Short URLs keep old links from "going bad."

How many links are there still floating around the Internet pointing to old, outdated content? How many links are now returning 404 errors because the content has disappeared altogether? What can you do with your webinar registration links once the webinar is over?

The obvious answer is to change where the links point. While this can sometimes be done with redirects, we often don’t control the servers where our content lives.

Short URLs provide an answer.

Start by creating links to your content using a URL shortening service that lets you change the destination of their links. This gives you the power to change the destination on their service and all instances of a link across the Internet will be redirected almost instantly.

This is just one of many short URL tricks that are being made possible by more and more sophisticated shortening services. Here are some others.

Be sure to add your own in the comments.

Track Your Content Like 007

Short URL Analytics

Some URL Shortening Services offer sophisticated analytics for the online marketer.

Homing devices are indispensible in the spy business. A good spook always has one ready at hand to drop in a target’s bag or stick to the bottom of a car.

Short URLs give us the power to add homing beacons to our links. Then, we can track them across the Internet as people click on them in their news feeds and email inboxes.

These homing devices are actually parameters added to the end of a URL. Analytics packages read them and use them to identify the source of incoming traffic.

Here’s a homing URL for Google Analytics:

http://searchengineland.com/library/conversion-science?utm_campaign=Conversion-Science-Column&utm_source=SearchEngineLand.com&utm_medium=link&utm_content=stupid-short-URL-tricks&utm_term=try+this+one

This URL is 206 characters long, so it’s not going to fit in a Tweet. Use it in an email or Facebook post, and it will tip off any perps who don’t want to be tracked. Plus, it’s just ugly.

The answer is simple: roll it into almost any URL shortener and voila! your homing device is almost undetectable. Try this one, but remember, we’re tracking you:

http://selnd.com/r09DJn

If you’re not into adding homing beacons to your links, don’t worry. Many URL shortener services will provide analytics data on number of clicks, sources of clicks, type of device used, geographic location and more.

Find Out Who Has A Crush On You

Popular URL Shortener Bit.ly can tell you who’s interested in you, or at least interested in your site. The service offers a feature that lets you know when someone else creates a Bit.ly link pointing at your domain.

Clearly, this is a sure sign of interest in you.

You can setup your own Bit.ly “Tracking Domain” by visiting their Account Settings page. You’ll have to verify your ownership of the site, but they offer several ways to do this.

Give Your Pages An Energy Drink

Got a hot product you want to share with the world? Well, we know that slow load times can cut your conversion rates taking money out of your pocket.

Remix service Bo.lt can help a little bit. Bo.lt doesn’t just link to your product page, it grabs a fully functional copy of it and gives a short URL. Bo.lt Co-CEO Matthew Roche claims  that their version of the page loads 15 to 45% faster. That may mean more sales for you.

Bo.lt also lets you edit your bolted page, so you can see if on-page changes will help your conversion rate.

Let People “Click on” Real Stuff

QR Codes let shoppers "click" on merchandise with their smartphones.

I live online, but I buy plenty of “real” stuff. People who sell “real” stuff can do stupid short URL tricks, too.

44Doors CEO Andy Meadows sees a QR Code as just another short URL. Yes, he may need glasses, but his just launched service, Capture provides QR Codes as well as a traditional short URL.

For example, you can “click on” a Kendall Jackson wine bottle right in the store and get information on wine pairings, recipes and more.

Other popular services provide QR codes as well.

These are accessed simply by appending “.qr” or “.qrcode” to a short URL. Try these from Bit.ly and Google:

http://bit.ly/cSlkkg.qr

http://goo.gl/SWofX.qr

Save On Business Card Costs

I designed a business card that can “go viral” at events. This is true one-to-one traffic generation.

QR Codes can automatically update the address book of our smartphones.

A single business card should suffice to traverse the most mundane networking event, unless some noob without a smartphone intervenes.

Special QR codes link to or embed a data file that many phones can instantly add to their owner’s address book.

Once this is done, the card is useless to them and can be passed along to someone else.

Since QR Codes are relatively new, it may even create a little scene and grab you extra attention.

Make Short URLs Longer

This may sound like a truly stupid short URL trick. However, when branding is important, using your own URL can be crucial, even if it uses a few more characters than alternatives.

Search Engine Land has a vanity domain – seland.com – that is longer than most, but puts their brand into every post and tweet that uses it. They use Bit.ly to host this domain, and if anyone tries to create a Bit.ly URL with a Search Engine Land URL, they are given http://selnd.com/cSlkkg instead of http://bit.ly/cSlkkg.

Other examples of longer domains include go.fidelity.com, go.bofa.com, and links.bbb.org. Organizations like these like to have short URLs as subdomains on their main domains.

If they used generic URLs, they might encourage phishers and scammers to use those same shortening services to pretend  they are Fidelity, Bank of America or the Better Business Bureau.

Make Dogs Talk

Shortening services are now putting all kinds of things behind their short URLs. With 44Doors’ Capture, you can build a mobile web page complete with images, video, social media links, lead capture forms and more. They provide instant comment forms and a mobile contact card.

How does this make dogs talk? Take a look.

http://conversci.com/PoorDog

I created this mobile microsite in a matter of minutes, and I will be able track how it is getting passed around, shared and if it is driving traffic to my author page.

This trend toward marketing services is just getting started in the URL shortener space, and we should see more interesting instant services in the future.

Why Use Regular URLs At All?

The short URL is becoming less and less important as services behind them become more and more sophisticated. For services like Bo.lt, Bit.ly and 44Doors Capture, the short URLs are a convenience that is fronting some pretty impressive capabilities. Given all of the stupid tricks URL shorteners can do, we will probably use real URLs less and less.

What are your favorite stupid short URL tricks? Tell us in the comments.

Disclosure: 44Doors provided a Capture account at no charge to the author.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Analytics | Search & Conversion

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About The Author: is the Conversion Scientist at Conversion Sciences and author of Your Customer Creation Equation: Unexpected Website Forumulas of The Conversion Scientist. Follow Brian at The Conversion Scientist blog and on Twitter @bmassey

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn



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