URL Shorteners are all the rage these days what with bit.ly, tinyurl.com, flic.kr and the rest. They take the incredibly long URLs that are generated from tools such as WordPress and turn them into something shorter and more manageable. So, for example, the URL for my last post on my top tech of 2009 was http://www.spokenlikeageek.com/2010/01/07/top-tech-of-2009/ but sending it to bit.ly it becomes a more manageable http://bit.ly/7fozBD.
So why bother? Well Twitter is one driving force. With only 140 characters to play with a full length URL like that shown above would leave you very little to play with. Stats is another reason. Using a shortening service it is possible to get a great deal of useful information on the times and places the link is being clicked. Very interesting for a webmaster.
But what if you don’t want to use a third party service? Well if you run your own website you can install one very easily. There are a number about but my favourite is yourls which cleverly stands for Your Own URL Shortener. This requires a few things: a web server, PHP, a MYSQL database and, crucially, a short domain name. The latter is the important bit. Fortunately the company that I work with already has a short domain in 2ls.com and I had a reasonably short domain for personal use in dsktp.net.
Yourls setup was a breeze as it is in use. There is even a bookmarklet that allows you to shorten links direct from your browser which is great. The only thing that I haven’t been able to do is to get yourls to generate random links rather than sequential ones. This is not the end of the world but would be nice if I could get it sorted.
As you can see from the graphics below you get some great looking charts and information detail allowing you to see where the traffic is coming from. Which from a SEO perspective could prove invaluable.
So if you are in need of a URL shortener then why not roll your own rather than submit to the big boys? Does anyone else use their own service or have you get random links working with yourls? If so leave me a comment and let me know.