
- Is the service reasonably priced? The costs for services could be absolutely free. In fact, most offer a free level of service. Custom domains or analytics could require a subscription. The major services like Bit.ly offer full marketing services with tracking and analytics for multiple custom domains. Just for an example, Bit.ly’s services are $995 per month. That’s out of reach for smaller organisations and businesses. You’ll find a large range so be sure to find out the full cost for services if you need to shorten more than an occasional link, or you want to track link clicks.
What are your favourite URL shortening tools? Please share your advice in the comments.
Just for fun, I asked people in a marketing focused Facebook group to share the worst SMS marketing messages they’ve ever received. I was expecting a deluge of responses, but actually only a few trickled in. But those horrible SMS marketing messages are out there…the comments on my post proved it even if no one wanted to share (I guess they’re all shy).
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