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I have a couple of logs in the fire for startups and expansions of my current endeavors. They are all web-based or mostly web-based enterprises, but I find myself thinking with a few of them that a referral system (i.e. get a free X if they sign up) would be a good idea. So, naturally, users will have to share links with non-users.

In comes a link shortner. Take Audible as an example. They have audible.com, but when you share a link it looks more like a.co/jEi53S5. I find this more appealing than the full link, especially if users are going to text or tweet it. I know there are services, such as goo.gl and bit.ly, however, I personally find them unreliable and am wary to click such a link because I know it could literally go anywhere. On the other hand, a.co I know will always go to an audible.com page (or Amazon, because Amazon owns Audible).

In comes the endeavor to acquire or register a custom link shortner domain name. a.co or s.tk is very short and anything similar is way outside of my price range. But they are not intuitive at all. You cannot tell just by see them that either is likely to go to audible.com or stackexchange.com, respectively. Yet, I trust them implicitly to not lead me somewhere strange or NSFW.

So what should I look for in a link shortner domain name at this point? Should I try to play on the brand and primary domain as much as possible? When does it become not worth it, and I should just use the full primary domain?

For example, Stack Exchange has stackexchange.com as the primary domain. It's kind of long, so a link shortner would be great. Where is the line of usefulness in this list (assume they all exist and are available; rearrange if necessary)?:

  1. stackexchange.com
  2. stackexchan.ge (are obscure country TLD's a good idea?)
  3. stack.exchange (are gTLD's a good idea at all?)
  4. sexchange.com (obviously bad)
  5. sexchan.ge (even worse)
  6. stackex.com
  7. stakx.com
  8. stack.com
  9. stack.cc
  10. stack.ex
  11. stk.com
  12. stk.cc
  13. stk.ex
  14. sta.ck
  15. s.co
  16. s.tk
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Some general advice about short URLs

The way extensions are setup, you will most likely be purchasing a domain for foreign country. Some extensions require proof of address or other validation that you reside in the country to register that domain, and can be very costly. This site has a nice list of extensions and availability, denoted by an asterisk (*). If you decide to purchase a short URL from another country, be aware that your registration information may be available to foreign WHOIS lookups. Not all domain registration sites offer WHOIS protection.

Most short URLs used by brands today contain enough information to be recognizable by their users. Some examples:

  • YouTube: youtu.be/
  • Buffer: buff.ly/

This is a good way for your users to recognize the new, shorter links. It provides enough context to feel safe to click on.

However, there are some services whose short links are very short, such as Twitter's http://t.co/ (linked because they provide an interesting statement on the shortening). In applications where string length is heavily limited, shorter links are naturally advantageous. In all other cases, this short and ambiguous of a link may not be ideal.

Is link shortening worth it?

URL shortening is probably worth it if:

  • Your url itself is long (superunnecessarylongdomainname.com)
  • Your typical URL tails are long (shorturl.com/directory/this-tail-is-very-long/action?s=this+input+string+is+very+long+too)
  • You have string length limitations

In most other cases, however, I don't believe shorter URLs help the user. A short and ambiguous link may deter clicks. Many modern web applications trail off URLs automatically, leaving them intact and also pleasant to the viewer and the interface (shorturl.com/directory/this...).

  • I gave a plus one for the answer but you kind of avoided the core of the question. There are many ways to shorten a link. I showed 15 ways that stack exchange could have shortened their link. The question is which ones are useful and which ones are not. Where is the line of usefulness in that list? – 51426 Nov 5 '16 at 2:10
  • Your core (bolded part) of the question is what to look for. I believe I addressed that. What am I missing? – Alan Nov 5 '16 at 2:12

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