How to Create Shortlinks Using WordPress, 3rd Party Services, or Branded Domain Names

One of the coolest things about the internet is the fact that it never stops changing. The technology is so flexible that infinite growth is almost certain.

With that growth comes innovation. With innovation comes new opportunities to learn. This is one of those opportunities.

In this article, I’m going to show you how to create shortlinks for your blog posts and pages in three levels. I don’t see Twitter changing its 140 character rule anytime soon. So, let’s use the power of technology to squeeze more content into a tweet (or anywhere else) than ever before.

Level 1 – Easy WordPress Shortlinks with Jetpack

How many of you knew that you could create shortlinks right in WordPress without any 3rd party plugins or services?

Before today, I had no clue. As usual, I woke up this morning and scrolled my Twitter feed before rolling out of bed like any true internet junkie. I saw this tweet Brain Gardner and decided to take a look:

Look at his URL. Cool, huh? More on that later. ;)

I’ve seen Jetpack all over my WordPress dashboard and I have never really paid it any attention. I figured it was one of those “Hello Dolly” type plugins that served no real, useful purpose.

Boy was I wrong. Here’s the scoop.

Jetpack is a beast. Talk about the mother of all plugins. It does about 14 million things with the click of a few links and dramatically reduces the need for multiple 3rd party plugins.

We’re here to talk about shortlinks, though.

One of the coolest and easiest to use features of Jetpack is WP.me Shortlinks. Here’s a description of what this feature does directly from WordPress:

Instead of typing or copy-pasting long URLs, you can now get a short and simple link to your posts and pages. This uses the super compact wp.me domain name, and gives you a unique URL you can use that will be safe and reliable.

To use shortlinks, go to any already published post (or publish something new!). A “Get Shortlink” button will be visible under the Post title. When you click it, a dialog box will appear with the shortlink and you can copy and paste to Twitter, Facebook or wherever your heart desires.

To use WP.me Shortlinks, you’ll need to install the Jetpack plugin on your blog. If the Jetpack “advertisement” isn’t already in your dashboard, search for it in the WordPress plugin directory with the search term “Jetpack.” The first result should be “Jetpack by WordPress.com” and that’s the one you want.

Install it and activate it. You’ll be prompted to connect Jetpack to your WordPress.com account. If you don’t have one, you can create one quickly without hassle.

Once your WordPress.com account is created and the plugin is properly installed, a new menu will be added to your WordPress dashboard near the top. Under that menu, click the Jetpack link and let’s get down to business.

Jetpack for WordPress

What you’ll see here is a ton of different services provided through Jetpack. Let’s concentrate on shortlinks, though. Look for WP.me Shortlinks box near the bottom of the page. You should see a link to “Activate” WP.me Shortlinks. Do that.

Once this is done, let me show you how easy it is to use this built in URL shortener.

The results when I click that link, you ask?

Boom. Check it out for yourself. http://wp.me/p2xYHn-Hz

That’s the first way to easily create shortlinks for your blog. I’m not sure if it gets any easier than that.

But what if you don’t want to use Jetpack? What if you’re scared to use wp.me because not everyone will recognize and trust your URLs? That’s definitely understandable. It’s a little paranoid… but totally understandable.

How about a popular 3rd party service?

Level 2 – Bit.ly Shortlinks Without Plugins

Bitly is a standalone URL shortening service. Everything from shortening your URLs to managing your link statistics can be done with Bitly.

First things first, you’ll need to sign into Bitly with either Facebook, Twitter, or your own free account. I would suggest creating an account.

Once you have an account, shortening your URLs is as easy as pie.

As you can see, there really isn’t too much to using Bitly. There are built in tools galore. So if you’re into heavy analytics or using the same shortlinks repeatedly, Bitly is a great tool for handling those things.

Here’s a Bitly link to one of my blog posts: http://bit.ly/LO4qCr. Notice the bit.ly domain name in your URL.

How easy is that? What’s great about Bitly is that you can register your own short domain name with your chosen registrar and manage it through their interface, which is what I think Brian does.

That’s a great option for branding your URLs and having a great service manage links and statistics for you. But what if you’re a control freak like me?

