What’s the last long URL you recall seeing? I’ve been asking myself why I have become so endeared to using short URLs lately. The more I think about it, the more I believe that deploy­ing shorter URLs in website archi­tec­tures, market­ing and social sharing may serve us better than we think.

What’s the last short URL you can regur­gi­tate from memory?

I’ll go first:

www.dell.com/tv

Funny, this URL was still rolling around in my brain from the “Dude you’re getting a Dell” TV commer­cial for the Dimen­sion 4400 Desktop. It featured an Intel Pentium 4 proces­sor to give you an indi­ca­tion of how long ago we’re talking about.

Other than just being easy to remem­ber, I started think­ing of other reasons why brevity in the browser address bar could be a good thing.

Browser Formatting

Start­ing with the obvious, consider the ability to view the entire URL in the browser address bar. With high reso­lu­tion desktop displays, this is rarely a problem unless you have annoy­ingly long URLs. Users are likely going to feel more assur­ance from URLs that rein­force the page they are brows­ing. And what about mobile and tablets where space is limited? Shorter URLs would seem all the more impor­tant. A pretty good usabil­ity argu­ment can be made here.

The Home Depot Mobile Site Truncated

Yikes! The iPhone 5 even trun­cates the Home Depot’s URL!

Location

A uniform resource “locator” points the user to a resource located on the web. Users may find them­selves looking at the browser address bar to reaf­firm where they are. A URL that quickly commu­ni­cates where the user is in rela­tion to other resources seems would seem likely to bring better results:

http://domain.com/widgets/red/

Instead of one like this:

http://thelongestlistofthelongeststuffatthelongestdomainnameatlonglast.com
weare­just­do­ingth­is­tobestu­pid­nows­incethis­can­goon­foreveran­de­veran­de­ver
butit­stil­l­look­skin­daneatinthe­browsereven­thoughitsabig­waste­of­time­an­den­ergy
andhasnorealpointbutwehadtodoitanyways.html

Click-through Rates

With URLs, the hare beats the tortoise. The famous Market­ing Sherpa eye-track­ing study on the impact of URL length in search results supports the idea that shorter URLs get higher click-through rates than longer URLs:

By keeping the URL shorter, the focus remains on the title of your listing where you are likely to have more success with those search­ing for your product or service.”

Why would users be more inclined to click on shorter URLs? The study found that the length of the URL distracts viewers with the temp­ta­tion to read instead of click. Yes, reading URLs takes time!

What other distrac­tions might appear in search results? My obser­va­tion is that Google attempts to provide a healthy degree of diver­sity in organic search results. When a lack of diver­sity is present in list­ings, a short brand keyword phrase in the URL could make the differ­ence in click-throughs. Linda Bustos of GetE­las­tic notes:

Brands in URLs can have impact as well.  Presented with a page full of results for a term like ‘wire­less optical mouse’ a searcher may just scan the left side of the page for URLs for domains of estores that he or she is famil­iar with and trusts.”

Social Shareability

Shorter URLs are more advan­ta­geous for compact­ing tweets. Real-time track­ing, perma­nent redi­rects and of course just being cute make URL short­en­ers appeal­ing in sharing social media. Google describes its URL short­ener as:

A perfect tool to help you under­stand what appeals to your audi­ence and to help you opti­mize your social, email, and other click-through campaigns.”

If short URLs are better, we should all share with URL short­en­ers, right? There are many argu­ments against using URL short­en­ers (loss of control, link rot, trust, etc.). The biggest problem I have with URL short­en­ers is the inabil­ity to convey seman­tics. Yes, they’re shorter, but they don’t commu­ni­cate with the user. I much prefer a short URL that tells me some­thing like the www.dell.com/tv example.

SEO

Isn’t it funny that if you do a site oper­a­tor on any site, the short­est URLs on a domain seem to appear first? Wonder why?

CNN with site operator

Short URLs work better for SEO. Long URLs make things worse. Oh yes they do! More than 5 words are weighted less and given less credit by Google saith Matt Cutts during as inter­viewed by Stephan Spencer:

Next ques­tion: what is exces­sive in the length of a keyword-rich URL? We have seen clients use keyword URLs that have 10 to 15 words strung together with hyphens; or blogs – we have seen them even longer there. A typical Word­Press blog will use the title of the post as the post slug, unless you defined some­thing differ­ent and you can just go on and on and on. Can you give any guide­lines or recom­men­da­tions in that regard?”

Matt Cutts: “Certainly. If you can make your title four- or five-words long – and it is pretty natural. If you have got a three, four or five words in your URL, that can be perfectly normal. As it gets a little longer, then it starts to look a little worse. Now, our algo­rithms typi­cally will just weight those words less and just not give you as much credit.”

Like so many things in SEO, more is not better anymore.

Less Spamnable

Along the same lines, short URLs offer the prospect of enhanced trust. Affil­i­ate marketers go to great lengths to hide long para­me­ter­ized URLs that call into ques­tion their inten­tions when linking out. I find myself pausing before click­ing through links like this and when I see exces­sive keywords in a URL.

Another Cutts quote echoes this:

I know that when I hit some­thing like that – even a blog post – with 10 words, I raise my eyebrows a little bit and, maybe, read with a little more skep­ti­cism. So, if just a regular savvy user has that sort of reac­tion, then you can imagine how that might look to some competi­tors and others.”

Now that I’ve written and thought so deeply about the case for short URLs, I find myself hope­lessly in favor of them. I suspect there are more argu­ments to be made. So, I’m wonder­ing what other advan­tages do you think short URLs have over long URLs?

Written by Emory Rowland
Google+