Comparison of Short URL Solutions for WordPress

Overview

As a serious blogger, you know how important it is to have control over all the links you carefully put into your content and how important it is to track their performance. Short URL has proven to be one of the most powerful tools to achieve these goals, because it provides bloggers with the flexibility to change target url after the fact and most of the services, no matter self-hosted, built-in to WordPress or SaaS services, do provide analytics to some extend. However, not all short URL services are created equal, especially if you want to deeply integrate them with your existing WordPress websites. Let's compare the types of short URL services you can get for you WordPress websites. 

Types of Services

We'll cover the following types of services in this article:

  1. Free third-party short URL services
  2. WordPress plugins for short URL
  3. Advanced third-party URL shortener
  4. Advanced third-party URL shortener with deep WordPress integration

Free Third-party Short URL Services

Free third-party short URL services are the services where you give it a “long” URL and it happily generates a short URL for you. Many of these services are free, some don't even require you to register, and some do offer more advanced features such as custom alias(also known as slug), editing target URL, and analytics for a premium. The most obvious downside of these services is that they don't allow you to use your own domain name or customize the resulting short URL. But the real danger, which is not apparent to many, is that because the domain names are shared between users, if they get bad reputation, all the links are affected. We've even seen services like these where a whole domain name gets blacklisted by Chrome, affecting all links under that domain. For this reason, this type of services are only recommended for URLs of temporary use. 

For bloggers who already have WordPress powered websites, this is rarely a good choice based on how easy it is to make an existing WordPress website serve short URLs, and the added benefits of having more control and flexibility.

To summarize the Pros and Cons of Free third-party URL shortener:

Pros:

  1. Free
  2. Easy to use, no set up required

Cons:

  1. Not reliable
  2. Risk of bad domain reputation and browser black list
  3. No advanced features
  4. Not branded, generic domains

WordPress plugins for short URL

This option basically lets existing WordPress instance serve short URLs alongside the usual content. For example, while WordPress can return an HTML page when users hits https://your-wp.com/my-post,  you can also instruct it to return a redirection code to browser when https://your-wp.com/a-link is requested. 

With WordPress plugins, it is often not too difficult to set up your existing WordPress sites to serve as a short URL redirector. Some popular plugins include url-shortify  and 301-redirects

The major benefits of this approach comes from the fact that you already have full control over how the server responds to HTTP requests and the domain, so, technically, you can change how your short url looks and where it redirects the users whenever you want. You can use the same domain name as your main content website as the domain for your short URLs. And because the HTTP requests goes through your server, it's technically possible to implement very detailed analytics. In the end, what functionality you get is entirely dependent on how the plugin you choose to use allows you to do. Some of the plugins do provide very advanced features if you pay for them.

While we do recommend this approach for many bloggers, it is not without flaws. The biggest one is that WordPress is built to serve content, and while it can serve short URLs just fine, serving them efficiently, especially with more advanced features is not possible. For example, the database that WordPress uses to store content, posts and configuration is not meant to do analytics work. For links that have large amount of traffic, serving them within your WordPress site can have significant impact on the overall performance, affecting other content on the website as well. 

While the benefits and drawbacks of this approach depend a lot on the exact plugin you choose to use. In general we think using WordPress plugins for short URLs have the following Pros and Cons:

Pros:

  1. Branded
  2. Relatively easy to use
  3. Don't require a separate domain name just for short URLs

Cons:

  1. Not suitable for large amount of links
  2. Performance impact when traffic is high
  3. When website is slow, short URLs are also slow. When website is down, short URLs are also inaccessible.
  4. Analytics can be lacking
  5. Missing some more advanced features due to the fact WordPress is built to serve content
  6. Would be tricky if you do want a separate domain name just for short URLs

Advanced Third-party URL Shortener

These services operates on the same principles as free third-party services. But to qualify as “advanced”, it would need at least the following features:

  1. Branded. Allows users to use their own domain names
  2. Globally distributed CDN. Allows fast redirecting around the globe
  3. Editing URLs after the fact
  4. Customizable slugs
  5. Rule based redirecting. Redirecting users to different URLs based on their geolocation, language, device type etc
  6. Detailed real-time analytics

Although visitors of your short URLs now go through a third-party server instead of your own WordPress server, these more advanced services do offer you all the flexibility and control you will want. And because they are specialized in the short URL redirection business, most likely they can do things more efficiently, provide a better experience for visitors of your short URLs, and of course have more advanced features that are hard to find in WordPress short URL plugins, such as rule based redirection and globally accelerated networks. 

The downside of these services for WordPress is that you can't use the same domain for both the WordPress site and short URLs. The reason for this is that essentially one domain name can only be reasonably pointing to the one service, for example, you can't point example.com to website A and at the same time to website B in a meaningful way. Your DNS provide may allow you to do this, but the users will sometimes be served by website A and sometimes by website B, which is rarely what you actually want.

To summarize, the Pros and Cons of these services are as follows:

Pros:

  1. All the features you'll want
  2. Separation of concerns. Let WordPress handle the content, and delegate handling short URLs to professional software, will likely lead to better overall availability.

Cons:

  1. Can be pricy
  2. 99% of them don't allow you to use the same domain name for both WordPress and short URLs.

Advanced Third-party URL Shortener with Deep WordPress Integration

Linkila combines the benefits of WordPress short URL plugin with the benefits of advanced third-party URL shorteners. It achieves this by providing a WordPress plugin that integrates WordPress deeply with the service itself allowing you to use the same domain name to serve the short URLs and at the same time collect and view detailed real-time analytics, define rules to redirect visitors based on their location, platform and languages etc, and enjoy other features advanced third-party short URL services have to offer. 

Linkila also provides a generous free plan that allows you to try it out!