Is Short the New Black?

In light of fashion week, I thought I’d explore the prevalent use of proprietary url shorteners by the major social media and search providers. If you’re new to the conversation on url shortenters you can get the low-down from Mashable here: Let’s ask the question:

“Why reinvent the wheel?”

Ultimately, large social media and search companies are all working toward being able to measure the sharing that happens across their network. In addition to measuring and reporting, with this new tracking they’re able to make inferences about social behavoir. In Twitter’s case it’s important to show sponsors/advertisers ROI for their campaigns. This is just one example of many, ultimately getting a grasp on the types of content people share and what others want to track socially has value and can be monetized in a number of ways. So the question for all social media, search organizations, and creative start-ups then becomes “why not?” rather than “why?”.

So then we might ask, what does the industry look like? Bitly and TinyURL have been in the shortening business from the beginning, however it’s only been the last few years that google, youtube, facebook, and now twitter are in on this too. After acquired last month, official announcement here, they’re poised to be number one in terms of understanding social sharing behaviors through shortening.

So, I’m curious: What does the industry look like & how has it changed over the past two years?

Round 1 – vs. TinyURL, looking back

If we take a look over the past two years we can see that all the work that put in paid-off, as they were on similar footing two years ago

However, now you need to take in to account all of bitly’s domains in aggregate.’s network of domains is about 60% larger in terms of visits volume than tinyURL. Thus we can conclude that bitly’s approach of creating a network of short domains with different innovative functions has helped them gain this marketshare.

Round 2 Web Portals and Search get in on the action with Twitter

As for the search engines and twitter’s links market share here’s a area map of the past year’s activity.

Ultimately Google and Twitter are leading the charge. Especially since twitter started wrapping all urls for users, more on that here. To be clear Microsoft has only released for internal use so our traffic counts are estimates with relatively low activity.

Now that you can see what kind of traffic volumes the major players are pushing, it’ll be interesting to see the new innovations in this field. From what I’ve researched aims to make twitter links safer, while bitly and google aim to help you better track the activity on your links.

I find the youth of this particular industry extremely exciting and am currently experimenting with which aims to give you a canvas by which to comment on your links with a 5 second image/text comment prior to your link called a toast. I’ll be keeping an eye out for them and their impact on brands and causes, so let me know what kind of analysis you’d find most interesting

If we needed any other reason to love the sexy data that url shorteners show us here’s an awesome video of Hilary Mason, bitly’s lead data scientist, explaining the temporal nature of real-time social sharing.

As marketers we’re becoming increasingly aware of the need to measure. I’d love your feedback on the experiences you’ve had with url shortners in the comments. Below are some questions to think and comment about.

  • Do you find you’re taking action on this new way of measuring or are you simply acknowledging it through reporting?
  • How has this new technology affected your day to day as a marketer? (none, a little, somewhat, or a lot?)
  • How does this affect marketers in more traditional mediums like TV, Mobile, and print?
  • Do you think there is room for innovation, if so what would you like to see?


About Lindsey Mark:
Lindsey Mark works in Client Relations at Compete and is responsible for the strategic development of client retention and support policies for, with a focus on education and training efforts. She graduated from Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, NY so she's a certified technology junkie and open source advocate. When she's not thinking about marketing or training digital 007's at compete, she's doing yoga & blogging about gluten-free diet and lifestyle. Find Lindsey on Twitter as @linji, Google Plus as Lindsey Mark or connect with her via LinkedIn.