Imagine a free service that tells you:
- How much total traffic is going through a link
- What share of that traffic is yours
- How to use their service with social media sites
- What links you have and where they point
If these seem like good features, then Bit.ly is the service for you.
When I first started using bit.ly, it was simply because they told me how many clicks my links got and they keep track of the short URLs I’ve created. Those seemed like great features. Fortunately for us, as good as those features are, they’re really only the surface of what bit.ly provides.
Let me show you a clip from my bit.ly page:
You can see this shortened URL points to HubSpot’s social media marketing kit and I’ve had 0 clicks on my link so far. That makes sense since I created it a couple of days ago and haven’t put it out there yet. But notice that under the “0” for my link bit.ly says the link has had 2,803 clicks. Where does that come from?
For starters, unlike other URL shorteners, bit.ly doesn’t always give you a unique URL. When someone else has already created a bit.ly link to the page you’re interested in, bit.ly gives you that link. Then they track how much traffic each person generates to it.
When I click on the number “2,803,” (from the image above) it shows me the traffic to the bit.ly link based on:
- # of clicks
- Which site the link was on (the referrer) when someone clicked it, or
- Which country the traffic came from
Bit.ly even lets me break the traffic down based on today, the last week or month, and the total traffic since the link was created. They also list every time the link was tweeted, who tweeted it, and the text of their tweet. When you click on someone’s Twitter username, it even takes you to their Twitter profile.
This is all stuff you can access right from their home page. You can see from the screen capture above that we haven’t covered everything bit.ly let’s you do with a single entry. Add to the homepage a list of more than a dozen tools – gadgets, plugins and toolbars – you can use to increase the reach and functionality of bit.ly. It gets pretty easy to see why everyone likes bit.ly and demand for their service is growing quickly.
The only thing I don’t like about bit.ly is that clicking on the link for their blog takes you completely away from the bit.ly site. You’ll still be on their domain, but you lose access to the site menu. I’d prefer having the blog open in a new tab or window, or even that the blog still have the site menu.
In addition to providing a free service, bit.ly is part of the 301Works project. The Internet Archive is leading this project to “add permanence and reliability to the operation of URL shorteners.”
Since most of us don’t keep track of every URL we’ve ever shortened, it would cause a huge problem if one of these URL shortening services lost all its data. In the blink of an eye, all those links would stop working.
That’s why – at the time of writing – 21 companies are participating in the 301Works project to protect the links for shortened URLs. Bit.ly is one of those companies.
Plus, bit.ly is developing a bit.ly Pro service. This allows you to choose a sort of URL prefix that will go with every bit.ly link you create to point at your own site. Here’s how bit.ly describes it: “Publishers and bloggers will be able to use their own short domain names to point to pages on their sites.”
The idea is to let users know where a link is going just by looking at it. When you create a bit.ly link that points to your own site (all part of your account data), you get a short URL with your custom prefix. Create a bit.ly link that doesn’t go to one of your registered domain names, and you get either a regular bit.ly link or a link with that site’s custom prefix.
For example, anyone creating a bit.ly link to a Wall Street Journal web page would get a link with the WSJ custom prefix — very good for branding purposes.
Here’s what you do next:
- Go to the 301Works.org homepage and read the list of participating companies. (The list is on the left side of the page right under the search box. If you’re using a URL shortener that isn’t listed there, then you need to switch services.)
- Get an account with bit.ly or one of the other services listed. If you choose bit.ly, be sure to fill in their page to request information about their free Pro service.
- Start integrating short URLs with your social media and traditional advertising.
If you use a different URL shortener, please tell me which one, what you like about it, and one thing you’d like to change.