By Marsha Collier

When you’ve found something you want to share on Twitter, you’ll need to share it via the Internet address of the post (the URL) by copying and pasting it into Twitter. There’s the rub — have you ever noticed how long some URLs can be? Even in email messages and web postings elsewhere, typing in a gigantic URL can be a real chore. The solution is to shorten your URLs.

When we’re talking Twitter, you have only 280 characters for every Tweet. So Twitter uses its own shortening service. When you paste a URL into a Tweet, Twitter alters it and shows only the first 22 characters (which can look a bit sloppy as well).

But there is a solution: Several online services will abbreviate any web address to a nice, manageable size. These services began as helpful tools for everyday folks, but now they are more used by marketing agencies (check out these Twitter marketing strategies) because of the valuable metrics they supply.

You may have seen some shortened URLs when you were perusing Twitter. See any web links that look nonsensical, with no legible words? Clicking that silly looking link will get you where you want to go, via the magic technology of the web.

Two popular URL shorteners — TinyURL.com and bitly.com — are in use currently. bitly is a good choice because it gives you an information page where you can see metrics: how many people click your link after you publish it. (If you use an app to post items in advance, most will automatically shorten your links with bitly upon your request.)

For example, here’s the web address for a podcast

http://wsradio.com/category/technology/computer-and-technology-radio/

If you use the URL-shortening application from the bitly website, you can assign a permanent bitlink that you can also reuse over and over. It looks like this:

http://bit.ly/tech-radio

Want to give bitly a try to shorten your URLs for Twitter?

  1. Find a nice, long URL that you’d like to shorten and go to bitly’s site.

    bitly URL shortener

    It’s a good idea to register with Bitly; the site doesn’t send spam. This way, if you want to use your shortened URL online, you’ll be able to send the post directly from the article’s page.

  2. Start the bitly registration process by clicking Sign Up at the top of the screen

    On the resulting page, type in a username, email address, and password as prompted. You can also automatically create an account using your existing Google, Twitter, or Facebook accounts.

  3. When you’re done filling in the usual items, click Create Account, and you’re in — that’s all there is to it!

    You’re automatically transported back to the bitly home page, but now it will look a little different.

  4. There are two ways to use bitly. The choice is yours:
    • Copy the URL you want to shorten from its web page: Click to highlight it, and then press the Ctrl and C keys together. Switch over to the bitly site and place your cursor in the text box that says Paste a link to shorten it. Paste your long URL in the box by pressing the Ctrl and V keys together.
    • Go to your bitly account by clicking the hamburger menu (three or four lines) next to your name and click Resources. From the resulting page, you can get a browser extension for your web browser, or a mobile app for your phone or tablet. This tool allows you to insert a mini bitly gadget (so you don’t have to go back to the bitly web page) to make a short link directly from any page on the web.

      Clicking to add the Chrome extension will take you to the Google Play Store where you can add the extension to your browser.

      bitly in Google Play

      Once it installs in your browser, you’ll see a small b in a circle icon in the top right, next to the URL box. Place your mouse pointer over the b to create a Bitmarklet, click, and hold down the click. If this is the first time you’ve used bitly, you’ll have to sign in and give the Chrome extension permission to use your bitly account. Voilà! It’s now part of your browser, ready for use. Just click the b to bitmark (shorten the URL) to share the page you’re on.

      Your long URL turns into a magically shortened one. If you plan to use the shortened URL in an email, merely click the Copy button, and the new URL is automatically placed into your Clipboard so that you can paste it into an email or an SMS message.
      shortened URL with bitly

  5. If you’d like to share the friendlier URL, either on Facebook or Twitter, click the Share button. Click the website you want to share on and then type the rest of your post in the text box.

    Behold: bitly automatically generates a post with the link embedded. Use bitly each time you come across an interesting news story, article, or video on the web. It’ll save you a lot of typing, and it’ll make sharing much easier.

    share bitlink

  6. Click the Share button, and your comment and link will autopost instantaneously to your Twitter-stream or Facebook timeline.
  7. When you go back to your bitly page a little later, you can see how many people clicked your link to check it out.

    If you click the View Stats link next to anything you’ve posted from bitly, you get an hour-by-hour report on the action. You can slow-scroll down the Stats page to find where else your link was shared, and from which countries. Kinda interesting.

    bitly analytics

Also, using bitly is a great way to shorten your own personal web link in your 160-character Twitter bio. After you’ve put a bitly link in your profile, you can go back to bitly and view the statistics that show how many people visited your page.