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URL(Read time = 3-4 minutes)  So just how much are 8 keystrokes worth in a 140c world?  When you’re the marketer or copywriter or Agency social media guru charged with fitting key messages and a link into Twitter dress, a huge amount, I’ll venture.  Of course, headline writers and desk copy editors have faced down this challenge as any journalist can attest; but for most B2B marketers, it’s Twitter that drives home the need for being crisp, like never before.  Depending on what shorten URL service you now use, significant keystrokes are likely yours for the picking.

In 2008, Mashable did a roundup of URL shortening services and highlighted 90 providers… (yup 90!) of the truncating darlings.  Interestingly, several of today’s “most used” weren’t even then visible (think bit.ly  and BUDurl and ow.ly).   A year later, TopRank’s Lee Odden asked his 10K+ Twitter followers for their vote on favorite shortening service to arrive at a “top 11″ list;  another good read isa cli.gs blog post catalogs the results of a massive (10.2 million) Twitter scrape with analytics on most used domains.

ManyB2B pros will care about analytics, tracking, campaign comparison statistics and customization as outreach social media initiativesevolve… client data-hogs will want to watch re-tweet performance, compare one approach to another using keywords, etc.  If data and tracking isn’t required, just go w/the flow and use whatever embedded services comes w/your Twitter client.  But if you do care, how do you begin to sort thru the choices?  Good news is, experimentation is usually easy and cost free.

Here’s an Evaluation Tick-List We’ve Observed Many Use

Do It Yourself…or Grab a Custom Domain  For some, the ideal of operating yourown shortening service can be attractive.  Lifehacker (8/09) has a nice discussion on this topic, here  ; As well, some of the commercial providers (360liveoak, for one.) have expanded into the custom domain business  such as Ez.com and clients like Travelocity and the Seattle Seahawks. Some companies have ready-made, very short names that could easily be developed for custom short URL use.

Tracking/Statistics/Analytics…or not  What do you want to know, how real-time, what level of analytics.  Or not.  Tackle this as an early part of the decision tree as it will simplify choices. Some providers cater to commercial, enterprise users.  Others take the simple/easy/no-problem path.  Spend time thinking about your needs and take the road most travelled.  Then, don’t hesitate to experiment and change.  Tap into the blog network to stay current.

Twitter Client Support:  Ask the question, what service is supported by the Twitter client you most use?  Below is a snapshot for TweetDeck and Seesmic, two of the more popular desktop clients. URL native support just makes life easier.  For those wanting to dive deep, Twitstat reports on Twitter client metrics.  By knowing what’s most popular, you can get a gauge of provider stability and value. 

 TweetDeck v30.5  – bit.ly is the default.  Can be changed to: tinyurl, is.gd, or twurl from the TD Settings/Services window;  Can manage multiple Twitter accounts; easy links out to: Twitter, Facebook, MySpace.

SeesmicDesktop 0.6.air  – bit.ly is the default.  Can be changed to:  is.gd, snurl.com, digg.com, twurl.nl, or tr.im from the Accounts/Services window; Can manage multiple Twitter accounts; easy links out to Facebook.

301 Redirect Availability: If SEO is important to you, this is a critical feature.  Shortener services can provide two URL options:  301s (permanent links) and 307s/302s (usually the default and only a temporary link).  Which is used impacts search engine performance. It’s important because search engines “credit” 301s to the original, long URL; in contrast, a non-301 redirect is “temporary” and search engines value these less.  For a case study in URL structure, go here

Customization options – think vanity URLs and branding extension here, as one option;  or use of your own domain (only useful if your domain name is short… see above);  Other options include keyword tags, grouping of multiple URLs into campaigns for comparisons, etc.  Marketers love this feature (the ScoopD team included) so it makes our evaluation list though not as critical as other pieces.

Other Considerations

Stability:  Reliability of the URL provider service, ie will the provider be around day-to-day, year over year. One way to evaluate is longevity and funding.

Bulk shortening – Far fetched, perhaps not.  We know of one client who routinely uses a dozen or so URLs for every launch as they are monitoring different vertical audience communities and trying to understand differences in response behavior.  Converting URLs one at a time can be both an irritant as well as just a long process.

Paid or Free – Cost does matter, even if it’s a balance between hard $$ and user time/usability.  For some, cost is a knockout box – but for most B2B companies some level of cost is permissible so long as there’s value associated w/the expense.

How small is small? “h t t p://”  takes 7 characters… add to this the shortener domain (eg, TinyURL.com would take11 more… bit.ly requires 6 (no .com needed)… is.gd takes 5 (again, no .com needed); then add on the obligatory “path” portion in the for of “/xxxx” (what a normal web site would appear as the page name. So, if size really matters, go for something like:   http://is.gd/3Np6h   (18 characters) v. a TinyURL like:   http://tinyurl.com/ya25va5   (26 characters) for a savings sof 8 keystrokes.

Recycling:  Re-use of URLs?  Surely never… but a close reading Terms/Conditions statements found only one service (is.gd) that explicitly said they would not do this (the type was very tiny so could have missed preclusions by other providers).

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