URL Shortener

URL Shorteners are services on the Internet that can be used to transform long and cryptic (because of many variables) URLs into short URLs. The generated short URL redirects visitors to the actual URL destination via a redirect with status code 301. Short URLs are particularly popular since the increasing use of short news services Twitter.

Conversion

If you want to shorten URLs or make them more concise, you can use a URL shortener of your choice. Usually the long URL is entered into a web form and converted into the desired alias URL. Some providers also work with Plug-ins, which can be installed in the browser and can cut URLs straight in the address bar with just one click. Many [microblogging] and social networks service providers such as HootSuite or Tweetdeck work with URL shorteners that are standard features of their programs.

Some URL Shortener tools provide their customers page calls statistics in addition to redirecting their URLs. It is also possible to customize short URLs depending on the provider or protect them with a password.

Technology

Even if the name suggests it, a URL shortener does not shorten a URL, it uses a shorter URL, which redirects to the actual destination URL. It should more accurately be called URL redirect. However, since the displayed URL is in fact shorter than the original, the term “shortener” has become common.

The technology behind a URL shortener is relatively simple. It is more or less an http-redirect. All you need to do to provide a URL shortener is a server and a PHP script. No wonder there are several hundred URL shorteners available worldwide.

The following takes place to “shorten” a URL:

Original:

http://www.sampesite.com/?1234=id234345=par78909893k-f8987-lang.php

Short URL:

http://samplesite.com/a12

The “shortened” alias URL works here with a unique pattern, so the shortening service can store a unique reference for the long URL. If you click the short URL, the web server sends the status code 301 stored in the header to the Client and redirects to the original URL.

Many URL shorteners also offers the short link being designed like a search engine friendly URL (SEF) URL. In this example, the short URL could also look like this:

 
http://samplesite.com/contribute

Popular URL shorteners

Popular URL Shorteners include TinyURL.com, memURL.com, cli.gs or bit.ly.. Google also offers its own shortener with goo.gl.

Risks of URL Shorteners

Even with increasing popularity of URL Shorteners, there are often risks that should not be underestimated:

  • Unclear target: The function principle of a URL shortener is to redirect a URL. The short URL itself often gives no indication of the actual destination and users won’t know which pages they are being forwarded to. That poses the risk of Cookie Dropping. Many providers of URL shorteners have already responded to this threat and offer their users a preview of the destination URL.
  • Possible manipulations by link hijacking: If links of a URL shortener are no longer needed, there is the danger that fraudsters use the URLs which are no longer needed to forward to their websites.
  • Link Spoofing: URL shorteners that work with cryptic URLs, in other words, session IDs, offer fraudsters the opportunity to circulate only slightly modified URLs, which are then used for Phishing.
  • Access to user data by third parties: Since URLs and destination URLs are stored on an external server, unauthorized users can also collect data about user behavior on a website.
  • Dependency on a service provider: No one can say exactly what will happen to shortened URLs when a URL Shortener service provider becomes insolvent and has to give up their business. Anything from a takeover by another company to the deletion of the short URLs is possible.
  • Insecure providers: If complete lists with short URLs get hacked, they can be used for manipulative purposes. The customer then has no chance to correct this error.

Relevance to SEO and online marketing

Since most providers use permanent forwarders for short URLs with status code 301, URL Shorteners can pass on Page Rank along with anchor texts. That way, SEOs can also use short URLs to link a website. However, the passing on of PR or Link Juice depends on how strong the link-giving page is. Because short URLs are often used in social networks, it is to be assumed that these do not pass on much link juice.

A shortened URL could provide increased click-through rate resulting in more Traffic on the landing page as part of marketing and branding campaigns.

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