Since the beginning of the World Wide Web, Uniform Resource Locators (URLs) have been one of the primary methods for jumping from one webpage to another. Unfortunately, URLs become long and complex as subdomains, subdirectories and tracking codes are added.

As social media grew in popularity, lengthy URLs began to present a problem. When Twitter launched, messages were limited to 140 characters. This meant that a lengthy URL could take up your entire tweet. Finding a way to shorten URLs became a top priority.

Enter URL shorteners, which let you reduce any long and cumbersome URL into a short and manageable link.

In this guide, we’ll explain what a URL shortener is, why your business should use them and share the best URL shorteners for tracking and engagement.

What is a URL shortener?

A URL shortener is an app that converts a long URL into a short URL.

Typically, it shortens the website’s address and adds a random combination of letters and numbers.

For example, a URL shortener would convert a long URL like

https://sproutsocial.com/insights/data/social-shopping-2022/

into

https://bit.ly/3wqfg08

You’ll still reach our report on Social Shopping Behavior in 2022, but it’s much easier and quicker to enter the shortened URL or link.

A URL shortener is also referred to as a link shortener, a link shrinker, a link compressor, a URL condenser or a vanity URL creator.

Why do businesses use URL shorteners?

We know that a URL shortener helps you get the right messages out to your audience without taking up too much space. However, there are several other reasons why brands would want to use URL shorteners.

Create clean, trustworthy URLs

You may find yourself dealing with a long URL if you’re linking to a page buried deep within your website or using UTM parameters to track your visitors.

Long URLs can also look a bit suspicious with letters, numbers, backslashes and question marks. So people might be reluctant to click the link:

http://yourwebsite.com/your-page/?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=PPC&utm_

But a link shortener keeps things looking clean and trustworthy.

Allows you to create branded URLs

Some link shorteners let you create a branded URL containing your brand. For example, you may have seen long URLs on Amazon shortened to a branded URL like:

https://amzn.to/3q1xugs

Makes it easy to track engagement

Most link shorteners also let you track engagement with UTM parameters. They track who, where, and when someone clicked your link, so you can measure its effectiveness.  

Businesses need to know the ROI of campaigns to adjust and plan for future campaigns. You can also combine UTM parameters with Google Analytics to get a complete picture of behavior.

Enables you to maximize character counts

If you’re working on a platform with a restricted character limit like Twitter, then it makes sense to shorten the URL and use the available characters for your message.

Twitter previously used TinyURL to shorten links, but nowadays it automatically shortens a link to 23 characters. Still, using a link shortener will make even more room for your message.

Even where there isn’t a character limit, it’s still better to shorten your URLs for readability. Long URLs can often get broken by line breaks, so shortened URLs work best.

Makes your URLs easier to share

Finally, link shorteners make your URLs more shareable and memorable. And they’re also less likely to get mistyped.

Features to look for in the best URL shorteners

Here are five key features to look for in a URL shortener.

Customizable URLs: let you adapt the shortened URL to fit your brand name or indicate what the link is about.

Link tracking: lets you prove the clicks and possibly conversions on your links so you can report on the ROI of a campaign.

UTM parameter support: lets you add and track parameters for source, medium, and campaign, so you can see who, where, and when clicked the link.

Link retargeting: lets you add retargeting pixels to links and expand your custom audience profile so that you can serve ads to them later.

Integrations: Let you integrate the link shortener with other tools in your marketing stack. For example, Bitly integrates with Sprout so you can embed shortened links directly into your content during the social media workflow.

The 8 best URL shorteners for engagement and tracking

Here’s our list of the best free and premium URL shorteners.

Bitly

Bit.ly homepage

Bitly is one of the most popular and best all-around URL shorteners.

The free account offers customizable back-half links, plus link history and reporting for individuals. But the premium editions excel with a complimentary custom domain, branded links, bulk link shortening, link redirects, QR codes and a UTM builder. 

The comprehensive data and analytics provide performance metrics like link history, demographics, device type tracking and mobile-deep link reporting in the sleek dashboard.

You can create links directly from your other marketing tools, like Sprout Social, via the Bitly integration. And every link is encrypted with HTTPS to guard against eavesdropping or third-party tampering.

Key features:

  • Create branded links 
  • Customize short URL/slug
  • Auto-branded links
  • Manage links
  • Create mobile-deep links
  • Manage campaign links 
  • Build UTM parameters
  • Analyze performance data
  • Connect to 700+ apps
  • Access the API 
  • Encrypt links (SSL)

Bitly Sprout Integration

If you have a custom Bit.ly domain, you can use it when adding links to your social posts. This will enable you to shorten any link using branded Bit.ly links instead of a generic Bit.ly link.

How to Connect Bitly to Sprout

  • Click Account and settings > Settings > Account Settings.  
  • Scroll down so that you can see the Settings by Group listing.
Bit.ly sprout integration hq
  • Click Connect for any group where you want to use your custom Bitly account. 
  • Enter your Bitly credentials and click Allow to authorize access to your Bitly account.
  • Now, when you’re composing a message that includes a URL, click Shorten Links to add your branded Bitly link.
Shorten Link

TinyURL

TinyURL

TinyURL was the original and free link shortener for individuals, and now it also offers a full-scale link management platform for businesses. With a TinyURL premium account, you can create, manage, track and grow your brand through link campaigns of all sizes.

