May 14, 2014

Custom URL Shortening for E-Commerce, Part 1

Posted by Shay-Jahen Merritté Category IconConversions & UX Category IconTechnology

In Part 1 of Custom URL Shortening for E-commerce, we’ll take a look at some applications of how and why your company should use a custom URL shortener. In part 2 we’ll walk through how to actually set up your custom URL shortener with Bitly.com.

What is URL Shortening?

URL Shortening (or Link Shortening) is the technique of transforming a long web address to a shorter one through the use of http redirects, for the purposes of using links in services that limit the number of characters you can use, or for more efficient tracking of link usage in various marketing channels.

What is a custom URL Shortener?

A custom URL shortener allows you to shorten and share short URLs that reference your brand, lending authority and context to the links that you share. Custom url shorteners are different from default URL shorteners, like the t.co/123456 shortener included with Twitter or the popular bit.ly/123456 shortener.

At my company, Pursuit, we share a lot of content. Our main audience is American college guys, who expect new information about fashion, sports, and other interests relevant to their lifestyle. As a small company we create and share a lot of our own content, but have to supplement it with content from other producers relevant to our audience. We used to share all of our links with the built-in link shorteners from Twitter or Hootsuite, but for the last six months have been using our own custom URL shortener, and have noticed that it has helped our business in 4 main ways:

1. Increases Link Click Conversion
2. Improves Recall of Non-clickable Links
3. Provides Deeper Insights Into Link Performance
4. Creates “More Shoppable” Product Links

1. Increases Link Click Conversion

Clicking on a link from a business requires trust from a consumer; they need to know that the content on the other end will be worth their time and that they won’t be led astray. Default short URLs result in a random stream of letters and numbers, which aren’t appealing to the consumer, and consequently won’t inherently receive very many clicks without additional context around the link. For instance, compare these two links to the same video sub-reddit page: which would you rather click on? bit.ly/1alQaC or pur.st/RedditVid. To further corroborate the improved click conversion, compare the clicks on the Pursuit short URL versus the Tweetdeckapi short URL. Both were shared to a similarly sized audience from the same account, on the same platform, but the pur.st/RedditVid performed exponentially better.

2. Improves Recall of Non-clickable Links

Although many app makers and website developers continue to create with an eye toward open sharing, there are several apps and websites that make it difficult to embed clickable links. One of the most difficult sites, especially for e-commerce companies, is Instagram. Although Instagram allows you to embed a clickable link that takes you outside the app to a web browser in your profile header, you can’t embed a clickable link in the text accompanying an image post. This is a problem for brands with very visual products that want to post a picture and directly link to an e-commerce experience. The inclusion of a link would mean the consumer would have to manually type in the URL in a browser, and using a default short URL would require typing in a random string of letters and numbers.

At Pursuit, Instagram hosts our most engaged audience, but we noticed that we weren’t getting many conversions from the site. A custom short link can help around this. Above you can see a photo I posted to Instagram for a tie sale Pursuit did in honor of a March Madness basketball game. I knew in the past that when we post product for sale, our customers want a direct link to where they can purchase, so I created a custom short link (pur.st/marmatchosu) to the deal on our online store that could easily be remembered and manually typed into a browser. The next picture shows the perforamce of that short link right after I posted the image to Facebook and Instagram. You can see that 7 clicks of the short URL came from Facebook while 4 were from direct unknown referrers, which shows they were manually typed in.

3. Provides Deeper Insights Into Link Performance

I share a lot of social content, and some of it links back to the Pursuit website, but a large amount doesn’t. The content that doesn’t link to our website can make it difficult to track its performance. For example: posting a relevant link to an article on ESPN — what if that link on Facebook doesn’t receive much engagement in the form of likes, shares, or comments? Can the performance of the post still be counted as successful? By using a shortened URL we can know the answer. Although this Facebook post had very little interaction (due to Facebook’s algorithm and our consumer’s general behavior), we only received like on the post. However when looking at the analytics of the short URL we used, we saw that the post received 12 click-throughs, which was about average for our informational post.

Furthermore, you can track the hour-by-hour and day-by-day engagement with your links to discover when your consumers are most active with your content.

4. Creates “More Shoppable” Product Links

Like most e-commerce sites, our product URLs are automatically generated by our e-commerce platform when the product is added to the site. Consequently, the product URLs are long and unwieldy. For example, the link to one of the charcoal suits from our site is: http://www.pursuityourself.com/slim-suits/dkny-slim-charcoal-grey-suit.html#.U2130a1dUpQ. This long, clunky URL isn’t ideal for sharing on our social networks or embedding in digital correspondence when a consumer wants to know where they can find the product they are seeing. This is another instance where we leverage short URLs: creating a product link when the native long link won’t work. When we post an image of our products on instagram for example, we often include a short URL to the specific product in the photo to make it shoppable. For this photo of our charcoal grey suit on Instagram, we included the short URL: pur.st/CharocalSuit.

Now that we’ve shown you WHY you should use custom URLS, come back tomorrow for Custom Shortening Part 2, in which we’ll show you how to set up your own custom links.