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Why tiny URLs change how we design

We’re in a time of short URLs. With the Twitters and Facebooks and everything else, the links we share with people need to short. Services like TinyURL and TwitterHat turn a long web address into something text message friendly, but do short links make your actual domain and address meaningless?
I’m still an advocate of getting a good domain name. Something you can say easily in conversation, a name that doesn’t have any double letters or special characters, and using common spellings and full words, no assume abbreviations. The era of short URLs won’t eliminate the need for a good domain name, even if just from a branding sense. But with short URLs the branding built-in to your domain is now more or less obsolete.

I like my domain – MorningToast.com – it’s easy to say to people, it spells nicely, it’s two words people know. I want people to know the domain but with all the shorteners out there, it turns my MorningToast.com into is.gd/CmXs or something even shorter. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a more than fair trade-off — people to my site at a sacrifice of domain branding — but does this lead to a bigger picture that eliminates the worry of “good” URLs?

In the past I’ve always wanted “pretty” URLs that have proper words, underscores…so it looks nice. Not only does it look better in the web address, it can be more memorable than a seemingly random string of numbers. And if you use folders as landing points, then the URL even becomes more important, for example, MorningToast.com/caveradio – which is much better than some long winded, unmemorable address.

What does this all mean?

For one, it means people won’t be remembering your domain name, but they could be remembering your site. In other words, site design and presentation is even more important now. Since people have no idea where they’re going when they click on a shortened URL, the impact you make when the land on your page is even more important than ever. Getting a short URL link to your site from someone other than you is one in a million, it may not happen again, so make that first impression count.

Does http://is.gd/Cn6K go to a video? A photo? Music? A blog post?

You don’t know where it goes and unless the person sending the link did a good job of providing context, otherwise you won’t know until you land.

Just one more thing that we as web developers/strategists now have to consider.

Thanks, convenience, thanks.

5 Comments

  1. Big G Big G May 22, 2009

    “Does http://is.gd/Cn6K go to a video? A photo? Music? A blog post?

    You don’t know where it goes and unless the person sending the link did a good job of providing context, otherwise you won’t know until you land.”

    From a security standpoint, you also have no idea where that link is going to go. That link could very easily go to an exploit on an attackers site, resulting in your computer being owned before you even realize it.

    G+

  2. JuanO JuanO May 23, 2009

    I like how Flickr is starting their own URL shortener, that gives the shortened URL some context, right? I read some stuff on Rev=canonical, I guess their argument is the same as yours, I think. Anyway, hopefully something gets figured out because it is very frustrating sometimes.

  3. King Tom King Tom May 28, 2009

    I have to agree with Big G. I’m less inclined to click on a link if the URL doesn’t give a hint as to what the page is. Not just for a security standpoint on my home computer, but, also, if I were to, and this is just hypothetical, be browsing at work. I’m not going to click on a shortened URL that would take me to a site that could get me in trouble (and where I work, they block everything, even this site).

  4. Brian Brian May 28, 2009

    Block the Toast? What? Tell them you need it for research.

  5. Brian Brian Post author | June 16, 2009

    Not that URL shortening has created this need for thought, but it possibly promotes more so the fact that people don’t always come in through the front door. More people probably get to your sites using links like these to read articles and see photos.

    The home page is still important but don’t put all eggs in one place. You won’t sell them that way.

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