URL Shorteners for SEO

URL shortners, such as bit.ly and tinyurl.com, have become ubiquitous. They received a huge boost from Twitter's rising popularity because https://webportal.csinet.org/events/vieweventdetail.aspx?code=C72DFE83-657D-DF11-BD27-0019B9E160B2 (a link to our upcoming CSI Webinar on Guide Specs) takes up many times more characters than http://tinyurl.com/28as8nr (98 to 26, in case you were wondering). Beyond reducing character count, a post at SEO Chat blog explains their potential SEO benefits.

Part of the benefit is what I demonstrated above; it's much easier to share a shortened URL than the full-length, complex, multi-layer URL, especially for pages with dynamic content. It makes it easier to distribute photos, press kit, guide specs, etc. without worrying about creating a new, easy-to-access high-level page on your website. Also, there is a natural intersection with QR codes because shorter URLs are easier to store and harder to damage. The article also points out that long URLs are more likely to be broken by email programs, which can be a major problem if you are doing a newsletter or email marketing.

The article contains a helpful overview of how URL shortners work, which is very useful if you are new to using them (ironically, I did not shorten that link). Then the author gets to the meat of the question:

So how are you going to implement this in your website?
Step 1: Convert all external URLs (the original long URLS) into their equivalent bit.ly URLs...
Step 2: To make the URL SEO-friendly, you should use the correct anchor text, the title element of the link should be set to the original URL, and the href element to the bit.ly URL.
What does that mean? Using my earlier example, when I link to the webinar I will use http://tinyurl.com/28as8nr (the author likes bit.ly, but they are largely interchangeable), but use the TITLE tag so the link looks like this: CSI Webinar on Guide Specs.

The link now contains three layers of data: the DISPLAYED TEXT ("CSI Webinar on Guide Specs"), the LINK TITLE (the big long URL) that displays on mouseover, and the TARGET URL (the shortened link).

Why is this good? Because it explains what the link is and shows where it will take you, but if someone copies or share the link they get the shorter, easy-to-use version.

There are, however, some security risks involved with URL shortners, which this technique exposes; you have no guarantee the link you're clicking goes where you think it will go. That could eventually cause some trouble for spam filters, so use shortened URLs cautiously and honestly.

You may not feel like redoing every link on your site as he recommends, but it is an interesting technique to consider. Enough so that I'm looking into creating our own private link shortener so we can get these benefits without being dependent on an outside service.