How can I access a Bitly link

This is how bit.ly works: Shorten URLs, including click statistics

There are two important use cases for the bit.ly service: one is obvious, the other not so much. One is to turn long web addresses (URLs) into short ones, which can be useful in e-mails and especially with services like Twitter, where every character is valuable. The other is to get click statistics of the link in real time too. You can actually see how often the link is used and how it spreads on Twitter and FriendFeed. It's all free and very easy to use. I'll show you how to do it here.

Click statistics accurate to the minute are possible at bit.ly - even without registration

For a long time, TinyURL was considered the most important service in terms of URL shortening - no wonder, it was probably the first of its kind. If you want to believe the English-language Wikipedia, the web developer Kevin Gilbertson started it in January 2002 to be more comfortable on newsgroup To be able to link posts.

In the meantime, TinyURL is no longer the service of choice - the shortened URLs are simply longer than those of the competition.

Shorten the link with bit.ly

One fierce competitor is bit.ly. At first glance, everything works as it always does with these services. On the start page of bit.ly you can enter any address and shorten it by clicking on "Shorten". You get a considerably shorter address that redirects to the long address. In other words: If a user calls up the shortened address, bit.ly looks for the long original address and redirects the user accordingly.

Make a "speaking" URL yourself

First tip: In order to make the shortened URL a little nicer and clearer, you can also determine the last part yourself. For example, we did it with the link bit.ly/stARThilfe, which leads to the article on the “stART.hilfe” campaign. If you want that, you click on “Optional Custom Name” on the start page of bit.ly, an input field appears and here you enter what should come after the slash of the address. Letters and numbers work.

Start page of bit.ly

Click statistics down to the minute

And how do you get the statistics that I promised at the beginning? Pretty simple: you put an “info” in the middle of the address. bit.ly/stARThilfe then becomes, for example, bit.ly/info/stARThilfe - and you are on the statistics page of the corresponding link. Here you can follow to the minute how the link is clicked. There are also weekly and monthly summaries and a complete overview. Just take a look at the site for yourself, you will discover even more: For example, you can also see how often the link has appeared on Twitter or in FriendFeed.

It all works without registration and is completely free. From my point of view, it couldn't be simpler.

“Bookmarklet”: Abbreviation for the short URL

Although, it can be a little simpler: You can drag a link into the link bar of your own browser. This is called a "bookmarklet" and is offered by various services. At bit.ly it works like this: If you are on a website whose address you want to shorten, you simply click on this bit.ly bookmarklet and the shortened link is displayed shortly afterwards. You can get it to the clipboard with a click on “Copy” or, in the traditional way, by manually marking it and copying it out, and continue to use it. More about this on the "Tools" page at bit.ly.

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Criticism of such services

Does it all sound too good to be true? It is. Services like bit.ly have drawbacks that one should be aware of:

  • The link only works correctly if the service can also be reached. Because: bit.ly has to fish the long original address from its own database and then forward it to the user. If the bit.ly servers cannot be reached, this will not work. The shortened link then does not lead to the destination.
  • If bit.ly is broke at some point and closes, of course not a single shortened address will work for the same reason.
  • For the user who sees the link, it is not clear where it is landing. There is a Firefox plugin that will tell you. But of course that doesn't change the fact that users could be skeptical or irritated.

Conclusion

With bit.ly you can get short URLs very quickly and easily when you need them. And there are statistics for every link even without registration and you can choose a desired name for the shortened URL. The statistics are interesting and meaningful. With the disadvantages mentioned in mind, a service like bit.ly is incredibly practical. However, it should only be used in a targeted manner.

Jan "jati" Tißler has over 20 years of professional experience as an online journalist and digital publicist. In 2006 he launched the UPLOAD magazine. Since 2015 he has been helping companies to inspire the right customers with content. Together with Falk Hedemann, he offers UPLOAD Publishing services along the entire content marketing process chain. Born in Hamburg, he lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.