What is a shortened URL?
As its name suggests a shortened URL is one whose entire structure has been converted into something around 20 characters long. My website, http://inala-tech-solutions.com can be shortened to http://ow.ly/SiVw3033T8z. It is neat, smaller and so can be used in restricted space environments such as Twitter but it has its problems.
Why should I use a shortened URL?
- Some URLs, once you include cookie information, can be hundreds of characters long. As a viewer of your message, looking at a URL that is hundreds of characters long is not a great option and can dull the impact of what you’re trying to say. Other than cookie information, another reason a URL can be long is because the originator of the URL has inserted keywords into the page title in order to improve their rank for SEO. While that is a good thing for them to do, it can look less attractive to the viewer.
As an aside, using a shortened URL does not save you space on Twitter - a shortened code takes the same space as a longer one.
- Marketing benefits - by shortening the URL you are effectively (and invisibly) redirecting clicks to your website via the platform you used to shorten it; this platform gathers significant analytical data such as click-throughs, geographical locations, and the webpage from where the link was clicked (Twitter, Facebook, email, etc.). This enables you to make direct comparisons of your social media platforms and their effectiveness for a particular campaign.
- It makes life easier for your viewer/visitor. It is always easier to copy and paste a small piece of text than a large one, especially on a mobile device. Texting is an obvious example of the benefits of a shortened URL.
Security issues of the Shortened URL:
The primary security issue for the recipient is that there is no evidence of the original domain name. So, should you click on it? From everything I have argued on security matters, the obvious answer is no. But wait, this facility is ubiquitous in its use - loads of people you can trust use them.
My advice is to be circumspect in their use. If someone you trust has sent you one, then perhaps it is safe to click on. The real disadvantage of the shortened URL is the fact that nefarious users will shorten their URLs in order to bypass security measures you have set up on your computer. Visual inspection is also impossible. Assuming your anti-virus or Internet security software has made safe or is able to warn you of a high risk site you might be about to enter is the wrong thing to do. The old, tried and tested adage of ‘if you didn’t request it or expect its arrival, don’t click on it’ remains the best approach to this situation.
If you are still unconvinced of the safety of clicking on shortened URLs (and good for you) then there is one option open to you, there are several websites you can go to in order to open up the shortened URL. The website I use is http://checkshorturl.com/; it’s easy to use and returns some good information that will enable you to make an informed decision on to click or not to click.
Both criminals and the shortened URL will be with us for the foreseeable future so you have to develop a process to manage them. The golden rule is never to just click on a link without giving it some thought first.