Tiny URLs are convenient and very effective at doing exactly what they’re designed to do. They turn a long and/or ugly URL into something short-and-sweet. This gets around URL length limitations on some websites; and they do just look neater sometimes.
1. Scaring Readers
Most of us have visited at least a few URLs we wish we hadn’t. Tiny URLs provide an easy way to hide the destination URL and hide intent. After all, tinyurl.com/asdfg looks a lot more innocuous than the famous (now defunct) shock website, goatse.cx. Some people are afraid to click these Tiny URLs at work for this reason alone. It only needs to happen to someone once before he or she feels some trepidation. The Tiny URL is simply 302-redirected to the target … whatever that may be.
To address this, TinyURL.com and some of its cousins now provide a feature that previews the target of the tiny URLs; though it may be unwise to depend on users knowing about or actually doing so. For example, http://preview.tinyurl.com/bzms8d shows the final destination of http://tinyurl.com/bzms8d, which in this case leads to http://www.seoegghead.com/software/wordpress-tiny-urls.seo. We’ll talk about that destination more in a moment.
Even worse, some Windows anti-virus packages warn that some Tiny URL service domains are potentially dangerous, in part because of even more nefarious links that Tiny URL services may obscure — fraud, phishing, pornography, etc.
Being associated with any of these activities can’t be good.
2. Diluting Your Brand
Take one look at that aforementioned URL, “http://tinyurl.com/bzms8d.” Does that say anything about the company or brand that it cites? No — just tinyurl.com. In fact, the ubiquity of tinyurl.com is almost certainly what made it so famous. Unless you’re interested in promoting a branding campaign for them, it is diluting your brand — and at worst creating an undesirable association between your company and, say, goatse.cx.
3. Squandering Link Equity
Inevitably, Tiny URLs will also squander at least some link-equity. The URLs do expire for some of the services. Barring that, there was some downtime for TinyURL.com in 2007 that made Twitter users extremely queasy. And on top of that, while most will link to the link post-302-redirection, we’ve observed both in the wild; one might just end up with even more 302-redirected TinyURLs. Not capturing as much link equity as possible is, of course, a cardinal sin for any search engine marketer.
So the Tiny URLs them may be great, but not the external Tiny URL services. Knowing all the above, we certainly shouldn’t be using these services for links that we post ourselves. No problem. We can roll our own Tiny URLs on our own domain. Doing so will assuage user-concern and prevent false alarms, promote your brand, and capture more link equity over time.
How To Roll Your Own
Of course our domain may not be quite as short, but the resulting URLs will still be very short; and they won’t suffer from any of the problems we’ve discussed. Here are a few how-tos:
for any Apache website:
You may use Mod_Rewrite to set up Tiny URLs via the .htaccess file on your web server. For example,
RewriteRule ^1.tiny$ /blog/seo/how-to-please-google-and-your-girlfriend.html [R=301,L]
RewriteRule ^2.tiny$ /blog/seo/how-to-set-goals-and-expectations-reasonably.html [R=301,L]
So http://yourdom.com/1.tiny and http://yourdom.com/2.tiny would be your Tiny URLs.
or for WordPress:
We wrote a proof-of-concept plugin for WordPress called WordPress TinyURLs. It does the same as the above, but with complete automation for the WordPress blogging platform. It also posts the Tiny URLs for others to use to post, in the hopes that they would use those instead of Tiny URL services in the first place. For example, http://seoegghead.com/blog/i.tiny is one of the plugin’s URLs for our company website.
Doing the above should contribute positively over time to your branding and link-building efforts. And that’s your duty as search marketer, right? Go get started.