After a first post a few weeks ago on implementing Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) and another one on setting up Facebook Instant Articles, I chose to talk today in my “growing your blog” post series about a really nice feature which I’ve already setup since a few months, which is using branded short URLs. This is a really important and efficient feature to implement, which allows to grow your brand, make URLs way more memorable and which is quite easy to setup. I personally use ffgeek.co as my own short branded domain name to create my custom short URLs. In this article, I’ll teach you why you should be doing this and how to easily create your own customized short URLs.
Besides the usual finance posts I’m writing here on Finance For Geek, I also want this website to be about growing a blog, overall optimization and performance improvement. That’s why since early 2017, I’m writing about specific features aimed at improving some core functions, whether it be regarding Search Engine Optimization (SEO), speed optimization, or building brand awareness (that’s the topic today). I’m also doing this to track what has been done on the long-term to improve this website!
I’ve had some success in the past few months regarding the social shares of my articles on Twitter and Facebook, and one thing some readers asked me is how I managed to earn some income in as few as a couple of months after I started blogging (and I must admit that starting a blog was one of the best decision I ever made, even more since it costs less than $4 a month to get started). I definitely believe that branding your URLs will allow you to improve your blog and be on par with professional looking blogs, thus leading to making some money if that’s something you’d be willing to!
Before we dive in this topic, if you need any help or advice on how to customize your blog with branded short URLs just ask me anything on Facebook or Twitter, I usually answer pretty quickly! So here it is, my third post of my “growing your blog” post series, in which I will be detailing the what, why and how to customize your blog to look more professional and make links easily memorable!
What is a Branded Short URL?
Most websites have a .com address as their primary domain name, which is fine as having a .com is one of the best way to improve your results in organic search results. But a lot of websites have really long URL (including the permalink for post URL), either by choice or simply because it’s the name of their brand/website. This is why a lot of popular websites have adopted link shortening a long time ago, such as The New York times which uses nyti.ms, Facebook which uses fb.me and Pepsi which uses … pep.si! This is called a domain hack or also sometimes referred to as a vanity URL, and it’s often done by combining the brand name and a domain TLD (Top-level domain) to cleverly spell a brand name.
In the past, it was also beneficial to implement such a feature because of the length of URLs. For example with Twitter where you only get a limited set of characters (140 atm), shortening URLs made a huge difference back then. But since 2011 Twitter automatically shortens your links to a maximum of 23 characters (even if you’re not using your own link shortener, because it uses t.co, twitter own URL shortening service). So this is not a concern anymore but it still serves the same purpose, which is to have shortened URLs as well as growing and building your brand. I’m using it on all of my social media profiles and it looks much more professional!
In fact, according to SEMrush:
”Building brand awareness is critical to a business’ lifetime success. If you want to increase conversions and sales you need to first increase brand awareness”
So, what’s the catch? Are there any limitations or is it only beneficial to implement such a feature?
Benefits & Limitations
There are three main benefits from implementing Branded Short URLs:
- Improved brand recognition among your audience.
- Ease of sharing on social platforms.
- Enhanced URLs tracking once posts are published.
Increasing your visibility with a short and relevant domain name greatly enhances your professional image. It also greatly increases trustworthiness because your readers will trust links in your messages more if you replace generic links or generic URL shortening services (like bit.ly) with a branded shortener that shows your own customized domain name.
Finally, if well implemented, a branded shortener allows safeguarded access to all traffic data of the included links and will provide much more details than your own default URLs (like the one from WordPress). These statistics will be accurate for you and inaccessible by others (which is the case by default on most shortening service without a custom domain).Easily add value to your social messages and make links memorable with a dedicated and short URL!Click To Tweet
The only real downside is about depending on another provider regarding your own URLs. In the long term, the provider could go out of business. If that would happen, all shortened URLs would go down. But going with a well-known shortening URL provider should alleviate this problem. Finally, if you want to use your own branded URLs and not the default bit.ly service (for example), you’ll have to register another domain name (which can be cheap or really expensive depending on the ending domain).
How to setup Branded Short URLs
There are some really great websites and services that manage all aspects of URL shortening, including full analytics and archives of everything you shorten. For these services (and for URL shortening in general), your main URL is replaced by a new domain (for example financeforgeek.com gets replaced by ffgeek.co) and the permalink is replaced by a string of numbers and/or letters (e.g., financeforgeek.com/skyrocket-blog-traffic-instant-articles/ gets replaced by ffgeek.co/2lF2MKC). This is by default, but you can optimize this even further and configure the permalink (which is the part after your domain name) to anything you want (more on that later in this post).
