With that 140 character limit, Twitter definitely became fertile ground for the URL shortening marketplace. When Twitter first released, it included TinyURL as its built-in short URL service, but recently changed it’s preference to bit.ly. That was a move that some saw as the precursor to a Twitter buyout of the little URL shrinking company. Of course, that hasn’t happened. Yet.
Until Twitter came along, most people had heard of TinyURL and that was about it. Used for “hiding” web addresses in posts, shrinking addresses so they’d fit on one line of a page, and so forth, there was little use for a good URL shortening service.
Now, there are dozens of them.
In terms of numbers of users (or uses), TinyURL is still on top. There are a lot of these service to choose from, though, so we’re going to look over the most popular and give you our Top 5 for Twitter use.
One of the more popular services now, bit.ly offers customizable URLs, tracking services, a 301 redirect service, and is Twitter’s current default shortening service. Tracking and other information can be imported into Google spreadsheets for analysis.
While many of this service’s functionality is available only by paying a fee, it is nonetheless popular amongst Web marketing professionals because of its abilities. Includes customizable URLs, tracking services, and 307 redirects.
Still top dog in URL shortening, if TinyURL doesn’t make some changes soon, they may lose this ranking. The largest missing piece is tracking services, which all of the others on our list offer. Slightly shorter character counts due to smaller site addresses are also a factor.
No registration is required to view stats on a single URL, but an account gives a lot of extras like bulk URL shortening, csv downloads, and more. This is one of the most feature-rich of the shorteners on this list.
Some newcomers to the URL shortening game are worth mentioning here. These are some of those that have made a little splash and got our attention.
Still in limited beta, this service is owned by Stumble Upon (hence the name) and promises to be one of the ones to keep an eye on. Beta keys can be had by subscribing to their Twitter account, naturally.
This service uses your Twitter account as your login, making it a sure-fire hit if it keeps up the rest of its services too. Great one to try, it might surprise you.
This one has a single huge (or short, as it were) advantage: size. U.nu creates the smallest URLs of any shortener at about 8 characters each (not including the “http://”). That’s tiny. For this single reason, it may become quite popular, but I doubt it will ever get high on the list without the addition of tracking and other services as well.
Of course, we couldn’t leave out twurl.nl (TweetBurner), though this service has lost popularity due to the superior marketing built-ins of new competition.
All of these services are free and most require registration to get to the advanced statistics. Even if you’re just a part-timer, tracking your shortened URLs is important to your marketing if you plan to watch where your visitors really come from. Several WordPress plugins give automatic URL shortening and some Twitter plugins (for blasting or visitor-sending) also do this.
The field of battle in URL shortening services is ever-changing now, though, with Twitter as the main focus for most of them. Most Twitter apps have a built-in (or several built-ins) for shortening as well.
Picking a favorite is no easy task, but I think I would say bit.ly is at the top of my list with cli.gs close behind (when it isn’t getting hacked). The services are similar, but bit.ly is built into Twitter and many Twitter apps, so it comes out on top. Which one is your favorite? Leave a comment and let us know.