The Rise and Fall of the Google Link Shortener (goo.gl)
Introduction to Link Shorteners
A link shortener is a powerful tool that creates concise names for lengthy URLs. With link shorteners, people can easily share links on popular social media platforms, type them out, or tweet them without using an extended string of characters. Its main purpose is to make links easier to use, remember, and share. Additionally, link shorteners help digital marketers track clicks, traffic, and analytics with ease. Creating custom short URLs can enhance your brand, increase visibility, and improve click-through rates when sharing links on social media and other platforms.
The utility of link shorteners has also evolved over the years:
- Link shorteners help optimize links for platforms with character limits like Twitter.
- They improve clickability and response rates of links in emails and online posts.
- Link shorteners also reduce clutter from lengthy URLs in marketing and sales materials.
- Shortened links provide more visibility into traffic sources, campaign performance and user behavior.
- Custom link shorteners allow brands to reflect company name or keywords in the shortened URLs.
As link shorteners continue to evolve, they are being further integrated into applications like social media schedulers, email marketing tools, landing page builders and mobile/web analytics platforms. The user experience and utility derived from these tools will only improve in the future.
Google Link Shortener: History and Discontinuation
The Google URL Shortener, also known as goo.gl, was launched in 2009. Goo.gl was one of the earliest and most popular link shorteners that saw widespread adoption.
The Google link shortener provided a simple way to shorten long URLs from Google products and services, including:
- YouTube videos
- Google Maps locations
- Google Drive files
- Google Forms surveys
- Google Developer documentation
It shortened URLs into a condensed goo.gl link.
could be shortened to:
Goo.gl links were commonly used by digital marketers, social media influencers, and everyday internet users to shorten links for sharing online.
Some of the key benefits of Google link shortener were:
- Simple and fast way to shorten long URLs
- Customizable short links with vanity URLs
- Link analytics to see clicks over time
- Easy to integrate with applications through API
- Recognition and trust in Google brand
However, on March 30, 2018 Google announced that it was discontinuing the goo.gl URL shortening service. While existing links will continue to work, creation of new goo.gl short links was discontinued in April 2018. Then in March 2019, support for goo.gl API was discontinued altogether.
Why Did Google Discontinue goo.gl?
Google provided a few reasons for shuttering down the goo.gl URL shortener service:
- Declining usage as more people share links directly
- Rising concerns about abuse from phishing and malware
- Burden of managing and supporting URL shorteners long-term
- Opportunity to focus resources on Dynamic Links for Firebase
Google aimed to transition users to Firebase Dynamic Links, which provide more advanced features for mobile and web applications. Although digital marketers and businesses had relied on Google URL Shortener (goo.gl) for years, it was terminated, and they had to switch to alternative link shorteners. However, Google's decision to terminate goo.gl did not affect existing short links, which will continue to work. Nonetheless, new links cannot be created. Users of the goo.gl API have migrated to other services as it is no longer the go-to option for shortening long URLs. Digital marketers, app developers, and internet users now have to explore new solutions and options to fill this gap.
Using Link Shorteners for Google Drive and Google Docs
Google Link shorteners can be immensely beneficial when sharing Google Drive or Google Docs links online. Google Drive and Google Docs create long, complex URLs that can be shortened for better sharing on social media, emails, or websites.
For example, a Google Docs link may look like:
Shortening it would simplify it down to:
Here are some of the advantages of using link shorteners for Google Drive and Docs:
1. Simplifies Link Sharing Shortened links for Google Drive or Docs can be easily shared across different channels like social posts, emails, chats or printed materials.
2. Trackable Analytics Google Link shorteners provide statistics on clicks, traffic sources and location data. This allows tracking the impact and reach of Google Doc or Drive sharing.
3. Branding and Customization Own brand identity and keywords can be incorporated into shortened links for increased visibility and recall.
4. Improves Engagement Concise, clean shortened links get more clicks on social media and other channels vs long unwieldy URLs.
5. Link Management Shortened links are easier to change or update in future if you need to redirect a Google Drive/Docs link.
There are a few different ways to integrate link shorteners with Google Drive and Docs:
- Use the Google Docs add-on for link shorteners like bit.ly which adds a shorten button
- Install the link shortener Chrome extension which automatically shortens copied Google links
- Manually paste Google Drive or Docs links into the link shortener website and shorten
- Use the link shortener API to programmatically create short links for Google Docs
- Utilize the link shortening capabilities within social media scheduling tools
When sharing shortened Google Drive or Google Docs links, it's important to be selective about which documents are shared publicly. Sensitive documents should remain private or be password protected.
Exploring Alternative Link Shorteners
With the shutdown of Google link shortener there are many alternative URL shorteners available today.
