Nobody likes long URLs – they appear old-fashioned, unappealing, even a bit spammy. If you’ve ever had to copy and paste a link that was so long that it spanned multiple lines, then you’ll easily learn to appreciate a URL shortener like Owly. URL shorteners are tools that converts such links into much shorter ones that are easier to share and look more pleasing to the eye.
That’s why most people prefer seeing neat, simple, and straightforward URLs. A URL shortener is a service used to convert regular URLs into a somewhat more condensed format.
While some URL shorteners simply do just what their name promises, others are packed with additional features, such as analytics (enabling you to track the number of clicks you receive on each shortened link) or bookmarking.
Contrary to popular belief, shortened URLs are not used just on Twitter (although they certainly do come in handy when trying to avoid exceeding the 140-character limit). They can be used on any social network, on your website, or basically any online post.
Most URL shorteners that are embedded in social networks (like Twitter’s t.co) will automatically shorten only URLs that are 19 characters or longer. If you’re using your own shortener, however, you can manually choose to shorten a URL that is, for example, only 10 characters long.
What does it mean in practice? Well, instead of a long URL like this one:
You can use a much shorter version, such as this one:
Or, if you have access to a more advanced URL shortener (such as Ow.ly Pro), you can customize it to reflect your own company or brand (we’re going to show you how Moz does this on their own Twitter account a bit later in the text). But first, a few words about one of the most popular URL shorteners out there – Hootsuite’s Ow.ly.
Ow.ly (hereinafter referred to as Owly) is a tool that enables you to shorten links and track the traffic that comes from those links. With that in mind, it’s more than just a simple URL shortener – it can be used to measure your social ROI as well.
Owly is essentially a free-to-use online tool, though you need to have a Hootsuite account (also free) in order to use it. Although in the past it was available with no registration or login, the Owly URL shortener has later been moved into the Hootsuite dashboard, as they say, to increase security for their users. Anyway, the registration is pretty basic and straightforward and you’ll gain access to this great tool in no time.
Some of the main benefits of using Owly are:
SEO-friendly – All Owly-shortened URLs are indexable and fully-redirectable, in accordance with the best SEO practices
Control – Control who can shorten URLs by assigning access to chosen team members only
Portability – Track clicks on short URLs from Facebook, newsletters, comments, and micro-sites
Security – All links are checked against Google’s Safe Browsing blacklist to prevent malware and phishing attacks
Although the free version of Hootsuite gives you unlimited access to Owly, you’ll have to upgrade to a paid plan if you want access to more advanced features.
As a part of their premium plans, HootSuite offers advanced custom URL shortening services through the Owly tool.
Maybe the greatest thing about Owly Pro is that you can use it to create memorable, custom, short domain links that reflect your own brand. Something similar to what Moz does on their own Twitter account. If you’ve ever visited their feed, you might’ve noticed that they’re using their own custom short URL – mz.cm.
This basically means that people at Moz take a link like this one:
And use one of the URL shortener tools to shorten it to look like this:
Much sleeker, right?
You don’t really have to be a tech expert to figure it out as it’s all pretty straightforward. First of all, you’ll have to register your own Hootsuite account or sign in if you already have one. If we tell you that this is actually the most difficult part of the process, you get the idea of how simple it is to shorten an URL. It involves just three steps any nine-year-old could do on their own:
Voila! Your shortened URL is ready to use.
As Owly is only one of its features, what else does Hootsuite have to offer? As you’re sort of forced to register at Hootsuite in order to use Owly, we’re going to have a word or two about the platform itself.
Hootsuite is one of the most popular social media management platforms, which lets you manage all your social accounts at one place. Here you can also track important conversations, schedule messages in advance, and, as already mentioned, use the URL link shortener.
Numerous big names, such as Visa, WWF, Allianz, PennMutual, etc., rely on Hootsuite to manage their social media. It offers a limited Free plan that includes 3 social profiles and 30 scheduled messages for 1 user. If you want to take your social media management to a higher level, you’ll need to cash out for one of the paid plans, be it the Professional, Team, Business, or Enterprise plan.
Goo.gl is one of the most established players in the world of URL shorteners, but Google has recently announced that this service will shut down on 30 March 2019. Not only that, from 13 April 2018, only the existing users will be able to use the service to create shortened links.
Luckily for all the short URL enthusiasts out there, there are plenty of quality alternatives to the Google’s tool (Owly being just one of those).
Bit.ly is one of the oldest and most-used URL shorteners around. The basic tool is free, but most companies and established brands might want to use the paid version, as it offers a wide range of additional features, from analytics to custom branded short URLs and APIs for linking into mobile applications.
You’ll often find Bit.ly integrated with other services and third-party applications such as TwitterFeed or TweetDeck.
Although its simplistic and a bit outdated interface may deter some users, many people prefer Tiny URL to other URL shorteners simply because it doesn’t ‘force’ you to register or log in so that you can start generating links.
All you have to do is go to tinyurl.com, paste your long link into the box, click the ‘Make TinyURL!’ button, and your super-short link will be ready in no time. It even allows you to create custom short URLs for free (as long as nobody has already used them).
A similar recipe to the one Hootsuite used with Owly was applied by Buffer as well. Just like Hootsuite, Buffer is one of the most popular social media management tools. And just like Hootsuite, it has its own URL shortener – Buff.ly. So, whenever you copy and paste a link into Buffer, it will automatically get it shortened for you. You can also use Buffer to track your analytics and measure the clicks for each individual shortened URL.
Some studies have shown that the convenience of not having to copy and paste those long, ugly URLs may come with a cost to your security (in addition to being used by spammy marketers to smuggle affiliate links under the veil of a shortened URL).
A study by two Cornell Tech researchers has examined the shortened URLs created by two major services: Google Maps and Microsoft OneDrive. Since the shortened links contained a small number of characters, the researchers were able to find shortened URLs linked to actual documents, using a brute force attack.
They examined 100M shortened URLs by randomly choosing 6-character tokens (like “1xdY6HZ”). As it turned out, 42% of the tokens actually led to full URLs, almost 19,500 of which were OneDrive documents. The research has shown that shortened URLs could be abused to gain access to somebody’s documents or even entire accounts.
However, there have been serious efforts to prevent these things from happening, which is one of the main reasons why Hootsuite integrated Owly into their own dashboard. So, if you want to shorten those URLs as securely as possible, Owly might just be the best choice for you.