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
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