Some popular options include:
Bitly One of the most established and widely used link shorteners. Provides advanced analytics and powerful enterprise features.
Goo.by Offers white label link shortening to create branded custom shortened URLs. Integrates with marketing automation tools.
TinyURL A straightforward, no frills link shortener that has been around since 2002. Simple and easy to use.
Ow.ly Provided by Hootsuite, it seamlessly integrates link shortening into your social media management.
BL.INK Link shortener focused on maximizing social media engagement and click through rate.
Firebase Dynamic Links Google's robust cross-platform short links for mobile/web apps and Google Ads.
ShortSwitch Easy to use link shortener that allows creating multiple short links for each URL.
Shorl Provides advanced API and analytics for programmatic access and tracking of short links.
Linkfire Specializes in short links for music, entertainment and media promotions.
There are a few key factors to evaluate when selecting an alternative link shortener:
- Features - Look for the ideal mix of capabilities like analytics, customization, API access, etc.
- Ease of use - Shorteners that integrate easily into your workflows are preferable.
- Reliability & Uptime - Choose an established tool with a track record of consistent reliability.
- Link Popularity - In some cases, already popular shorteners like bit.ly may provide better results.
- Cost - Pricing model should suit your current and future usage levels.
- Reputation - Reviews and community feedback can help determine quality of service.
- Support - Look for responsive customer service channels to resolve issues quickly.
While the shutdown of goo.gl was disappointing for many digital marketers, the link shortener landscape continues to evolve with many innovative options available today. Thorough evaluation is required to determine the best alternative solution for your specific use cases.
Impact of Link Shorteners on Digital Marketing
Link shorteners have had a profound impact on various facets of digital marketing:
Campaign Tracking- Shortened links allow marketers to easily track clicks, sources and engagement analytics across channels like email, social media, websites, ads etc. Detailed insights can be obtained on campaign reach, audience behavior, conversions and ROI.
User Engagement - Concise shortened links boost clicks and response rates compared to long URLs. Short links are crucial for optimizing engagement on space-constrained platforms like Instagram, Twitter, YouTube etc.
SEO - Link shorteners help avoid keyword dilution in anchor text when linking out to external resources. This improves relevance and authority of outbound links.
Email Marketing - Long unwieldy links break email design. Shortened links provide cleaner email templates and boosts click-through rates.
Lead Generation - Custom shortened URLs containing campaign or keyword information directly target prospective leads. For instance, an education company ran a successful Facebook ad campaign promoting their data science certification course.
They used a UTM link shortener to track clicks from Facebook which provided the following insights:
- 10,723 total clicks from Facebook ads
- 3,412 clicks from Bangalore, India - their highest converting city
- 681 clicks happened between 6-9pm suggesting best times to target
- $8,238 revenue generated directly from the ads
They learned a lot about improving and expanding their Facebook ad strategy by looking at the data from the shortened UTM links. Lots of people use short links to make digital marketing campaigns more effective, since they let you track engagement and conversions across channels. In the future, link shortening is set to become even more important in marketing and sales technology stacks.
Security and Privacy Considerations with Link Shorteners
While link shorteners provide unparalleled utility, they also come with certain security and privacy risks.
Malware and Phishing - Criminals can disguise malicious links using URL shorteners. Clicking such links can install malware, steal data and compromise privacy.
Lack of Destination Context - Users don't know where shortened links lead to before clicking, which diminishes informed choice.
Obscured Targets - Shortened links mask the final destination URL. This makes identifying legitimate links more difficult.
Data Collection - Some URL shorteners collect personal data like IP address, location, device info etc. This raises privacy concerns.
Spam Abuse - Spammers often use shorteners to hide destinations of unwanted promotional links and get past filters.
However, there are ways for users and organizations to shorten links more safely:
- Vet link shorteners for security policies before using them. Avoid sketchy platforms.
- Use trustworthy link shorteners connected to established brands and companies.
- Create whitelist of approved shorteners. Block all other unknown ones via proxy or firewall.
- Use link scanning tools to inspect shortened URLs before clicking. Exercise caution.
- Enable link preview in social media apps to view real target URLs under shortened links.
- Avoid opening shortened links from unknown or untrusted sources.
- Configure email spam filters to identify blacklisted shorteners commonly used for phishing.
- Report suspicious short links to cybersecurity teams for inspection.
With proper precautions, risks from shortened links can be effectively minimized. Being judicious about using trusted platforms and not clicking blindly will keep users and organizations safe.
