During the course of the week, my readers submit several questions. Like, “What are you wearing?” Or, “Does this make me look fat.” Occasionally, my faith in humanity will be restored when I get one that’s actually worth answering!
Today was one of those days.
Someone concerned about their search engine optimization (SEO) efforts, asked me whether or not using link shorteners was good or bad for SEO. First, for those who don’t know, a link shortening service is just what it sounds like. You take a link such as: https://www.thisismywebsite.com/products/dishes/blue/fisheadsstinks-designer-plate.html, pop it into a service such as bit.ly and out comes a condensed version that looks something like this: https://www.bit.ly/a75hsb
These shortened URLs are most commonly found in Tweets, but they can also be seen in blog articles, Facebook posts and other places where a long-winded URL may not be wanted. For those who are into building quality back links on other reputable sites, the question posed is a valid one.
From a branding standpoint, I much prefer to stay away from using short links. Granted, certain social media sites automatically shorten long URLs for you and you don’t have a choice, but when you do, I’d much rather someone see right away that they’re going to my domain rather than something that looks unfamiliar.
Liz Broussard, owner of Classic Charms and Classic Beads feels the same way, and also believes the long URL gives the visitor more confidence that the site they’re going to visit is the one intended. “In this day with so many viruses and hackers out there, I think it’s important to be upfront with folks that you are actually leading them to a real site and they can see where they are going and they are more likely to go there if they feel like it’s a trusted site.” Pam Macharola, owner of BlairCandy.com, agrees. “People are getting very smart in looking at what the URL is before they click on them and I feel unrecognized links can cause them to hesitate, which means they won’t click and I may lose a customer.”
I did my own due diligence to determine whether or not a shortened URL impacts your SEO one way or the other, and couldn’t come up with anything conclusive. But then again, much of how the search engines determine rank remains a mystery and this is one of those unknowns.
Alicia Magda, Director of Internet Marketing at Solid Cactus, says link shorteners have their pros and cons. “They act as a redirect to the ‘longer’ link, and although search engines do understand redirects, they do not always understand them perfectly.” When it comes to link building, “use the longer, ‘pure’ link, rather than the shortened url to ensure that the search engine gives it the full value that it should.”
Joe Palko, Chief Marketing Officer for eCommerce software company 3dCart, concurs. “If your purpose is to improve SEO, then always link directly to your site.” He added, “using a link shortening service will do nothing to improve your SEO. It will not help your SEO, nor will it hurt your SEO.”
So when is it acceptable to use shortened URLs? “For your social media efforts, certainly go ahead and use url shorteners, as they’re much easier on the eyes,” according to Magda. Palko concurs, “if your purpose is to generate more of a social media buzz, and drive traffic, then URL shortening is fine.”
For those into link building, Alicia offers one valuable tip that applies to the short and long version of URLs, “always allude to what the url is, though – otherwise your time and effort could be perceived as link spam.”