When you come across an insightful blog about email marketing like those on TowerData, it’s second nature to want to share the article with friends and colleagues within the industry. Ten years ago, you’d do so by emailing the link. Today, you broadcast the link to your social media accounts, tagging the individuals you think would be most interested.
That’s where link shorteners (or URL shorteners) like bit.ly, tinyurl.com and owl.ly, come in. Link shorteners are tools that take long, unsightly URLs and squeeze them into fewer characters to make it easier to share. Originally intended for microblogging sites with conservative character counts like Twitter, shortened links are now popping up throughout social media and beyond.
For email marketers, incorporating shortened links into campaigns may seem like a great idea. After all, who wants a long string of mumbo-jumbo letters, numbers and characters sullying the appearance of beautifully designed templates? In reality, though, link shorteners can get your domain blacklisted, bringing email deliverability to a standstill and downright ruining your email marketing campaign.
How Link Shorteners Can Impact Email Deliverability
The problem with using link shortners in email marketing is that they mask where a link actually goes. Because of this, many spammers with website domains previously blacklisted use link shorteners to point to malicious websites that may contain viruses or malware. “In general, URL shorteners are great tools that serve a good purpose,” says Mailchimp CEO Ben Chestnut, “but spammers have abused the heck out of them to disguise their (already blacklisted) links.”
“If you use [the] same link shortening domain that was used by spammers before, ISPs may block your emails,” Sendloop writes. “If your content has a link to a blacklisted domain, it may not reach the subscribers’ inbox.”
Which Link Shorteners are Blacklisted?
Justin Premick cross-referenced 24 popular link shorteners with three popular URI blacklists (Spamhaus DBL, SURBL and URIBL) to uncover the potential impact shortened links could have on email deliverability. He discovered eight of the link shorteners he tested were listed in the URIBL or the Spamhaus DBL as of June 23, 2011. And while blacklisted domains change daily, the takeaway is sending an email that included a link to one of those domains around that time could have seriously affected deliverability. “Whatever convenience link shorteners offer in email,” Premick says, “is outweighed by the potential for those shortened links to hurt your email deliverability.”
Other Options for Shorter Links
If link shorteners are a no-go for campaigns, what other options do email marketers have? Sendloop outlines two:
- Link long URLs to images or text in HTML version: As long as you’re sending more than plain text-only emails, hiding long URLs is as easy as linking them to appropriate text or images within the HTML. This way, subscribers won’t see the lengthy URLs, and your deliverability won’t run the risk of being blacklisted by association.
- Create your own link shortener: You can purchase a shortened domain just as you can purchase a vanity URL. Then creating shortened links is as simple as installing a shortening script, such as shorty, yourls or kissa.be!, and setting up your own link shortener. “Your subscribers will trust more if they see where the link takes them to,” Sendloop says.
Have you ever used a link shortener in email marketing? Tell us if it had an impact on email deliverability!
Photo Credit: CharlieCrochet.com