Spotlight for Career Services Professionals, April 25, 2012
by Gary Alan Miller
Have you ever found yourself looking at a link and being unsure whether you should trust it? Perhaps it ended in .ly, had a bunch of numbers, or maybe just looked unusual, like this: http://bit.ly/HwIUAs.
Welcome to the world of URL shortening! There are many reasons to use URL shorteners, but the two primary reasons you should consider them are:
- They help you fit postings in a venue that limits characters (like Twitter).
- Many URL shorteners have built-in analytics.
The first of those two reasons may or may not appeal to you, depending on your communication strategy. But, the second is something you absolutely need to use in your marketing efforts.
The link I posted in the first paragraph of this article was done with a tool called bit.ly, but there are plenty of sites for you to consider. The most important characteristic of any URL service is the analytics it will provide you. So, be sure to test various systems and find one that works for your needs.
Most of us have likely created a flyer or took out an advertisement in the student paper. It’s difficult to know how effective these efforts are, and while you can survey students to ask how they learned about your programs, URL shorteners give you another insight by telling you exactly how many people viewed the provided link.
When we advertised our spring career fairs in our student paper, we didn’t have to route students to a long URL to find the list of attending employers. Thanks to our URL shortening account, we could guide them to the much more memorable and visually appealing bit.ly/SpringExpo2012. By visiting our account, I can determine that 206 unique visitors went to that URL.
Here’s how it works. After identifying a URL shortening site you’d like to use and creating an account, copy the URL of the site you’d like your targets to visit. Paste that URL into the shortening tool, customize the link text, and then use the new URL in your marketing collateral. Depending on the tool you selected, you should then be able to return to your site account to get a count of how many people followed your link.
Coincidentally, many URL shorteners will also generate a QR code associated with the shortened URL. So, in addition to providing the new link, we have the option of including the code in our marketing efforts.
If you are unfamiliar with QR codes, an example that leads to the link I provided in the first paragraph can be found below. Although their adoption rate among smartphone users is still quite low, and you’ll probably need to provide some instructions to help people understand how to scan them, the ease with which they can be added to your materials can make them worthwhile. They also provide an opportunity for you to be creative with your marketing.
Gary Alan Miller is the assistant director for social media and innovation at university career services at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. You can follow him on Twitter at @garyalanmiller.