My experiment with the WordPress-Theme-based Redirect Engine/URL shortener (REUS) has kept me rather busy for almost a month now, but additional valuable insights were gained in the process. And even though this solution is initially a bit more labor intensive (taking only about 35 minutes or so to set up), creating a “Roll Your Own” Tinyurl-like service using a separate tweaked WordPress install can immediately begin to pay dividends in a variety of ways:

1) I found a stats plugin to use that works well with the REUS install after a few custom tweaks. Some minor modifications to the database calls and the reporting page to allow for more tracking on recent links, and the WP-Shortstats plugin has been performing flawlessly. I have included it with custom changes in the new REUS .zip package (link at end of this post).

Best thing is, the stats data belongs to YOU, no one can hold it hostage (unlike e.g. Budurl.com, which wants to only allow you to download your stats with a paid account). Also note that many 3rd party services’ stats solutions tend to lack good comparative screens, overviews, or ordering by e.g. “all-time highest clicks”, and so forth:

With REUS you can watch your clicks roll in in near real-time as shown here (you’ll have to hit refresh in the “Admin > Dashboard > Shortstats” screen to update). No fancy graphics like world maps, etc., but the information you really need to assess the success of your links:

2) Using your own short domain looks custom and gets attention. As you can tell from the above screenshot, people get curious about your custom/novel shorterner URL, and navigate to the “/” root quite often on first use. To make this useful/profitable for you, one key manual update that needs to be made to the “/wordpress/wp-content/themes/redirect_engine/index.php” file is to set up redirection of “/” to your blog or other page of your choice.

So in my example an inquisitive user would type in “http://3on.us/”, which for my set-up redirects them to the original REUS post on my blog.

3) You can create links that you completely determine the URL appearance of, both as to the domain (which will seem pretty custom vs. the publicly available services), as well as to the link extension, which can now be at least semi-sensible:

Keep in mind that a non-sense link is harder to process for the brain, and “a confused mind always says No!” as they say. So people are less likely to click. Meaningful URLs do have higher click-through rates from what I can tell so far, and marketing savants such as StomperNet’s Brad Fallon seem to agree (and guys like him test everything!).

Here is another bit of proof. This screen cap is a stat taken from celebrity Internet marketer Joel Comm’s TwitPwr.com URL shortening service:

What it shows is that the total average click-through for all TwitPwr.com links is just under 8 (about 160k / 20k), and his list of user includes some pretty illustrious company with largish follower counts. As my own stats screenshot from above shows, my REUS links have been pulling well above that on an average of about 1,000 followers over the last 4 weeks:

147 links have been clicked 3438 times on Twitter and a few other sources, for an average of just under 24 clicks per link. Not bad (and yes, I did subtract out the “/” root inquiries and robots.txt hits; and robots.txt disallows all further search engine bot access).

Granted there are many variables that come into play that make a simple 1-to-1 comparison difficult, including the fact that Twitter users may be slightly more reluctant to click on TwitPwr.com links due to the slightly, shall we say, “promotional” nature of that service. But the numbers are still pretty convincing, especially given the follower advantage for many TwitPwr users.

4) URLs can be shortened further on the fly due to…

…Wordpress’ post slug tolerance, e.g. “3on.us/roll-tinyurl” will still work as “3on.us/roll-t” in case you had to save even more space to fit into 140 characters on Twitter. By the way, if a duplicate match should arise due to lobbing off too much from a link extension, WordPress/REUS will default to the earliest URL/post found:

5) Just about all of the other URL shortener Bookmarklets disallow for creating custom extensions, even if the main service does! To get this feature, you will have to manually copy/paste the URL to be shortened into their home page, etc. Try it out yourself with e.g. tr.im, their bookmarklet does not appear to allow for customizing the link the way that the tr.im Web interface does, and it cannot be edited after the initial save.

Whereas the REUS WordPress-based solution leverages WordPress’ own “Press This” bookmarklet to make custom extensions without copy/paste possible (as described in the original post and the new install instructions).

6) By owning your own Tinyurl service, you know that your links/stats won’t one day go out of business (in this economy, you never know…), just as long as YOU are still in business. And you can back up all of your links and stats, and could even run them locally from your own computer, just in case you were forced to give up your main hosting account and could no longer afford the $10/year for the add-on domain used for your REUS install (let’s just assume right now that that will NEVER happen…).

7) To recap some of the benefits already described in the original post, with REUS you can create links as short or even shorter than the shortest http://is.gd etc. link, because you could choose to have the link extension only be one character, e.g. “http://3on.us/x” (limited supply of those of course).

Some of the services already waste an extra 2 characters or more in the domain name, e.g. “budurl.com”, “twurl.nl”, “twitpwr.com”, etc. With REUS, if you get yourself a 3 character .us domain to install on, you will have up to 16 charaters for the link extension and still be within Twitter’s 30 character link length limit.

I’ve also found that I was able to quickly commit to memory some of my most-used links with shorter/memorable names, so that I could easily type them in manually in certain situations, for example in some blog comments.

8) If you are using marketing related link tracker services such as aWeber.com or 1shoppingcart.com, you can in principle use your new REUS to replace those as well. For that type of use you would also not be constrained by the extension length as much (e.g. in Email), and could use even more descriptive link extensions, e.g. “http://3on.us/grab-your-free-copy-here”.

9) You are free of the various idiosyncracies of other 3rd party shortener services. For example, both Tinyurl and is.gd truncate your “#[anchor name/id]” on-page-anchor entensions (not sure why), like those used to direct straight to a specific comment on a blog post page.

10) I have built a character counter into the custom “press-this.php” file (called by the “Press-This” bookmarklet), that comes with the REUS distribution. This makes it faster to create exactly the right link length (after I found myself doing a lot of counting initially) that will still display without Twitter abbreviating your link with an “…” ellipsis. As already mentioned, in the case of my example domain “3on.us”, I have exactly 16 characters left to stay within Twitters 30 character limit.

All while typically having the link extension prepopulated with candidate terms and phrases from the post/page Title (if present in the Title tag) that can easily be edited down to the desired length.

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So, 10 good reasons to get your own REUS install. It’s completely free, no strings attached. If you use Twitter and care about the links you post there, you really might want to give it a whirl.

Here is the link for the updated REUS distribution:

http://businessmindhacks.com/v/redirect_engine.zip

Here is the link to the original REUS post again, as well as a link to an “install instructions only, no rationales” version.

Enjoy!

31 thoughts on “10 Reasons To “Roll Your Own” TinyURL Using WordPress

  1. Thanks David. Really appreciate it. I’m moving on from this topic for now, but in truth people should take a close look at using this free solution they’ll own completely. No need to have someone else own & possibly even profit from your stats data.

    This comment was originally posted on FriendFeed

  2. What an awesome idea. I am going to set up a .us domain and try it out. To have the ability to gather stats alone would make creating your own small url worthwhile. Add that to having your own domain and using it for your own memorable links adds icing on the cake.
    Thank you.

  3. Thank You! Bookmarked. I’m in the process of setting up a site and love to find great information, I will be implementing this.

  4. Hey Alex, Neat. I shall be using it when I set my site up. One thought, would it be possible to host this as a URL Shortening service? This would make my site go even more viral as people check out my “/” (home) page and create their own shortened URLs using 'my' URL shortening service which in turn get RT'd.

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