Don’t Use Short URL Services

I am against using url shortening services to redirect urls for 4 reasons.

  1. Short urls add a point of failure – they go out of business and the urls go bad (or even worse get redirected to whoever buys the url service domain) or sometimes the short urls just expire and are reused (which is really lame).
    There is also the risk the country owning the domain messes things up (bit.ly using Libya – not exactly a stable country…). Likely if the domain is owned by super rich company they will pay huge ransom for domain if a country demands it – but not for sure… .be is owned by Belgium (which Google uses for YouTu.be short urls) and is probably less likely to screw with Google. But if the USA government messes with European privacy rights one path for the countries is to mess with their domains and create trouble for .be domain – or whatever other domain is in question.
  2. You lose the tremendous information value that a real human readable url provides users. You also lose the small aid to building your brand available by having them see your name in the url. Finally short urls (by throwing away the human readable url information users would benefit from) contribute to security problems by encouraging people to blindly click on links they don’t know where they are being taken. Scammers take advantage of users that are willing to follow short url links.
  3. You lose Search Engine Optimization (SEO) value of links by not linking to the actual url. For this reason it is a particularly bad idea to use short urls for your own content (but I see this done). When you are posting your content on a site that tells Google not to trust the link you entered (nofollow attribute) this point is not relevant but the other 3 points still are. And I see people use short urls even for followed links.
  4. Url shorteners delay the page load times for users. I often find urls shorteners forwarded to another url shortener forwarded to another url shortener and so on. Just last week, following a link on Harvard Business School’s Twitter account I was forwarded to 7 different urls before the actual url (a page on one of their own sites).

    If you are on a fiber internet connection and all those url redirects respond immediately it probably won’t be noticeable (so the people at Harvard may have no clue how lame they look to users) but if you are on a connection with high latency (many hundred of millions of people across the world are) it can easily take a second or two before the page even starts to load. With all the evidence on how critical fast load times are for users adding in delays with url shortener redirection is a bad practice.

    long urls written out on paper

    It would be better for this Grandmom to use short urls to write out her favorite urls to show her grandchild. via


    While I traveled around SE Asia for 4 years I constantly found delays due to url shorteners noticeable and annoying. Even with a connection with frequent 20 ms latency now I still constantly have issues with url redirects (even Google search results which add in a redirect at the users expense so they can collect data will have problems – maybe 98% of the time the delay with Google is not noticeable but that still adds up to tons of delay given the huge number of times Google search results links are clicked. There are plugins to remove the redirect so you don’t waste your time. Google is sensible enough to put the actual url in text on the screen (because they understand the importance of point 2, above).

It is almost never necessary to do use short urls either. Twitter, with its silly 140 character limit makes some people think it is necessary but it isn’t as they don’t count the characters in a url (they just use I think 17 characters for any url, no matter how long it is).

The data you get from some urls redirection services actually can be interesting. I can see how this tempts people to use a bad practice. But don’t be led astray in this way.

The only time it is an acceptable tradeoff are those rare instances when you actually do need to have a short url (such as when someone is going to have to write down what you are saying). Normally it is better to have a human readable url (which will be easier to write down even if it is longer than a short url). But there are a few odd cases where using a url shortener is the least bad option, but it is rare. Printing urls on paper for example can be such a case.

Even then I would brand those urls for whoever is printing, rather than using some url service. If I am publishing a magazine and include such urls then name them [thedomain.com] (or whatever) and then just add on 1,2,3 etc. Or get a domain that is fairly short that you use specifically for printed instructions to make things easier for users.

The printed url is a fairly isolated use case. Most of the ways in which url shorteners are used are mistakes and using url shorteners is something that should be stopped.

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3 thoughts on “Don’t Use Short URL Services

  1. Ryan Biddulph

    Delays are a big reason John. Ditto on those SE Asia travels. I’ve spent about 3 of my past 4 years in SE Asia and I noted those short link stammers especially in areas with poor connection speeds. Fabulous points here.

    Ryan

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