So What's the Deal With URL Shortening Exactly?

The title of this post might be surprising to you. Essentially, the golden age of URL shortening is probably behind us. Nowadays no one gets very excited when URL shortening or any new shortener gets mentioned. But for some reason, the URL shortening module is still one of the main ones in Jetpack…in WordPress.com…and therefore for the whole WordPress world in general.

So is it really that important to still have some URL shortening feature working for you in 2013?

WP.me – native URL shortening for WordPress

The WordPress part of the story started in 2009 when WP.me went live. At first, the service was not very different from other shorteners. Or better yet, it was even less functional (still is; more on that in a minute).

Essentially, WP.me is a shortening service designed primarily to work with WordPress sites (both the ones using WordPress.com and the self-hosted ones running the Jetpack plugin). So if your site isn’t hosted on WordPress.com or doesn’t use Jetpack, you can’t use WP.me.

Moreover, there’s no standard “input your URL here” -type of service. Everything happens in the background, which means that each post and page on your site gets a custom WP.me link the second you click the Publish button. The link is then included in the <head> section of the page in question, like this:


<link rel='shortlink' href='http://wp.me/something' />

Some of the advantages of the service have been neatly listed by Matt in the official launch post. Apart from the things mentioned above, Matt also assures that WP.me will be live as long as WordPress.com is around, so we probably don’t have to worry about any going-down messages like Google likes to release every once in a while (cheers! to G Reader users).

Also, WP.me is said to be spam-free due to constant monitoring and active spam-link removal. This actually is a real advantage. I don’t know about you, but I was always quite hesitant about clicking anything from bit.ly, and very often before doing so, I went to a service like “Unshorten.com” to unshorten the link and see where it’s actually leading to. There’s no such issue with WP.me and that’s a great thing!

There are some downsides, though. When we look at it objectively, WP.me doesn’t actually offer much in terms of what one would call…features.

Some issues worth pointing out:

  • As I said earlier, no “input your URL here” feature.
  • You can’t edit the shortlink. Once it’s assigned automatically, it stays that way (you can’t edit the actual shortlink, nor its destination).
  • No tracking. By far the biggest issue.

Let’s elaborate on that last one for a moment. WordPress.com has a big stats section in the main admin dashboard of your account. This is something that you can also see in your Jetpack dashboard (a slightly simplified version). And although you can see a great deal of stats, there’s no section dedicated to the shortlinks. In other words, you never know how many clicks come directly through WP.me (at least I wasn’t able to find this information).

The reality of using WP.me

So in the end, using WP.me is very simple, you just have to click the Get Shortlink button and a dialog box will appear with the shortlink in it. Now you can take it and distribute it across the web. All is fine, right?

short

But then, where exactly would you use it? What’s the point of submitting it anywhere if you can’t see any click stats afterwards?

If you ask me, I’m afraid there’s no sensible application of WP.me shortlinks in the web of today (feel free to disagree in the comments).

Here’s the deal, the only reason that comes to mind for using WP.me would be when submitting your content to a place that doesn’t accept long links or has strong character limitations, like Twitter.

But nowadays Twitter has t.co, by far the shortest shortener around. So, every long link you submit there becomes a t.co link automatically.

(The service is not fully available to the public, so to speak. And I quote: “The link service at http://t.co is only used on links posted on Twitter.com and is not available as a general shortening service on other apps or sites.” So it’s kind of like WP.me, only for Twitter.)

What’s worse (for WP.me) is that these days, almost every social media site has its own shortener (fb.me, su.pr, and so on), and they are usually set to process links automatically as well.

Just to give you my final verdict, taking all pros and cons into account, I’m actually not a fan of WP.me. I just don’t really see the point of actively using a shortener with no tracking feature and no possibility to edit the links later on.

Alternative ways of URL shortening

There are two more functional alternatives that I’d like to point out.

The first one can be found at goo.gl – launched by Google. Basically, it’s just like WP.me, but offers nice tracking and stats. Each link has its dedicated analytics panel that points out things like: referrers, clicks, countries, browsers, platforms and anything you’d need.

What’s also cool about the service is that apart from the shortlink itself, you also get a QR code created for each link. Like this one:

qr

It may just be the simplest way of getting a custom QR code for your content, which you can then use on posters and such. Considering that there are stats available, you can use it as a great measurable marketing tool for your offline promotions.

Using goo.gl with WordPress is simple. All you need is this plugin: Goo.gl. It works just like the WP.me module in Jetpack. This means that every piece of content gets a goo.gl link automatically, which you can then see by clicking the Get Shortlink button.

(If you’re using Jetpack, don’t forget to deactivate the WP.me module prior to using the Goo.gl plugin.)

The second and last alternative I’d like to present is the Pretty Link Lite plugin. In some ways, it can act as an URL shortener, but it’s based on your own domain.

The plugin gives you the ability to edit links on both ends – to change the shortlink itself, as well as the destination. And you also get simple views/clicks stats. But for more advanced reports and statistics you’ll have to get the pro version (paid).

In the end, I think that the topic of URL shortening is becoming more obsolete every year. Although we can still get some value out of it through plugins like Pretty Link, the sole fact that the link gets shorter is no longer that important. But what do you think?

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