Customization and Branding with Link Shorteners
URL shorteners provide powerful customization and branding capabilities for businesses:
Custom Aliases- Simple vanity aliases using brand name, product or campaign help recognition. E.g. acme.co/samplelink
Keywords - Relevant keywords in shortened links can improve click-throughs. E.g. dealstore.us/camerasale
Campaign Tracking - Adding UTM tags enables personalized campaign analytics. E.g. bit.ly/ytad?utm_source=youtube&utm_campaign=awareness
Link Retargeting - Shortened URLs can send traffic to specific landing pages based on user attributes.
Localized Links - Unique shortened links can send users to country or language specific content.
Corporate Branding - Consistent shortened URLs reinforce brand name and identity. E.g. amazon.co/ebooks
Measuring Virality - Viral trends for shortened marketing links can be analyzed over social media.
Reviews and Thought Leadership - Links shared in guest articles and reviews can be tagged for tracking impact.
However, there are also best practices brands should follow when shortening links:
- Keep shortened URLs consistent, clean and simple across channels.
- Make shortened links easy to verbalize and remember.
- Use keywords judiciously - don't over-optimize.
- Customize links per campaign, but maintain brand familiarity.
- Use analytics to identify top performing shortened URLs.
- Ensure link formatting and display consistency everywhere.
- Set up redirects in case you need to update shortened links.
- Don't use excessively long vanity URLs.
Overall, intelligent use of custom shortened URLs allows brands to analyze, optimize and personify how links are shared and propagated through the digital ecosystem. When executed correctly, it becomes a competitive advantage.
Link Shorteners in Mobile Apps and Web Development
For mobile developers and web designers, deep link shorteners that persist beyond app installs provide several advantages:
App Indexing for SEO - Shortened deep links help Google index app content for improved keyword rankings.
App Referral Tracking - Referrals from social media, emails and other channels can be easily tracked using custom deep links.
User Engagement - Deep links take users directly to in-app content and enhance engagement.
Retargeting - Audiences who haven’t installed the app can be retargeted with deep links.
Attribution - Conversions driven by specific referrers are properly attributed using deep links with UTM parameters.
Deeplinking within Apps - Short links allow directing users from one app to specific sections of another app.
Link Previews - Users see a preview snapshot of in-app content before clicking deep link.
For example, a hotel booking app created a “booknow” deep link shortcut using Firebase Dynamic Links to showcase their promotional offer: https://book.examplehotelapp.com/booknow?promo=freetravel
This deep link was shared with users via email and social campaigns. Clicking the link either opened the app or Play Store if app wasn't installed. By tracking clicks on this customized deep link, the hotel app generated 42% more bookings from their promotional campaigns. Deep link integration enables more seamless user journeys across devices. When leveraged effectively, deep link shorteners enhance discoverability, repeat usage, social sharing and conversions for apps.
Here are some best practices for implementing deep link shorteners:
- Keep deep links simple, intuitive and focused on primary user goals
- Make deep links work consistently across mobile and web apps
- Utilize UTM tags for tracking analytics on sharing channels
- Leverage link preview APIs to display relevant snapshots
- Use deep link analytics to optimize user journeys
- Maintain historically persistent deep links with redirects
- Prominently display deep links in social media profiles and posts
Overall, intelligent deep link integration and promotion will be a competitive advantage for brands in future as mobile usage continues growing.
The Role of Link Shorteners in Social Media
Link shorteners have become indispensable tools for optimizing and sharing links on social media. Here are some of the ways they benefit social media marketing:
- Fit Long URLs in Constrained Post Formats - Twitter's 280 character limit means link shorteners are essential. Other platforms like Instagram also rely on short links in bios and posts where space is limited.
- Track Engagement - UTM link tagging allows monitoring clicks, shares and conversions for links posted on social channels. This provides valuable engagement data.
- Improve Clickthrough Rates - Research shows short, clean links get more clicks on social compared to long URLs.
- Utilize Link Previews - When long URLs are shortened, social platforms can generate link previews with images and descriptions. This improves CTR.
- Simplify Retweets/Shares - Short links are easier for followers to retweet or reshare on their own feeds.
- Leverage Vanity URLs - Catchy, relevant custom short links for social campaigns work better than generic URLs when shared.
- Use In Social Ads - Social ad platforms recognize popular link shorteners. So UTMs can track ad conversions driven by shortened links.
For example, a social media manager shortened a blog link using Rebrandly, giving it a custom URL:techreport.co/ai-impact This helped increase clicks by 56% when shared on Twitter and LinkedIn. In the first month alone it generated 342 clicks from social referrals. Using the bit.ly dashboard, they were also able to see spikes in traffic from social to their blog whenever influencers shared the shortened link. Link shorteners enabled easy tracking of social campaigns and deeper insights into vetted influencers driving the most valuable traffic.
