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Shortening and expanding URLs


posted on Sunday, September 23, 2012

Ever since Twitter, more and more we're being confronted with short, unreadable URLs. Want to know why, how to shorten them and how to make them readable again? Keep reading...

URL shortening is a technique to shorten URLs but still have them direct to the same page. The concept has been around for a while but has gained heaps of popularity with the increasing use of social networks. An example: Twitter allows you 140 characters to say whatever you have to say, imagine you want to post the url of this blog http://www.thiscouldbeuseful.com/2012/09/shortening-and-expanding-urls.html (which you really should!) . The length of the URL will count in these 140 charactes as well, taking a lot of room. So for situations like this -amongs others- you could use URL shortening. This would shorten our URL to a shorter, unreadable http://goo.gl/nb45B (for example), cutting the length and giving you more characters to spill your guts and have your readers link to the same place.

Just so you know: Twitter used to use TinyURL for automatically shortening the links you wanted to post, later switched to bit.ly, but recently implemented their own shortening service (look for the t.co ID in the links).

But wait, there's more! A couple of things you need to know (without going into details): these URL shortening services usually use temporary or permanent redirection which could be important for you concerning your SEO (more info: http://seo-hacker.com/301-302-redirect-affect-seo/). Another issue is that when the shortening service goes down (temporarily unavailable or actually shut down), your link will become broken.

There are, quite a lot, known issues using URL shortening, most of them concerning abuse of the fact that the user cannot see where the link is really taking them. Spammers have been known to take advantage of the ability to disguise the underlying address and link to "bad" sites. There are also some privacy and content violation problems attached to the use of URL shortening but I think that as long as you only use short links distributed by people you know (and trust) you should be fine.

To tackle some of these issues, you could create short, human readable URLs. Some services (such as TinyURL) allow you to do so. Keep in mind that these readable links will be longer than length-optimized links.

An even better way, is to generate the orginal link again, to be sure where the URL is sending you. A great service to do this is LongURL, they show you the title, short url, redirects, long url, meta description, content-type and sometimes even a screenshot of the URL you like to expand.

If the short URL happens to be one generated by TinyURL, you can use another nice feature: if you go to the website and click the "Preview Feature" in the menu on the left, you can enable a preview feature. Note that this only goes for TinyURL links. You'll be asked to enable the feature by allowing some cookies. You'll be able to disable the feature as well. If you enable it and surf to a TinyURL short link, you'll be redirected to the TinyURL website which will show you the URL of the refered website. I think this is a really  nice feature!

So, know that you know the basics of URL shortening and how to use them safely, here's some links to help you shorten all the links you like!

Services:
https://bitly.com
http://tinyurl.com/
http://goo.gl/
http://y2u.be/ (YouTube url shortener, generates a short and a very short URL)
http://longurl.org/ (make short URLs long again!)

Sources:
http://seo-hacker.com/301-302-redirect-affect-seo/
http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/twittercom_gets_its_own_url_shortener.php

Could be useful, right?


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