There are many different and popular link shortening services, but I’ll show you how to do it using one of the leader in link shortening services which is Bitly. There are only four steps required in order to setup branded short URLs with a Bitly account:
- Register a new domain name (if you do not have another one already)
- Configure your new domain with a shortening service provider (in our case that would be bit.ly)
- Create two DNS records (this is the technical part which allows for redirecting the short URL to the long one)
- Configure your site to have your shortened links use your shortening service provider (easily done with a plugin)
1- Register a Short & Branded Domain Name
The first part is pretty straightforward: you will need to register a new domain name that is much shorter and more memorable than your current domain. For example, as my main URL is financeforgeek.com, I chose to register another one quite similar, but much shorter: ffgeek.co.
Try to be creative when finding a shortened brand name! Once you have found a domain name that meets your specific needs (and which is available!), you can register it directly on Bluehost. The cost of domain name registration vary depending on which TLD you select. Country specific TLD tend to cost way more than some other new TLDs. You can also choose not to use a custom domain name, but simply use bit.ly default URLs if you want to avoid paying for another domain name. The next steps will be specific to having a custom domain name. So if you’re simply using default bit.ly domain, this might change a little bit than what’s explained.
2- Configure your Domain Name with Bitly
- Head over to Bitly and create a new (free) account if you do not have one already.
- On the top right header, navigate to “Settings“, then “Advanced Settings” and then “Branded Short Domains“. Here you can add your previously registered own custom short domain, which you’ll have to verify first.
3- Setup two DNS A records
Bitly will now provide you with instructions on how to setup your DNS records and point them to Bitly servers.
- Go to the domain management area on your domain registrar’s website (if using Bluehost see below) and look for DNS records.
- Add the two IP Addresses which Bitly provided you with as A records under DNS.
- After adding DNS records, go back to the Bitly dashboard and click on the “Verify” button.
4- Install & Configure the official plugin for WordPress
Now that your newly registered own short domain works with Bitly, it’s time to integrate all of this directly into WordPress.
- Install and activate the official WP Bitly plugin.
- Once activated, navigate to “Settings” then “Writing” and scroll down to the “WP Bitly Options” section.
- Here you will configure the plugin settings and connect Bitly to your WordPress site.
- You will need to provide an access token. You can find it by visiting your Bitly dashboard account and clicking on “Settings” then “Advanced Settings“.
- At the bottom of the menu, you will see a link to “OAuth“. This will take you to a new page where you need to provide your Bitly password and then click on the “Generate” button.
- Bitly will now generate an access token for you. You need to copy and paste it into the plugin’s settings page on your WordPress site and then you’re done.
After having registered your own domain, configured two DNS A records, and configured the WP Bitly plugin with your access token, the plugin will now automatically shorten your URLs. You can see all of your custom URLs by visiting your Bitly dashboard. You can also view your Bitly stats for each post directly when editing a post in the “WP Bit.ly” metabox (on the bottom right by default). You can also find the newly generated shortlink directly at the top of the post in the admin section.
Once everything is customized the way you want and you’ve verified its implementation, you’re basically good to go. Nothing else has to be done on your side as all your new posts will be available with branded and shortened URLs as soon as you hit “Publish”! A few tips though:
- If you’re using Buffer, you might want to tweak it to use your new shortened domain instead of their default buff.ly shortening service.
- If you want to be another step ahead of the game, in the Bitly dashboard you can even set manually the last part of your branded links to anything you might think of. For example I’ve configured my Mylo Review post to be ffgeek.co/MyloReview, allowing me to divide the number of characters by two and with a much more memorable URL!
As explained in my Goals For 2017, I’ve set myself some goals for 2017 and one of these goals is to generate a recurring side income from this blog as well as to learn about website optimization. Implementing customized and branded short URLs was one of my first steps towards growing a professional brand, and it is definitely achievable with a few minutes of your time if you’re interested!
That’s all there is to know about setting up your own customized branded short URLs in WordPress. Building a brand definitely takes time, and implementing customized short URLs is truly powerful and definitely an upgrade in order to widen your audience and enhance your blogging skills. If you want to go all-in regarding your blog improvement, you should definitely also implement Facebook Instant Articles, and setup Accelerated Mobile Pages. Still, implementing customized branded short URLs is definitely another good step towards growing your blog!