Is Shortening Your URL Bad For SEO?
You've probably seen URL shortening services on the web. These services allow you to take a long URL and shorten it. For example, let's say that you have a website, yourwebsite.com. You sell widgets on this website. One of your pages on the site has a URL that looks something like this:
That's a long URL, but you can shorten it using a URL-shortening service. You track one of these services down on the Internet (i.e. tinyurl.com), and find what looks like a search box. You enter your long URL into that search box. Then, the shortening service shortens the link for you, thus making it a bit more manageable.
You end up with something like "tinyurl.com/6yry78."
You then post this link everywhere. After all, this "new and improved" version of your long URL looks neat and tidy, and it will definitely fit in a Twitter post. There's just one catch: it might actually hurt your SEO.
How could this happen? Well, when a link-shortening service shortens your really long URL, you receive a link for the issuing service. For example, if you shortened "yourwebsite.com/what-you-should-know-about-our-widgets.html" to "tinyurl.com/6yry78," notice how the shortened URL actually points to "tinyurl.com."
The URL-shortening service has to redirect that short URL to "yourwebsite.com/what-you-should-know-about-our-widgets.html." The service has a few choices. First, it can perform a "301" redirect. This type of redirect is a permanent redirect. It tells the search engines that the short link has been permanently moved to the new location specified by the link-shortening service. Presumably, this permanent redirect points to your webpage.
However, these services have other ways to redirect your shortened URL. They can issue the shortened link as a temporary redirect. An example of this would be a "302" redirect. This means that you don't get any "credit" for that link. If you're building backlinks via Twitter or some other social media site, you might want to use one of these shortened URLs because you're concerned about the link breaking half-way through because it's too long. What you should be concerned about is the effect this will have on your SEO.
Let's say that you use one of these URL shortening services. You accomplish the goal of shortening your website's URL. Now, let's say that the URL-shortening service uses a temporary redirect. The search engines won't treat this as though it's a permanent link, because it's not. You could end up spending a lot of time building backlinks to your site with nothing to show for it.
What's worse, the temporary link, itself, could disappear at any time. If the URL-shortening service goes down, or stops offering redirects, then all of those backlinks disappear and you've got nothing. That's probably not what you want to have happen. The thing is, you can't know in advance when or if this will happen. Even if a URL-shortening service offers 301 redirects today, they may change this policy in the future. You're totally at the mercy of the 3rd party service.
A potential solution to this is to use your own in-house shortening service. Wordpress allows for this, for example. You can "roll your own" shortened URL and post it everywhere. Still, you have to contend with the fact that search engines might not pass on all of the link juice you want them to during this process.
There is a school of thought that says that 301 permanent redirects are just as good as the actual, permanent, new address. If you believe this, then go ahead and use shortened URLs. If you have any doubt about it, though, remember that everyone agrees that the long URL (i.e. the permanent URL) doesn't cause any issues when building backlinks.
Finally, there is one concern about shortened URLs and URL-shortening services that isn't talked about much and that is link spam. By shortening a URL, you can really redirect a user anywhere. Some URL-shortening services allow you to customize your link. This is cool, but not everyone is an innocent white-hat linkbuilder.
If the service allows you to customize URLs, imagine how a spammer would exploit this. Let's say that a spammer wants to gain traction on Twitter. He uses a bunch of short URLs that point to his website, but he changes the customizable part so that it shows up for searches in Twitter for keywords not related to the user's intended search.
Bitly.com is a URL-shortening service that actually does allow customizable URLs. If Mr. Spammer decides that he wants to rank well for the search term "justin bieber," all he has to do is include "justin bieber" in the customizable part of his shortened URL. It's enough to fool Twitter's search engine enough of the time that it will produce wacky search results. If enough spammers start using URL-shortening services to spam users and Twitter with casino and porn sites, then Twitter might be able to filter these links out. However, Twitter links do show up in major search engines, like Google. And, the big "G" will just discount the value of those types of links. That's something for you to think about too.
You don't want to be building backlinks with shortened URLs, even those you do in-house, only to have your links devalued because of an industry-wide uptick in spam complaints. There's also an issue of usability here. Your site users may not trust a shortened URL if it doesn't contain your site address in the URL. Even then, a long URL looks more legitimate than a short URL with funny looking characters or numbers. Some users might not mind. other users might want to intuitively see their keywords in the URL somewhere (or, at least something related to what they're looking for). This is especially true if your site is relatively unknown in your niche.
This doesn't mean that you should never use shortened URLs. Some social media sites, like Twitter, might put you in the position of having to use them to get the link posted. Do it when it makes sense, but don't rely on it as a way to systematically build backlinks.