Level 3 – Branded Shortlinks with Your Own Domain Name and YOURLS

This one is my favorite. Remember earlier in this post when I showed you Brian’s tweet about Jetpack? Did you notice his URL in the tweet?

Take another look: b.rian.cc/MqFsJY

I hate to break it to you but it’s not just by chance that his URL seems to spell his first name. Nope… it’s not by chance at all. This was very intentional and I’m going to show you how I do it with my own URL shortener.

The first thing you’ll want to do is register a domain. That’s why this is level 3. It’s not free and it’s going to take a tad bit of work. But it’s worth it.

Typically, you’ll want to select a domain name with no more than 4 or 5 characters and a shorter top level domain than normal (a top level domain is the .com, .net, .org, etc. you see at the end of domain names).

Brian chose .cc. I chose .me. You can choose whatever your registrar offers. Namecheap offers a nice selection of top level domains.

Just like any other website you’re building, you need to register your chosen domain name and purchase hosting if you need to. You’ll be installing software to be served at this domain name.

Once you have your domain name and hosting set up properly, it’s time to get into the good stuff. Visit YOURLS and download their software to your computer. Then, simply follow the installation instructions (this article also helps and provides some very useful tips: YOURLS Personalized URL Shortener).

Because of the file names and a few other technical details, you do not want to install YOURLS in a directory where WordPress is installed. If you’ve registered a domain name specifically for YOURLS, you’re fine using the root folder. If you’ll serve other content in this server space, though, you’ll want to create a directory specifically for YOURLS.

Now that you have YOURLS installed, not only do you have  your own URL shortener, but you also have many features at your disposal. There’s even a WordPress plugin that allows you to link your WordPress blog to your YOURLS install on your server. In other words, you don’t even have to leave your blog to shorten your links with YOURLS and still have multiple options.

I use YOURLS at sdvs.me. My buddy Alex Mangini of Kolakube.com uses YOURLS at kola.cc (aff link). You have full control over your main domain name just like any other domain name. So, you can redirect the domain name itself to your main site to keep the internet ninjas from surfing around your YOURLS login page.

Make A Decision

It’s safe to say that shortened URLs are necessary these days. Whether you’re running out of space in your tweets or you’re looking for ways to make your business more “legit,” there’s always a reason to shorten your URLs.

I personally prefer to have my own shortener. I think it looks better in a tweet than a generic or full URL. Likewise, it reduces the amount of plugins and 3rd party websites I have to deal with. I love it. ;)

Which one will you use and why?

15 Comments:
  1. I’m guessing YOURLS must have been improved. I tried doing this about a year ago and eventually my installation just stopped working for some reason. I couldn’t ever figure out what the problem was.

    • I haven’t had any issues myself. I know that @norcross uses it and I most definitely respect his opinion. Alex hasn’t had any issue either. I’ll be sure to make some changes to this article if I do, though!

  2. Sean,

    Great post!

    Very resourceful information here. I always wondered how people created personalized short links, I’ve been seeing them for a while online.

    I’m currently using Bitly but now I’m looking to set my link game up! Thanks for sharing such a helpful post!

    – Dewane

    • Step your link game up! Haha I love that. Thanks for reading, man. I definitely appreciate it. Let me know what setup you decide to go with. I’m sure there are many more options than just YOURLS out there too.

    • Primarily. But I do think the fact that the URL is short really does matter. But yes… branding is probably the most important part of it all.

      • Apparently bit.ly allows you to use a custom domain for free now, was going to try that instead of the YOURLS install just to see.

            • No worries… that’s the level meant for guys like us haha. Let me know if you decide to run your own domain with bit.ly and if there are any drawbacks… like lack of control over something important (I doubt it).

  3. I know I’m a little late on this but thanks for this post. I’ve been using bitly (so I can track where my clicks are coming from) but for branding purposes I think I need to graduate to level 3.

    • Go for it, Ray. Like Alex pointed out, he gets a lot more clicks from Twitter when he tweets with his branded, short domain. It’s totally worth it.

      Let me know if you run into any issues getting set up. It’s fairly easy.

      Thanks for reading.

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