Who are Your Links Working For?

Goodbye goo.gl.  Google is turning down support for the link shortener service.  I didn’t use it that much, except for the occasional link.  Which is not to say I don’t use link shorteners, just not this one.  And goo.gl’s slow fade is a good reminder to look at how link shorteners can help law library marketing and document access permanance.

If you use social media, you’re already generating short links.  Twitter (t.co), Facebook (fb.me), Youtube (youtu.be) are common, and apps like Flipboard and Google Play Newsstand will shorten links if you share something.  Some of these are just to save space, and some will direct you back into the app or environment from which the link came.  They are all an attempt to continue the product brand out so that, even if the content shared has nothing to do with the product, the link will always be a source reminder.

The link obfuscation brings about link unshorteners.  If you’re seeing a short link, you can’t mouse over it and see where it’s going.  An unshortener site – like urlex.org or unshorten.it – or a browser extension that will reveal shortened links – like unshorten.link (Chrome or Firefox) – reveals the actual destination url.

I’m not going to touch on services like perma.cc or library permanent URLs like Handle, DOIs, Purls, etc.  Goo.gl and other consumer-oriented link shorteners have marketing benefits with low overhead that make them available to small operations like a law library in ways that more technical, preservation-oriented link tools may not be.

Measure Your Links

One reason I liked Google’s url shortener was the associated analytics.  You could log into your goo.gl console and select the analytics for any link.  Did anyone actually click on your shortened link?  And what else do you know about them?  A service I used more heavily was bit.ly – to the tune of about 3300 links – and they offer similar analytics.  They’ve been around for quite a while and were my primary link shortener before I rolled my own.  One benefit to bitly is that, whether you created the link or not, you can add a + to the url and see how many clicks it has received.

The upside to bitly is the links last forever.  Even if you attempt to delete your account and close it, they won’t delete the links.  And data past 30 days requires an enterprise login.  And you need to buy links over 10,000.  I think it’s great that they figured out a business model around the links created by others.  I’m a little put off that I lose data analytics access after 30 days but I like the link permanance.  As you can see, below, one of the 20 links I created using Goo.gl is already missing its analytics data.

Goo.gl has already lost the analytics for a url that was shortened.

Make them Your Links

One reason I’ve liked using short links is that you can make them your own.  If you share a bit.ly link and Twitter converts it into a t.co link, the visitor is still going to travel through your bit.ly link to the destination page.  So you can still track the link by adding the plus (+) sign to the URL, and you can reuse the link on multiple platforms if you’re sharing on more than a single site.

It was also the reason I ran my own link shortener for awhile, using the open source Yourls.  It works just like any other link shortener – and you can use it with a shortened domain too, if you buy the domain – but on your own server.  It means that you can bypass the enterprise licensing of commercial link shorteners for things like redirecting the shortened link if the underlying url changes, or removing a cap on how many you can have.

Like bit.ly and tinyurl, another link shortener that is nice and simple, you can make custom short urls.  If you’ve taken the time to get a shortened domain – I was using ofaola.in (from India) – you might as well use custom urls too.  While the link shortener may generate /l4d33y as the link ending, you can edit that to be /2018-annual-report so that people seeing it will not only see your link branding but also what it is you’re sending them too.

Goo.gl’s turning down is another good example of why it’s important to look at what you’re doing in the area of marketing or making documents permanent.  If it’s mission critical or your law library is going to be around for awhile, it may be worth considering doing your link shortening on your own resources.

David Whelan

I improve information access and lead information teams. My books on finding information and managing it and practicing law using cloud computing reflect my interest in information management, technology, law practice, and legal research. I've been a library director in Canada and the US, as well as directing the American Bar Association's Legal Technology Resource Center. I speak and write frequently on information, technology, law library, and law practice issues.