URL shortening services have grown in popularity and volume in the past few years and much of this success can be put down to sites such as Twitter. When your messaging capability is limited to 140 characters, there’s no sense in using up valuable space with a large URL.
Services such as bit.ly, snipr and TinyURL have been embraced by the online world as people want to make the most of their space, but is using such a service useful for SEO purposes?
In the digital marketing world, there are two main reasons for links: to gain extra traffic and to improve the SEO rank of a page. If you’re looking for a SERP boost, there are several aspects you’ll want for your link: to link from a site with value, to make sure there isn’t a ‘no follow’ tag and to ensure you use suitable keywords in the link.
One of the first lessons you’ll be taught in SEO is to use your keywords wisely. Creating a good headline, one that grabs the attention of both the reader and the search engines, can be the difference between your most popular article and one that barely gets a look. After going to all the effort of that, why would you then create links without the same anchor text or URL structure? True, while many URL shorteners will give you the option of changing the random assortment of letters and numbers they give your link, there will still be a very strict limit on characters meaning you can normally only get one keyword in your link, which is more for usability purposes than SEO ones.
Matt Cutts has recently said that shorteners do pass on SEO juice, so long as they use a 301 redirect and not a 302 redirect. Many services do use the 301, but it’s always best to check to see if the one you’re using makes use of permanent or temporary redirects. Even if the URL shortener does pass on value, this is of little use if the site you’re using has no follows in place. Twitter, for example, has no follows on many of its core pages (although if your tweets make their way to another site or a list, then you may get value from there).
Matt Cutts’ interest in the subject came as Google released its own shortening service (Goo.gl into the market to compete with the front runners and other newcomers such as Bieber.ly and I Can Haz. One thing to be careful for, is that with so many competitors it’s possible that some, like QURL, will go out of service. If that happens, what becomes of your shortened links?
Although these sites don’t offer much in the way of SEO value, they do have other benefits, particularly for Twitter users. One of the most useful features offered is the ability to track clicks on inbound links. While your analytics package should be able to tell you where your visitors have come from, it won’t necessarily tell you the link. With a shortener’s analytics, you still get to know if your tweet was responsible even though it’s appeared elsewhere on the web. Others allow full integration with Twitter, meaning that once you’ve given away your login details you can automatically tweet a shortened linked to your followers when you find something you want to share.
Generally, URL shorteners offer little SEO value, certainly less than a plain URL or anchor text. However, with sites offering little space for full web addresses, their continuing popularity looks set to remain unabated, even if you’re not sure where a link is going to take you once you click on it. Of course, there’s always the option to create a Really Huge URL just to be a bit different.