October 6, 2010

NewscastTip: Shorten URLs with custom domain


New custom URL shorteners are springing up every day and are useful in maintaining a strong Web brand and distributing content — but should your station jump on board and launch one?

URL shorteners are a relatively simply concept: Take a long URLand, using a shorter domain name and directory path, make it shorter. This is helpful for sending links via e-mail or instant messenger since these applicaitons tend to “break” longer URL strings or ones with special characters.

However, the real popularity of the URL shortener is directly related to the rise of Twitter. Since Twitter strictly enforces a 140-character limit, you can’t afford to waste characters on a huge URL.

The most popular URL shortener,bit.ly, recently began offering Bitly Pro, a service that lets companies and organizations replaced the “bit.ly” in the short URL with a domain of their choice. Each shortened URL is following by a random string of letters and numbers.

Bitly Pro offers a basic free package that’s likely more than sufficient for most stations. As an alternative, you can also learn more about hosting your own shortener here.

Several television entities, including Fox News Channel (fxn.ws) and The Weather Channel (wxch.nl) are already using URL shorteners. For a complete list of vanity and custom URL shorteners used by a variety of companies and organizations, visit VanityURLShorteners.com.

The first step in launching a URLshortener is to select a domain.

Many TV stations are at a distinct advantage since they already own their four-character call sign as a domain.

In general, technical limitations will likely mean you’ll need to use a subdomain under your call sign (such as go.wxxx.com or on.wxxx.com), but these are still great options.

In addition, many services rely on country code domains, including the .ws, .nl and .ly mentioned above.

Not only are these one character shorter than the typical .com, but they can also be used to form words or shortened forms of words. For example, “wxch.nl” uses the “WX” abbreviation and eliminates the vowels in “channel,” a common practice.

Some country codes are rather expensive or require the registrant to have a physical presence in the country. A complete list of available codes and any limitations is available here.

One good one that is both affordable and available for U.S. companies is “.ws” since it is the last two digits of the word “news.” So you could, for example, register “wxxxne.ws” or something similar. Remember that in most cases people will be simply clicking theURL and not having to type it in so you don’t need to be as concerned as people not understanding the rather strange construction being used. The “.tv” and “.us” endings are other good choices.

So why use a custom URLshortener instead of bit.ly? Using a custom domain gives you the chance to make sure your brand remains front and center on social media platforms, especially when content is shared across so many platforms. It also allows you to avoid plugging another company.

There is one key downside to having a custom URL shortener. First, Twitter has begun using its own URL shortener, “t.co” to automatically shorten links, including ones that are already shortened and other services could follow suit.

If you do decide to launch a URLshortener, you should also consider joining 301works.org, a service that can take over your links should you ever decide to discontinue it, thereby ensuring all the links created up to that point remain accessible.

NewscastTip is a weekly column with tips for your newscasts. See past editions here. The column is available every Friday in our e-mail newsletter and posted here the following Wednesday. Sign up for the newsletter to get it delivered directly to your in box every week.

Michael P. Hill is founder and publisher of NewscastStudio. Contact him with your own tips and feedback.

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