URL shortener is a service that takes long URL and give short one as the result. They are used to insert short and clean URLs in your content instead of big and messy ones that don't look attractive.
There's no magic behind it, but their algorithms that select character length and pattern generating. You can visit such websites like bit.ly , goo.gl or tr.im . Enter the desired long URL (the longer – the shorter) and get its counterpart; copy it to use where needed. You can easily check if there's any connection between these two links by hovering over the shortened one with cursor – if you're online, cursor will become a hand and if not – nothing happens (if you're offline, browser won't respond to the mouse hovering over short URL).
Some of them will allow you to input not only long URLs, but also plain text. This is useful for advertising purposes – with an inserted link, every reader can easily visit site or follow on social network!
Shortened links are not high-rank ones. They will no pass PR, because it's harder to make a good reputation than destroying it. It's easy to forecast that bad behavior will decrease rank and harm reputation more than good one will build it up. That's why such services as bitly usually don't post shortened links from unknown users/they ask permission for this (unfortunately, official policy isn't available at the moment). Make that your privacy settings allow insertion of shorteners from unknown users – you'll get one more proxy to use, though it's a little bit more risky.
On a side note: one of the reasons why "j.mp" URLs are blocked on facebook is that they can be used as spoofed links – instead of going to j.mp site, user will land on something completely different (example). So keep this in mind if you're using such service as part of your marketing campaign!
Shortened links aren't forbidden for Google indexing or recrawling. In other words, they have high rank potential and have just as much usage opportunities as long ones! They don't require SSL certification because there's no credit card data being transferred by them. This is a good practice to give you more trust!
Shortened links will be opened by default in new browser tab, so that user can see destination first. If it's just a link to social network or main page of website, this behavior is convenient for users – they don't have to remember and type URL out again after dealing with the ads. But if the shortened version leads to another article (paid placement), user might not realize that he must open new page and continue reading there instead. This way, visitors will leave your site without finding what they came for – who'll like that? You can fix that issue by adding text "here" after shortener at the top of its window; example: https://goo.gl/vN4Gep
Shortened link will be safe for children. If you have no problem with it, why don't you take advantage of this opportunity? The full version of the URL can be seen by everyone! Shortener provides additional security level in comparison with original one.
URL shortening services are not used to save money. This is not cost-effective way of hosting long URLs because in most cases shorteners don't pay for this service themselves, but use advertisement in order to cover expenses (like bitly ). They serve as third party between its users and make money on sponsored ads instead. Such load balancing practice decreases website's loading time when talking about thousands of long links pointing to your page. So if you want your website to be indexed in Google, don't forget to add meta tags for this!
Hashtags are also shortened by them. If you want to post something on Twitter with hashtag #travel, it won't fit in 140 characters limit. That's why hash tag is being replaced with an equivalent short version – #ttot . So when writing a tweet, use original words followed by # symbol and then short link of string "#" + desired word/phrase without spaces at the end. Don't forget that after clicking on hashtag link your stream will usually show feed of all tweets that have used included one - make sure your content fits it too (though some services filter special hashtags like spam or commercial ones)!
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