Are URL Shorteners Bad for Search Engine Optimization (SEO)?
If you’re hoping to achieve first-page search rankings, you’ll need to build plenty of high-quality backlinks.
While you can always build backlinks directly to your website, an alternative method is to run them through a URL shortener. If you’re going to use a URL shortener, though, you might be wondering how it will impact your search engine optimization (SEO) efforts.
How a URL Shortener Works
A URL shortener is a tool, typically web based, that’s used to shorten a link through the use of a redirect. It takes your original link and replaces it with a shorter link.
You can then publish the shortened link on social media, blogs and other web properties. When a user clicks it, he or she will be redirected to your original link.
When you run a link through a URL shortener, it will create a new link using the service’s domain. The new link will essentially consist of nothing more than a 301 redirect to your original link.
Some of the top URL shorteners include:
Reasons for Using a URL Shortener
In the past, URL shorteners were essential when posting links on Twitter. Up until September 2016, links in tweets counted towards Twitter’s character limit, which was 140 characters at the time.
As a result, you couldn’t share long links on the popular social media network. The only way to share a long link was to run it through a URL shortener and then post the shortened link rather than the original link.
While Twitter no longer counts links towards its character limit, which is now 280 characters, there are still reasons for using a URL shortener.
If you’re building links to a subpage buried several directories deep on your website, using a URL shortener may result in more traffic.
Many internet users are reluctant to clink on long links. According to a study conducted by Marketing Sherpa, short links attract over twice as many clicks as long links.
Using a URL shortener, you can create shorter and more attractive links that drive traffic to your website.
A URL shortener can help you generate more shares on social media. It’s difficult for users to remember long links. If a link has too many characters in its domain or directory path, a user may forget it, in which case he or she won’t be able to share it on social media.
By publishing shortened links, on the other hand, users are more likely to remember them, which may lead to more social media shares.
You can track your website’s traffic more closely using a URL shortener. All URL shorteners offer analytics on shortened links.
After running a link through a URL shortener and publishing it online, you can track the number of clicks the shortened link generates. If you use a URL shortener to create multiple shortened links, you can see which links generated the most traffic.
Using a URL shortener can also conceal your website’s links from competitors. If a competitor is trying to outrank your website, he or she may analyze your site’s links.
After identifying the location of your website’s top links, the competitor may attempt to recreate them for his or her website. But if you run your links through a URL shortener, competitors won’t be able to find them.
URL Shorteners and SEO: What You Should Know
Contrary to popular belief, using a URL shortener won’t harm or otherwise disrupt your SEO efforts. While working at Google, Matt Cutts published a YouTube video in which he talked about the impact of URL shorteners on a website’s search rankings.
According to Cutts, Google treats shortened links like a standard 301 redirect. Therefore, shortened links pass all their link equity.
Other search engines use a similar approach when handling shortened links. When a search engine encounters a shortened link, the search engine will award the page to which it redirects with all the link equity.
301 redirects are often used when changing the location of web pages. If you’re moving a web page to a different location on your website, you can use a 301 redirect to retain the page’s search rankings.
The 301 redirect is added to the page’s old location where it redirects users to the page’s new location. Shortened links function just like these conventional 301 redirects by passing all link equity.
Google even used to offer a URL shortener. Known as goo.gl, the Mountain View company released it in December 2009 for use with Google Toolbar as well as Feedburner.
In March 2019, Google discontinued the service. Being that goo.gl was operational for a decade, it’s safe to assume Google views URL shorteners favorably.
Tips on Using a URL Shortener and SEO
- Choose a reputable and well-known URL shortener. If the URL shortener shuts down or experiences a technical problem with its servers, all your shortened links may stop working.
- Always test shortened links before publishing them online to ensure they function as intended. If a shortened link triggers a 404 error when visited, don’t publish it online. Instead, use a standard link or switch to a different URL shortener.
- Consider using a premium URL shortener that supports custom URL slugs. Free URL shorteners typically lack URL slug customization, meaning you’re forced to use generic links. Premium URL shorteners, however, allow you to specify your desired URL slugs, allowing for descriptive and keyword-rich custom links.
- Choose a URL shortener that creates links without an expiration date. If a shortened link has an expiration date, it will no longer work after that date.
- Stick with a single URL shortener so that you track all clicks from a single analytics dashboard.
Whether it’s Google, Bing, Ask.com or DuckDuckGo, all major search engines use backlinks to determine a website’s search rankings.
When they encounter a shortened link, they’ll treat it just like a standard 301 redirect. As a result, you can use a URL shortener when building backlinks.