Social Media

Why Twitter is turning increasingly towards t.co link shortening

Google's cryptic first tweet reads "I'm feeling lucky", I think
Google's cryptic first tweet reads "I'm feeling lucky", I think
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Google's cryptic first tweet reads "I'm feeling lucky", I think
Google's cryptic first tweet reads "I'm feeling lucky", I think

Yesterday we reported how one could avoid Twitter’s somewhat annoying t.co URL shortener by using lesser known URL services like j.mp, or by keeping the URL length to 20 characters or less. Unfortunately, this hack will not last forever as Twitter does plan to wrap all links, regardless of length, with its own t.co link service. Why? It’s all to do with analytics.

Although some users, including myself, find it annoying that Twitter in fact “re-shortens” already shortened links to its own t.co service, there are a few benefits to be had. Security is the first major benefit as Twitter vets links against its own database of known malicious sites before shortening to t.co. Earlier this month, Twitter already promised to get tough and “predictive” on spam.

The second major benefit is similar to the first as t.co links do not appear obscured like other link services. With t.co, links appear as a shortened version of the original URL, even though the user’s eventual journey to the original URL is always routed through the t.co link. In this regard, users can see what site lies behind the link before visiting. This brings us the the third and most important reason for automatic t.co links; analytics.

Analytics across the Twitter ecosystem

Prior to the introduction of t.co in June of this year, referral traffic from Twitter only really accounted for users coming from twitter.com. But what about all the traffic from Twitter users using third-party apps or clients? Third-party apps constitute a huge part of the Twitter ecosystem so this data should not be ignored. When Twitter eventually parses all links to t.co, the service can effectively record traffic referrals from all tweets, regardless of whether the user is using twitter.com or not. Within analytics services like Google Analytics, eventually all Twitter referrals will appear to derive from t.co.

At The Sociable we’ve already begun to see the benefits of this. In general, referral traffic to our site arrives majorly from Stumble Upon, Facebook and Twitter, in that order. In the past 30 days however, combined twitter.com and t.co referral traffic has eclipsed Facebook traffic, something we’d consider a rare occurrence. Specifically, 46.7% of referral traffic came from Stumble Upon, 8.6% from Twitter, 8.2% from Facebook and 2.2% from Google+. Recording Twitter’s true traffic referral power with t.co may show its increasing importance as a source of website traffic.

It’s hard then to see how other link shortening services can compete if Twitter completely replaces them with t.co. And if Twitter does eventually release its own analytics feature, possibly geared at enterprise users, then services like bit.ly with built-in analytics would serve no purpose at all.

What to you think of Twitter’s automatic shortlinks? Let us know in the comments.

18 Comments

  1. I don’t like t.co…or any of the other big ones….I tend to use nowtweet.it because it is just so simple…:) nowtweetit

  2. I don’t like t.co…or any of the other big ones….I tend to use nowtweet.it because it is just so simple…:) nowtweetit

    1. @StijnVanLoo Your custom URL shortener will still function but Twitter will instead replace it with its own shortened version. It’s not useless in the sense that you can still share links in tweets using it, your followers will still get to where you want them.

      1. Yes and moreover, Twitter gives you a permanent redirect, so the link juice is yours.

        But branding…. it will not help, of course.

        1. @pdscott just go to http://commetrics.com/articles/2011-tip-nr-1-url-shortener-service/#comments

          What I did is I entered the code http://t.co/1EfDojcP (see the instructions on how you can do it in the above post).

          As a result you get:

          to HTTP/1.1·301·Moved·Permanently(CR)(LF)

          So the final destination SHOULD get the credit. but in my case it is more complicated. Why, because I use the shortener su.pr ==> and that one does not re-direct. So Twitter does it correct but Su.pr keeps it. Not good.

          So Twitter does but then make sure that your shortener does it.

          Socialoomph.com does it right as explained here:

          ===> http://commetrics.com/articles/2011-tip-nr-1-url-shortener-service/#comment-321781172

          Hope this is useful

          PS. it is not a no-follow issue it is a http convention issue

  3. @StijnVanLoo Your custom URL shortener will still function but Twitter will instead replace it with its own shortened version. It’s not useless in the sense that you can still share links in tweets using it, your followers will still get to where you want them.

    1. Yes and moreover, Twitter gives you a permanent redirect, so the link juice is yours.

      But branding…. it will not help, of course.

      1. @pdscott just go to http://commetrics.com/articles/2011-tip-nr-1-url-shortener-service/#comments

        What I did is I entered the code http://t.co/1EfDojcP (see the instructions on how you can do it in the above post).

        As a result you get:

        to HTTP/1.1·301·Moved·Permanently(CR)(LF)

        So the final destination SHOULD get the credit. but in my case it is more complicated. Why, because I use the shortener su.pr ==> and that one does not re-direct. So Twitter does it correct but Su.pr keeps it. Not good.

        So Twitter does but then make sure that your shortener does it.

        Socialoomph.com does it right as explained here:

        ===> http://commetrics.com/articles/2011-tip-nr-1-url-shortener-service/#comment-321781172

        Hope this is useful

        PS. it is not a no-follow issue it is a http convention issue

  4. @darrenmccarra This is a great post.

    Also interesting is the because t.co uses code 301 – permanent re-direct, the Link juice still ends up with the Link originator.

    Unfortunately, not if you use Su.pr or, for instance, LinkedIn, Facebook because all these use an overlay bar that gives the Link juice to the URL-shortener service (e.g., Facebook) and not the webpage with the long URL (where the content is really posted)

    See also: http://commetrics.com/?p=15286/#comments

    If you know of one that does give Statistics, uses 301 re-routing and allows scheduling of tweets, please let me know

  5. @darrenmccarra This is a great post.

    Also interesting is the because t.co uses code 301 – permanent re-direct, the Link juice still ends up with the Link originator.

    Unfortunately, not if you use Su.pr or, for instance, LinkedIn, Facebook because all these use an overlay bar that gives the Link juice to the URL-shortener service (e.g., Facebook) and not the webpage with the long URL (where the content is really posted)

    See also: http://commetrics.com/?p=15286/#comments

    If you know of one that does give Statistics, uses 301 re-routing and allows scheduling of tweets, please let me know

  6. It spoils my attempts at maintaining my own branding … I registered dsq.so so that I could do my own short urls that would keep with my brand, and now they all get converted to t.co even when they are already less than 19 characters … Twitter has a strong enough brand without hijacking all of my branded links! Give me a chance!

  7. It spoils my attempts at maintaining my own branding … I registered dsq.so so that I could do my own short urls that would keep with my brand, and now they all get converted to t.co even when they are already less than 19 characters … Twitter has a strong enough brand without hijacking all of my branded links! Give me a chance!

  8. But its very annoying as twitter is already always working over capacity and this new feature has increased its load too much. the ruining condition of this t.co link is that when 150 people click on my link only 8-10 people reach to original content because of slow twitter.

  9. But its very annoying as twitter is already always working over capacity and this new feature has increased its load too much. the ruining condition of this t.co link is that when 150 people click on my link only 8-10 people reach to original content because of slow twitter.

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Darren McCarra
Darren McCarra is co-editor of The Sociable. He has a keen interest in photography, all things mobile, and writing about technology and social media. You can follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.