Branded Short Links 101: What, how, and why?

By Bernou Benne | 17 Jun 2019
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If you've ever used a social media platform you've probably seen a shortened link. Some common examples are t.co/link, owl.ly/link, and goo.gl/link (RIP πŸ™).

Shortened links really started becoming popular in the early days of Twitter, back when we had the dreaded 140 character limit (it was a dark time, we don't like to think about it πŸ˜’.) With that limit, it was hard to Tweet any full sentence, let alone a sentence with an entire link attached. However, Twitter was a great platform for sharing content (and subsequently, links to that content), so a solution had to be found. Shortened links to the rescue! πŸš‘

Soon enough, the practice of shortening and beautifying links spread to other platforms such as Facebook and LinkedIn, and nowadays it’s rare to see a full link anywhere.

Apart from being shorter, branded links are also just much nicer to look at. Take this link, for example:
https://pixelme.me/facebook-lookalike-audience?utm_campaign=fblookalikeaudience&utm_source=blog&utm_medium=inbound&pix=g_1_g

It's long, has multiple UTM parameters attached, and would be difficult for anyone to type out if they had to. Bascially, it's just plain ugly and no one likes it.

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But here's the shortened version of the same link...

https://pxlme.me/YnAvBC1B

...and even better, here's a branded short version:

http://market.pixelme.me/lookalike

Nicer to look at, easier to type out, and it's got your brand right there in the link πŸš€.

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The main advantage of using a branded shortened link is that you can get all the benefits of shortening a link, without losing any of your brand's power. Plus, if anyone wants to repost your link, it's nice to know they'll be boosting the visibility of your business πŸ’«.

Let's face it - anyone can shorten a link. It's practically inevitable now, as platforms such as Twitter and LinkedIn will automatically shorten any link you place in a post if it's over a certain number of characters.

So if shortening links is an unavoidable reality, we may as well get a little creative πŸ‘©β€πŸŽ¨.

Branded short links are links which have a custom URL. To make them, you can use a dedicated root or subdomain, and edit the slug of your link. We can break down those terms to get a deeper understanding:

A subdomain is when you add a prefix to your already existing domain. For example, the market.pixelme.me link I used earlier is an example of link using a subdomain, since it's just added a prefix to my existing domain (pixelme.me). Subdomains are cheaper than root domains, but the downside is that they usually appear longer.

A root domain is a dedicated, separate domain which you use purchase and set up for the express purpose of shortening links. For example, our domain is pixelme.me, but our shortening root domain is pxlme.me (and the standard domain for all links shortened on our service πŸ˜‰)

A slug is the ending of the link, so basically what comes after the /. For example, in http://market.pixelme.me/lookalike, the slug is 'lookalike' since the article is about creating a lookalike audience on Facebook. It's good practice to pick a slug that reflects the destination URL.

How do I set up a branded shortening domain?

This will depend on if you want a subdomain or a root domain, and on the link shortening platform you're using.

For a subdomain, the process is fairly easy - just go to your domain's DNS settings, and add a CNAME record with the prefix you'd like to use (for example, for market.pixelme.me, the prefix is 'market'.) However, depending on which shortening service you want to use, setting up the CNAME will be different. You'll need to point the CNAME to a specific shortener's URL. For example, for PixelMe, you can point it to cname.pxlme.me.

For a custom root domain, you'll first have to purchase the domain. Make sure you're not planning to use it for anything except shortening your links! Then, you'll have to edit the A record on your domain and set the IP address to the address your shortening service tells you to use. (Ours is 51.15.139.10, just in case you were wondering πŸ˜‰)

Want to know more about setting up your custom domain with PixelMe? We have step-by-step guides in our FAQ.

Once you've got the domain set up, you'll need to wait for the DNS to be fully resolved (a fancy way of saying you need to wait for the all clear to use your domain. βœ…) A good free tool to use to check your status is DNS Checker. Just type in your URL, pick the correct record type, and see if it's ready or not.

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When it's ready, you can add it to your link shortening platform!

What should I look for in a link shortening platform?

Here's a quick checklist to have a look at when picking your link shortening platform:

  • Will they let me add a custom domain? Some link shorteners are free and easy to use, but they won't give you a custom domain option. This means you can't brand your links, which would be unfortunate (see: all the reasons we listed above for why you should brand your links πŸ˜‰)
  • How much will that cost me? Remember, free β‰  best option. So if your link shortening service is apparently free but is charging you exorbitant costs just to add a custom domain, maybe it's best to go look somewhere else.
  • Can I add more than one domain? Sometimes it's good to have options. For example, using a different subdomain based on the content of the link. Will your link shortening let you add unlimited custom domains, or are you going to have to pick and choose the best ones to avoid extra costs?
  • Can I edit the slug? This is a biggie - editing the slug is a great way to make easily recognizable branded links. This is especially great if your users want to retype your link in a different device, or if you're printing your links, for example. The easier, the better, and there's no easier way to create nice branded links than by editing the slug.
  • Can I edit the index and 404 page redirects? Make sure to check this! It means that users will be redirected to your website if they take the 'naked' URL (so removing the slug) or if the link is broken, instead of being redirected to the link platform's website.
  • Can I create unlimited links? You may have gotten this far in the checklist and found some good option, so now make sure they're not going to charge you for creating links! The best option is always unlimited, but if that's not available, at least make sure you can create enough links for your needs without going over your plan.
  • What are the extra options? Shortening your links can offer a range of additional features! For example, embedding retargeting pixels directly into your links (even to third party pages), or tracking link analytics. Make sure to check if your link shortening platform has any additional options you can take advantage of.

Some final words of advice

Here are a few best practices for branded link shortening:

πŸŽ‰ Pick a custom domain that fits your brand. See if you can get creative (for example, using pixel.me to shorten for pixelme.me πŸ™ˆ)

🐌Edit your slugs! Make them snappy but still representative of the final destination.

πŸ”™Set up your index and 404 redirects so they bring users to your own page.

✨Take full advantage of any additional features. Add retargeting pixels, use UTMs, track your clicks, etc.

At PixelMe, we offer unlimited custom domains on all our plans. Plus, you can shorten as many links as you'd like, as well as add retargeting pixels - no matter where the link leads.

Want to know more? Learn about Audience Builder or just write to us using the chat feature in the lower right corner of this page! We're always happy to help πŸ’Œ.

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