Short links, tall problems: why you should stop using third-party link-shortening tools

Here is the complete guidance on using third-party link-shortening tools:

  • Please don’t

The end.

Two dogs, the big dog is looking at the tiny dog.

Short isn’t always sweet. Or safest. If you have been using third-party link shortening tools in your communication materials, you can now eliminate that step from your process. Using third party link-shortening tools adds no value to your communication strategy. It only exposes you and your audience to unnecessary risks and consequences.

When are short links essential and how to get ones that are safe and secure

Before we go into why third-party link-shortening tools are ill-advised, it is important to note that there are situations where short URLs are useful, and in such situations safe and secure short links can be generated in-house by the Content Team.

  1. Short, friendly links are necessary for practical and aesthetic reasons for campaigns, information or guidance that are being promoted offline (like letters or posters.)
  2. Short links are also useful for campaign microsites, where a campaign is being promoted across various media platforms. A simple and memorable URL is crucial to build audience engagement with online content.
  3. There might be other cases where a department or a topic might benefit from using a short vanity URL. If you are unsure, the Content Team can help advise.

If you do need to use an short URL for any of the above purposes please email the Content Inbox.

But it is important to note that all short links must be generated in-house and not by third-party link-shortening services.

Reasons why using link-shortening tools is futile and risky

Security threat

Using link-shorteners can expose your audience to security risks. Spammers and cybercriminals use short links to hide links to malicious websites. Many sites automatically block short URLs as a spam blocking measure. Audiences too have learned to be suspicious of shortened URLs and may hesitate to click one. So, using link-shortening tools can negatively affect your audience engagement.

Lack of accessibility

For a link to be accessible, it should be descriptive and meaningful. Link-shortening tools don’t take this into account while generating URLS. Their links don’t provide any context, cannot be customised, and could contain misleading words and numbers. Such links are not compatible with assistive technologies like screen readers and are problematic for readers who rely on assistive technologies.

Unreliable longevity of links

If the link-shortening service shuts down, or changes the way its service functions, it could affect the longevity of the short links it generates. Imagine the horror of using a short link across your communication campaign, only to realise it is invalid. (Calm down, deep breaths.)

Social media sites automatically shorten links

You no longer need to shorten links to post on social media, as many sites do that automatically. Social media sites like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram shorten links in comments and captions. LinkedIn automatically shortens links that exceed a certain limit. These links are checked for safety and security, and are typically trusted by users.

Please note that Hootsuite gives users the option to shorten links through, but our Social Media Team recommends that we use full links to ensure all content is accessible. If you need more information or advice, please contact the Social Media Team.

Lack of transparency and accountability

Shortened links mask the destination website or URL, leading to ambiguity and confusion about where it might take a user. This might make the audience suspicious about your content, and affect their trust in the council’s communications. Plus it means you’ll get far less clicks!

Dilutes the brand

Third-party link shortening tools use generic domains that do not relate to your brand or organisation. They also don’t provide any context or information about the linked content. If different departments or teams use such link shorteners, the URLs will be inconsistent across the organisation. All this leads to reduced brand visibility and reduced trust in the brand, and eventually affects audience engagement.

Read more about why the Government Communication Service thinks we should not use link shorteners.

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