You may have noticed that last year I started the process of reinforcing my personal brand image, placing a larger importance on personal branding. This included a web site makeover, a new logo for consistency between the web site and social media, and yes, my own URL shortener.
The first two things may make a lot of sense to people, but I know that the importance of owning your own URL shortener may leave a few folks scratching their heads. Is that really necessary? And by that I’m referring to the custom URL shortener, not the personal branding itself.
What’s a URL Shortener? Should I Care?
Before I tackle that question, let me answer what could be a lingering question for more than a few readers – what is a URL shortener in the first place (and perhaps why does it matter)? Wikipedia actually has a great article covering the questions of what a URL shortener is, why use one, and what the history is. I recommend reading that if you need a little background.
Leaving the background information to Wikipedia allows me to get to the core of what I’d like to share and that is why do you need your own URL shortener in the first place? What does this have to do with branding? I’ll answer that question with a question.
If you are going to bother with personal branding on the Internet, why would not make the move to a personally branded URL shortener?
Are You a Renter or an Owner?
It comes back the core concept of “owning” vs. “renting”. The own vs rent philosophy is most obvious in the concept of building your web presence on facebook vs your own web site. And to anyone who would be bothering with reinforcing their personal branding and brand image online, that one seems obvious. In that scenario, facebook owns the audience and can change the rules of the game at any time. Not that you shouldn’t use facebook, but for effective content marketing that should only reinforce your brand image; it shouldn’t be the primary.
The personally branded URL shortener is the same issue. Why would you rely on something like bit.ly when you can develop a URL shortener that reinforces your personal branding? I set out to do just that late last year with the acquisition of utler.co.
utler.co? What kind of URL is that? Well, butler.co was not available directly, and honestly, with a URL shortener, most of the uses do not include typing the domain name but rather clicking it in twitter or an email. So b.utler.co was born as my personal branded short URL.
Some of you may be thinking, “But that’s not as short as something like bit.ly or ow.ly.” True, it is not as short directly. However, when taken as a whole, it can be as short, or even shorter.
How to Roll Your Own
If you choose to run your own shortener, instead of using your personally branded short URL with another service such as hootsuite (which you can do), if you control your own, you can control the number of characters used in the key. The key is the set of letters and numbers that come after the URL and define where the shortened URL should go.
In the case of bit.ly, the key is 7 characters. This means any shortened URL is the 6 characters that make up bit.ly, 1 character for the slash, and the 7 characters of the key. I am using YOURLS for my own shortener and YOURLS allows you to define the key length. Since I am just starting it, I started with two characters. That makes my shortened URLs shorter than bit.ly’s by 1 character – 10 for the domain, 1 slash, and 2 for the key – a total of 13 characters. The two key character limit will last me through 3844 links before I need to add another character (0-9 + 26 upper case + 26 lowercase * 2).
But remember, this isn’t about trying to be the shortest possible shortened URL. It’s nice to be competitive, but personal branding is what this is really about. If your URL is butlerblog.com, then b.utler.co makes a nice short URL for building links in twitter. Or if your web site is rocketgeek.com, rkt.bz works great (which is being branded with RocketBuzz, the newsletter for rocketgeek.com).
If personal branding is important to your business (and as a freelance blogger or content marketer, I would think that it should be), then consider your own URL shortener to reinforce that brand image.