Since I set up my own URL shortener (bada.ms) and one for my company (prc.ms), I’ve been thinking a lot about what the proper use of short URLs is. When is it OK to use your own short URLs and when isn’t it?
There’s no official rulebook on how and when to use short URLs, so I thought I’d compile an unofficial short URL etiquette guide. Below are some basic rules that I think we can all agree on, and I welcome your own thoughts and ideas in the comments:
1. For all your own links, use your own shortener
When you tweet a link to one of your own articles or web pages, using your own URL shortener is perfectly fine. In fact, I think it’s pretty much mandatory. It’s your content so of course it should be distributed with a short URL of your choosing.
2. For already shortened links that you retweet, keep the original
If someone else has already shortened a URL, don’t hijack their short URL but simply retweet/repost it. I consider it to be slightly rude when someone hijacks my short URLs, because it robs me of relevant analytics that my own URL shortener tracks for me.
I think this applies not just to custom branded short URLs (selnd.com, nyt.ms, gu.com, and so forth) but also to generic short URLs (bit.ly, j.mp, tinyurl, etc). Many users have an account at a major short URL provider, and while they might not be using custom domains those URLs are still theirs to track and analyse.
However if you want to retweet a non-shortened link and this breaks Twitter’s character limit, by all means abbreviate it with your own preferred URL shortener. If someone hasn’t taken the effort to shorten their URLs, they can’t hold it against you when you do.
3. For sites that use custom short URLs, try to use their branded domain
Many big media sites have their own custom short domain (nyt.ms gu.com, selnd.com, etc). These are nearly always built on a widely used short URL service such as bit.ly, so when you shorten URLs pointing to those sites with bit.ly you will usually get the site’s own branded short domain.
Better yet, use the tweet/share buttons provided on the site itself, which usually include either Twitter’s own short URL (t.co) or the site’s own custom short domain.
However, if you can’t be arsed or if it’s quicker to use your own shortener, by all means do. Better to get the content out there rather than waste too much time tracking down the site’s own preferred short URL.
4. If there is no space limitation, don’t use short URLs
Short URLs should only be used on platforms where there are character constraints – i.e. Twitter. If you use short URLs in places where there’s no obvious reason to do so, you will arouse suspicion and distrust. It’s better to just show the full URL so that the audience knows what site you’re linking to. You don’t need to use short URLs to gather click-through analytics – there are other ways of doing that as well.
Do you agree with these four rules? Are there others that should be included? How do you prefer to use short URLs? Your input is highly appreciated, so please do leave your thoughts in the comments.