Shortlinks may just be the next frontier for content marketing when they get the recognition they deserve.
Remember the days of Tinyurl.com? Tinyurl solved the problem we didn’t know we had, especially before Twitter – it transformed long and cumbersome links into short and simple tinyurl links. How did this service market itself? Exactly. We saw this again with bit.ly which added tracking capabilities and analytics to the mix, and became the #1 shortlink service for anyone who knew anything about the web and social media. We all loved .ly, effectively a hack of a top-level Lybia domain that survived even Lybia’s threats to shut down the internet, but who doesn’t love a good hack.
Then bit.ly decided to expand and redesign and as its efforts flopped and pushed bit.ly out of favour with digerati, interesting new developments started happening.
Links and brands hold hands and walk on a beach into the sunset – branded information
Marketers finally caught up to the fact that links are essentially a branded source of information, not just a vehicle for content. Think about it. When you see nyti.ms – a smart hack of a top-level domain .ms, which by the way belongs to a Caribbean island Montserrat, you recognize that what you are about to read is New York Times content. Since only New York Times uses this shortlink, it carries a certain promise of credibility and legitimacy. Compare that with a level of unspoken doubt surrounding bit.ly links, forcing users to think each time whether they should click on it or not, and whether someone’s account has been hacked. I’m guessing someone at New York Times read Don’t Make Me Think by Steven Krug.
And the award for the best shortlink goes to.. But first, lets take a look at our nominees.
- LinkedIn quietly rolled out lnkd.in hacking India’s top-level domain
- WordPress owns a shortlink wp.me, hack of .me, Montenegro’s country code
- Google bought g.co to use the domain as a shortcut for all its products and services for more than $1.5 million (a sweet deal, really), its top level domain courtesy of Republic of Colombia.
- TechCrunch owns tcrn.ch – did you know .ch stands for Switzerland – Confoederation Helvetica, the Latin name for the country?
- Twitter finally woke up and offered its t.co service, automatically shortening long links that don’t fit with its 140 character limit, effectively capitalizing on all long links to promote Twitter (Note to marketers, this is what happens when you are asleep at the wheel). If I were a marketer working at Twitter at the time though, I would advise on using something more fun and recognizable, like twt.tr, as a homage to Twitter’s origins. So much better that t.co!
- Amazon earns an honorable mention for its somewhat scattered efforts of integrating shortlinks, first coming up with amzn.com, quickly followed by its acquisitions of A.Co, Z.Co, K.Co and Cloud.co.
Do shortlinks create more problems than they solve?
Joshua Schachter of Del.icio.us took a stand against shortlinks early on, raising a number of good points (geek out with me here):
“From my past experience with Delicious, I know that a huge proportion of shortened links are just a disguise for spam, so examining the expanded URL is a necessary step. The transit has to hit every shortened link to get at the underlying link and hope that it doesn’t get throttled”.
Despite all the technical challenges, as a marketer I love shortlinks as much as bread loves butter. However, I also hope that the hacking of top-level domains will at least be recognized as such by International domain registries and authorities like ICANN, and that there would be a more thoughtful, long-term solution. Because the rise of shortlinks – and I can only see their number increasing, despite the technical pains – signals a pressing need. For now, technically speaking, shortlinks add another layer of complexity on top of the domain-name train wreck well described by Mathew Ingram (who should consider launching his own shortlink).
Brands love branded content. Users love knowing where the content is coming from. So who is next? Infomart and Starbucks, I’m looking at you.
I’m holding the shortlinks awards ceremony next year, and I hope you make it.