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Don't sabotage your Search Engine Optimisation: How best to use URL shortening

Words and links are still two of the biggest influences in search engine optimisation. Used in combination, they have a lot of power. That’s why you can benefit from taking care with choosing how you link to your website. But social media platforms like Twitter, with character limitations and the desire to be more minimalist, have taken some of that linking flexibility away.

Anyone using Twitter will notice that they often automatically convert links into a shortened, unrecognisable link which directs to the source. You can also choose which shortening service to use to shorten your links, but you are rarely able to use a longer link with keywords.

Shortened links are therefore not currently as beneficial for SEO as an original link, but they are still very useful. Whenever possible use full URLs. When you have no choice but to shorten a URL, there are a few things to consider to ensure you make best use of your shortened links for your SEO.

The main factor is that shortened links use two different methods to redirect people from the short to the destination URL. A 301 is a permanent redirect, and tells the search engines that the destination URL is the important one. A 302 is a temporary redirect and tells the search engines that the short URL is the important one. So you want to use a service that uses a 301 redirect.

You may also want to choose a service based on how many characters long their links are – when using Twitter even a few characters can make all the difference. Some link shorteners offer links as short as 13 characters.

And finally, you may want to check into some of the tracking and statistics offered by some of the link shortening sites. Bt.ly and Snurl.com both offer tracking of your created links, and both use a 301 redirect to point to the destination.

There are other, rather more picky, factors to look into, but these are the basics; these are the factors that will make the difference between you hindering or helping your SEO with your shortened URLs.

If you want to get more detailed, you can compare the features of quite a few shortening services at this post on searchengineland.com.

Camilla Todd manages Search Engine Optimisation, social media campaigns and brand awareness for WNW Design SEO clients. You can follow her on Twitter @camilla_wnw, email her at camilla@wnwdesign.co.uk or phone on 01395 542569.

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Camilla Todd
Camilla Todd is Head of Digital Marketing at WNW Digital and manages Search Engine Optimisation, PPC, Social Media campaigns and Brand Awareness for WNW Digital SEO clients. You can follow her on Twitter @camilla_wnw, email her at camilla@wnwdigital.co.uk or phone on 01392 349580

Comments

Hi Colin,

Definitely still matters in my opinion – while nofollow tags on links are troublesome, some of the major search engines ignore them (Yahoo, for a start), and there have been indications from Google that links with a nofollow tag still get followed and indexed by Google itself. While nofollow tagged links are certainly not prefereable, they are not useless.

I would also say that this assessment of nofollow tags especially applies to Facebook and Twitter, because Google is always trying to apply a more natural interpretation of web users behaviour, and therefore will be shortly (if not already) taking into account the fact that an awful lot of sharing/recommending goes on in Facebook and Twitter. Google will be finding ways to track it – it’s just too big a source of sharing to ignore.

One example is the fact that at the end of last year Google started including Facebook Page status updates in results listings. And they already list real-time Twitter updates. If that gets your link at the top of a Google results, I’m not too worried that it’s nofollow.

Effectively it’s still a judgement call – there are no definitive answers on this one. So in this case I tend to go on the basis that we are using Twitter and Facebook anyway, so better off making the best use of the links we place. It can’t hurt, at the very least, and I believe it makes a difference.

Might have to do a followup blog on this at some point! Thanks for the question Colin.

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