A self-hosted URL shortener helps provide consistent branding, neater links, and allows businesses to track the effectiveness of content curation campaigns.
Branded URL shorteners have been around for a long time. All you need is a short URL, and they’re easy to get in an era where the number of generic top-level domains is skyrocketing. Hooking your short URL up to a service like Bitly is straightforward too. But I see many businesses sharing without using short URLs, or using plain old Bitly or Goo.gl short URLs, so it seems the business case for using link shortners still needs to be made. That’s what I’m going to do in this article. I’m also going to discuss the benefits of self-hosting a link shortener on a dedicated server or virtual private server that is under your control.
The Benefits Of Personalized URL Shorteners
I don’t suppose it really needs stating, but if you use a link shortener, you get shorter links. It may seem trivial but ugly multi-part links with query strings do not encourage clicks, so normalizing and shortening links can increase engagement and sharing.
Everything that your company shares should include recognizable branding. If you send out a tweet, initially it’s obvious that it comes from your account, and if people retweet in the recommended way, then that connection remains, but people are wont to quote or modify tweets, in which case the tie to your brand is broken. By using a branded shortener, unless the sharer goes out of their way to remove your branded link, it will spread through the network.
Of course, if you are sharing content from your own site, it already carries your branding. But if you only share content from your own site, you’re doing it wrong. Content curation is a powerful audience building technique, and it involves sharing from many different sites.
One of the problems with content curation is that it’s difficult to assess how effective it is. It’s often impossible to know how many people have clicked on your links. And once the connection is broken between your social media accounts and your shared links, you have no way of determining their reach. Link shorteners provide analytics that allow you to determine whether your content curation is having any impact on your audience and the wider community.
Self-Hosted URL Shorteners
Traditionally, businesses use hosted services like Bitly to shorten their links, but there are plenty of applications available for self-hosting. Hosting your own link shortener means that you control all the data it generates.
One of my favorite free and open source URL shorteners is YOURLS (Your Own URL Shortener), which can be hosted on any dedicated server or virtual private server with PHP support. It includes some great analytics, bookmarklets for link shortening, and customizable shortening schemes.