Future Trends and Evolution of Link Shorteners
Link shorteners have come a long way over the past decade, but they are poised for even more innovations and capabilities moving forward:
Integration with Marketing Automation Platforms - Rather than export/import links, automation will enable seamless shortening of URLs used in campaigns and assets right within the workflow.
Predictive Link Recommendations - AI will power link recommenders that suggest the optimal content links to insert in social posts, emails and ads based on metrics like engagement, clicks and conversions.
Personalized and Localized Links - Link shorteners will provide options to tailor shortened links for each user's location, language, referrer etc. to increase relevance.
Enhanced Security - Advancements like malware checks, threat intelligence and stronger encryption will help improve link security and prevent phishing.
Rich Previews - Rather than just thumbnails, link previews will become more responsive and dynamic with options for videos and gifs to showcase linked content.
Interactive Elements - Shortened links will evolve to embed interactive elements like comment streams, live polls and sign-up forms to boost engagement.
Mobile Deep Linking - Mobile apps and websites will converge more tightly. Short links will consistently deep link users from social media and emails directly into apps.
Cross-Channel Experiences - Users will be able to seamlessly transition from shortened link on social media to content within a mobile app and back again as technologies converge.
Integration with Wearables - Short links will be commonly shared and accessed through smart watches and voice assistants as they gain traction.
Additional Platform Support - Link shorteners will support adding shortened URLs across an expanding range of emerging social/messaging platforms like TikTok, Clubhouse etc. As digital ecosystems continue becoming more interconnected, link shorteners will evolve to deliver unified user experiences across devices and platforms. Seamless journeys will drive higher engagement, conversions and lower friction.
Challenges and Opportunities for Link Shorteners
Despite their immense utility, link shorteners also face some challenges and friction areas:
- Platform Algorithm Changes - When social platforms like Facebook and Twitter change feed algorithms, effectiveness of link posts can be impacted until marketers re-optimize.
- Limitations of Vanity URLs - Custom shortened URLs still rely on the link shortener domain, limiting branding ability.
- Restrictions on UTMs - Some social platforms block certain UTM tracking parameters, limiting campaign analytics.
- Privacy Concerns - Growing awareness around privacy means some users avoid clicking shortened links and distrust trackers.
- Shortener Domain Changes - If a popular shortened domain gets acquired or discontinued, existing links may break.
However, these also present opportunities for further innovation:
- Develop link recommendation algorithms optimized for different platform feeds.
- Provide greater flexibility for brands to customize link formats, anchors, domains.
- Innovate with link tracking techniques that don't rely on UTMs alone.
- Build user awareness around benefits of trusted shorteners. Transparency and education helps gain confidence.
- Build resilience by investing in link migration and redirection services when disruptions happen.
By proactively addressing these friction areas, link shorteners can unlock many opportunities for brands to drive greater ROI from digital campaigns and engagement. Overall, the future looks promising for link shorteners as they evolve to meet the demands of an increasingly complex digital ecosystem spanning social, mobile, wearables and integrated experiences. While early providers like goo.gl have faded, new innovations will meet the growing need for customizable, trackable and optimized links.
Goo.gl Transfers Shortlinks to goo.by
In 2018, Google confidently announced the discontinuation of its goo.gl link shortener service. However, this raised questions about the billions of existing goo.gl shortlinks already in circulation. To address this, Google took decisive action and transitioned all existing goo.gl links to a new domain, goo.by. This ensured that all shared goo.gl links would continue to redirect properly, even though new shortlinks could no longer be created. Starting in April 2018, Google confidently updated all goo.gl links to connect to matching goo.by domains.
The link format and shortened string remained the same, only the domain name changed: goo.gl/abc123 → goo.by/abc123
Some of the reasons Google switched the shortlinks over to goo.by include:
- goo.by allows honoring existing goo.gl links indefinitely while winding down the service.
- The new domain distinguishes itself clearly from the defunct goo.gl and signals the service is in maintenance mode.
- Switching domains is more seamless than migrating to wholly new shortlinks which would break existing references.
- goo.by maintains user trust in and familiarity with the shortlinks.
The transfer to goo.by happened through a redirect service that operates across multiple domains. Both goo.gl and goo.by redirected to the same target URLs for a while. Google directly informed high-volume users of the switch to the new domain. For regular users, the transition was seamless, and goo.gl links began redirecting automatically. Currently, goo.by is the only domain as goo.gl has been completely phased out since early 2019. Google links can confidently be redirected to the goo.by domain. This ensures that current goo.gl users can have continued faith in the links they share. Additionally, it provides Google with a responsible way to terminate the service while maintaining the reliability of the link sharing system.