Links play a vital role in online marketing. They’re shareable and can increase traffic and conversion rates, help you gauge the success of your marketing efforts, and may even boost your Search Engine Optimization. Sharing complex and lengthy links can be unappealing and distracting, though
Also, remembering long links can be daunting. Hence, many brands and businesses opt to shorten links, making them more appealing and shareable. But URL shorteners come with downsides too.
In this article, we’ll discuss the pros and cons of a URL shortener and its risks. Before we dive in, let’s start with one question: What is a URL shortener?
What is a URL Shortener?
URL shortening has been around for quite some time. The first-ever URL shortening service was introduced in 2002 by Kevin Gilbertson. Since then, a lot of URL shorteners have surfaced. Initially, a URL shortener was designed to reduce lengthy and complex links. This can be a website or plugins and prevents URLs from being fragmented in emails.
Today, URL shorteners are popular for social media applications like Twitter, where you can only use a few characters (up to 140) in a post, tweet, or message. How do URL shorteners work?
Well, it’s a simple concept. First and foremost, the user inserts a lengthy link into a link shortener website or plugin. Then the link gets sent to a server for validation and possible injection checks.
Next, the server includes the link in a database and generates a shortcode in the form of a short link. When a user inserts the short URL into a web browser, the server receives the request and uses the identification code to retrieve the stored lengthy URL.
With the advancement in technology, URL shortening services are getting more sophisticated with a range of functionalities for users to explore. For instance, URL shortening services now allow link analytics, where users can monitor the activities on the shortened links.
The downside of URL link shorteners is that scammers can also utilize them to hide harmful content or malware to compromise networks and steal sensitive information. There are several popular URL shortening services you can use today, including Pretty Links, is.gd, Tri.im, and Bitly.
URL shorteners offer several benefits worth considering. Below are some of the upsides.
Shorts Link are Attractive
A URL shortener makes lengthy links more appealing to the reader, impacting their decision to engage. Usually, long URLs are unattractive strings of characters that consume more space.
Shortened links are also more readable and make it easy for users to share content on social media platforms like Twitter. This is one of the reasons why URL shorteners have become popular over time.
You can customize shortened links to make them less random and more memorable for your business.
Some URL shorteners now allow users to monitor the activities on their shortened links. You can’t enhance your target audience if you don’t understand how they engage with your content.
This feature can determine the number of clicks and the geographical locations of readers that engage your links. This, in turn, helps to measure the success of your marketing campaigns. One popular link shortening service with this feature is Bitly.
Everything with upsides comes with downsides, too—nothing is 100% perfect. Now let’s have a look at the cons of URL shortening.
Spammers and hackers can use malicious short links to redirect users to legitimate-looking websites and trick them into submitting their credentials. Clicking on such a link can also automatically download malware on your computer. That’s why knowing how to check if a website is secure is crucial before performing any actions.
Your privacy and security is incredibly important. Keep the following in mind when receiving links via email:
- Learn how to check links for phishing and incorporate best practices when you’re online.
- Don’t engage links sent to you by an unknown person. If you receive the link via email, check the message for any signs of scam activities. You can also hover over the link to see where it redirects before clicking it.
- If you click on an unknown link, never share credentials like bank details, credit card numbers, and login information.
If the URL shortening service is discontinued, the shortened URL will no longer direct users to your website. This can create issues because you must resend new links. Linkrot can also be problematic for your website.
While some social media sites like Twitter accept link shortening, others like Yahoo! Answers and Wikipedia don’t. They block out posts containing shortened links, which can negatively impact your online marketing efforts.
Now that you understand what a URL shortener is and why people use it, let’s take a closer look at the URL shortener security risks.
Why are URL Shorteners a Security Risk?
Though URL shorteners offer several benefits, they also pose security threats that can cause devastating damage. When you receive a shortened link, it’s challenging to determine where the web browser is taking you.
More often than not, scammers use shortened links to direct users to malicious websites or initiate automatic malware downloads on your computer.
If you don’t trust the sender or if you’re suspicious of the link, don’t click it. Learn how to identify a phishing website so you know what signs to look out for.
Alternatively, before clicking, reveal the full URL behind the shortened link. Below are some ways to show the full URL of a link.
- Use the shortening service preview feature: Type the short URL in your web browser and add the following characters to preview:
TinyURL: Input preview between the https:// and TinyURL. For instance, http://preview/tinyurl.com/gh6jdnsj.
Bit.ly: Type + at the end of the URL.
- Use a URL Checker: You can use a URL checker to determine if a link is malicious or phishing. EasyDMARC’s Phishing URL Checker is an AI-powered real-time phishing and fraudulent link detection tool. Input the link, and click the “Check URL” button. The tool tells you if the URL status is good or bad.
Link shortening makes lengthy URLs short and more appealing to readers, thereby increasing engagement and conversion rate. While the benefits are significant, you should also weigh the downsides. Shortening links can also make you lose trust and credibility— users love to know where the link is taking them before engaging it.
Scammers can also use shortened links to execute their malicious plans. Be sure about shortened links before clicking on them.
How do you check if a shortened URL is safe? Some tools reveal the full URL of shortened ones. You can also hover your mouse over the link to see the destination domain.