How many people visited your website last month? How many of them came from a link in your latest newsletter? How many clicked a link you placed on social media? If you run a small business website, it's in your interest to track the sources of your web traffic to measure the effectiveness of your marketing efforts. It can also give you insight about your potential customers or clients. Small businesses don't always have a marketing expert on staff who knows how to track traffic in this way. You can do it yourself, no matter your technical skill level, and one of the easiest ways is by using a URL shortener and link tracking service.
What Are URL Shorteners?
URL shorteners are apps, typically web apps, that take a long URL and shrink it down to fewer characters. An example is TinyURL. If you copy and paste a long link into the main field on TinyURL, the web page spits out a much shorter link that goes to the same page. Shortened links display better in emails, print material, and other places.
Some URL shortener services turn long links into small ones, and that's it. The more capable ones double as link-tracking services. In other words, the app shows you the traffic coming from each link.
This capability is useful because you can then make specific links for specific purposes. Let's say you want people to go to the page MyCompany.com/business-partnerships/new-opportunities. That's a long URL, so you generate two short versions, A and B. You use link A exclusively in cold emails reaching out to new potential partners. Link B goes exclusively into emails with existing partners. That way, you can differentiate the email link traffic coming from new versus existing partners.
Branding Your Links
Some URL shorteners provide even more value, however, by letting you buy a domain that you can use to brand the link to add more brand awareness. For example, when The New York Times makes a short link, it starts with nyti.ms/. Nike, whose logo is a swoosh, starts many of its short links with swoo.sh/.
You have to buy the domain to get that level of customization. Many URL shortener services offer that sale as part of their service.