Even if you’re not familiar with the concept of uniform resource locators, you’re still using them every day. A URL is the technical term for a website address, used to identify its location on the internet and ensure web browsers can access relevant information.
In its natural state, a website address is a numerical string containing four numbers between 0 and 255 differentiated by full stops. However, these are hard to remember and easy to mistype. For simplicity, we use a combination of words and abbreviations as an alternative to each numerical address. A uniform resource locator effectively allows us to substitute that numerical string for an address we’ll easily understand.
Each address contains four key parts:
- The protocol for distributing data – either HyperText Transfer Protocol or its Secure sibling. This forms the http or https prefix to any entry in your web browser.
- The platform a site is carried on – typically the World Wide Web, hence the www part of an address.
- The domain name of the site – on this particular site, it’s our name, UK2. Domain names are chosen by customers and usually feature either a company’s name, or a reference to its main area of business.
- The top level domain or suffix – frequently .com, even though there are over 1,500 different TLDs to choose from nowadays.
By the time you’ve combined these four attributes into a single address, you’re looking at quite a bit of typing. And that’s before you consider branches within each site – many websites have directories from which subpages branch out. Manually entering the full address of a particular article in the Help section of a company website could easily involve a hundred characters.
Although the http:// portion of an address is automatically assumed by internet browsers, and the www bit can often be ignored as well, it’s still surprisingly easy to end up with a lengthy URL. That’s particularly true if your company name is a long one, or if the domain you’ve chosen contains several words or phrases run together.
Clearly, there are instances where you should shorten a website’s URL. These can include:
- Sub-domains. Apart from the four key elements listed above, websites can have subpages. Imagine a company with three trading divisions, where each division shares the parent website but has its own session data and subpage hierarchies. Addresses could soon become unwieldy, whereas shorter URLs would be concise and memorable.
- Social media. Filling the first three lines of a social media post with a lengthy copied-and-pasted web address will stop most people reading any further. A small URL will be far more space-efficient. Services like bit.ly and goo.gl condense lengthy addresses into abbreviated forms, which is ideal for publishing addresses in character-limited tweets.
- Dictation. If you’ve ever had to spell a lengthy email or postal address out one letter at a time, you’ll have experienced a twinge of frustration. Every additional character increases the risk of error too. A small URL will roll off the tongue, and it’ll be far easier to remember at a later date. That may be crucial for attracting new clients.
- Tracking source traffic. Let’s say you’re running a marketing campaign across several platforms, and you want to know which platforms yield the best results. Using a unique small URL in each location will identify where traffic is coming from, enabling you to measure the success of each marketing platform.
- Time-limited activities. It’s sometimes necessary to make information available for a limited period of time. Some URL-shortening services provide links that expire in a matter of minutes or hours. This can potentially reduce any subsequent risk of fraud, or impose strict timescales to ensure an application deadline is met.
- Maximising SEO. Although using keywords in a web address can give an SEO boost, lengthier addresses quickly become unwieldy. Google’s crawler software favours shorter URLs, which are easier to detect. That’s another reason why every four-letter .com domain has already been reserved, and the remaining five-letter combinations are rapidly dwindling…