You can customize the end of shortened URLs or use your own branded domain to make them more user-friendly. Then you can track the link performance in the dashboard, so you know where users are clicking from, what device they used, and how many clicks you get over time.  

Key features:

  • Create branded and custom links 
  • Customize short URL/slug
  • Manage your custom links
  • Monitor campaign analytics
  • Monitor real-time performance 
  • Track unlimited click data
  • View aggregated metrics in the dashboard

TinyCC.com

TinyCC

TinyCC.com is the premium business version of the original and free Tiny.cc URL shortener. Its simple interface lets you shorten, brand, track, and manage a high volume of URLs. 

You can also create intelligent link targets to automatically route visitors based on language preference and add retargeting pixels in short links to track interest in specific products and maximize advertising ROI.

Key features:

  • Add custom domains
  • Use branded short links
  • Edit links in real time
  • Manage links by campaigns and tags
  • Create smart link redirects
  • Analyze geolocation reporting
  • Generate unique QR codes
  • Add retargeting pixels
  • Monitor broken links

Sniply

Sniply

Sniply is a URL shortener with a difference. As well as shortening a URL, you can also add a call-to-action (CTA) to every link you share. For example, if you linked to a third-party piece of content, you could add an overlay on that site with a button that links back to your site. 

By curating content from third parties, you can publish more frequently on social media. Then customize the short links with a message that prompts users to take action, like signing up for your newsletter.

Key features:

  • Add your CTA to any page
  • Customize CTAs to match your brand
  • Share shortened links
  • Monitor link engagements
  • Track results
  • Add retargeting pixels
  • Integrate with other tools

Cuttly

Cuttly’s link management platform lets you shorten, brand, manage and track all your links in one place. The detailed analytics provide info about clicks, social media clicks, page referrer, devices, browsers, systems and geolocation. 

You can set your custom brand name and get QR codes. There’s also a built-in UTM code generator and the option to create alternative link redirects for mobile devices. 

Key features:

  • Customize short URL/slug
  • Create branded links
  • Generate UTM parameters
  • Password-protect short links
  • Set alternate mobile links
  • Analyze unique clicks
  • Manage redirect expiry
  • Embed retargeting pixels
  • Split-test links
  • Generate QR codes
  • Remove unwanted links
  • Encrypt links (SSL)

BL.INK

Bl.Ink

BLI.NK is a full-featured URL shortener designed specifically for enterprises but suitable for all-sized teams as it scales with your requirements. Its unique advanced features allow you to dynamically route clicks by date, time, language, device, and location. 

You can also optimize link performance using the built-in reports or integrating with third-party tools. Plus, you can incorporate BLINK with enterprise platforms like Khoros and Sprinklr, connect it to thousands of apps with Zapier and Zoho Flow, or access the API.

Key features:

  • Purchase custom short domains
  • Create branded links
  • Tag links
  • Edit long links
  • Customize back-half link
  • Create mobile-deep links
  • Build UTM campaigns
  • Bulk link import, edit, and export
  • Track links and clicks
  • Measure real-time metrics
  • Connect with thousands of tools
  • Scales as you grow
  • Privacy Shield-certified and GDPR-compliant

Rebrandly

Rebrandly

Rebrandly is a link management platform that lets you brand, track, and share short URLs using a custom domain name.

You can enhance your brand visibility and trust by putting your brand name on every link you share. Then use the detailed click metrics to track your social media, email marketing, ads, and SEO performance.

Rebrandly connects to your existing marketing stack, so it’s easy to integrate branded links into your current processes, workflows, and tools.

Key features:

  • Use multiple domain names
  • Create branded links
  • Add SSL encryption
  • Generate QR codes
  • Tag your links
  • Redirect mobile-deep links
  • Add UTM parameters
  • Track clicks/month
  • Visualize demographics
  • Build custom reports
  • Integrate with 100+ apps
  • GDPR-compliant

Clkim

Clkim

Clkim is a URL shortening platform that lets you automatically redirect users based on smart contextual triggers. For example, you can send users to a relevant page based on their mobile operating system or geolocation. You can also split traffic between 2 destinations to see which converts best.

The analytics dashboard provides actionable data to improve your marketing effort, engagement, and results. Discover where your traffic is coming from, which links are most effective, and what impact you’ve made.

Key features:

  • Setup branded domain
  • Redirect users on smart triggers
  • Add retargeting / tracking pixel
  • Create full-page interstitial ads
  • Track clicks and referrers
  • Email daily traffic reports
  • ​​Edit destination URL
  • Split-test destinations
  • Build UTM parameters
  • Integrations and API

Which URL shortener is right for your business?

Whatever your link shortening requirements are, there’s a URL shortener out there.

Whether you want a quick, free tool like TinyURL or a complete, all-purpose shortening service like Bitly, take a few for a test drive and see which works best.

Ideally, you’ll want features like:

  • Customizable URLs
  • Link tracking
  • UTM parameter support
  • Link retargeting
  • Integrations

Additionally, a URL shortener that has been around for some time is more likely to be reliable and trustworthy.

Now that you know about the best URL shorteners to improve tracking and engagement, learn more about other ways you can boost your social media conversion rate with Sprout.

The post The 8 best URL shorteners for engagement and tracking in 2022 appeared first on Sprout Social.