A short while ago, a good friend of mine posted a link to a story on his Facebook wall, and in the comments section, he shared a related link from another source. The followup link was long. I mean LONG. It was a long url anyway, and it still had all the tags from his reader, which basically doubles the length of the url. A platform like Facebook is imperfect for link sharing, it reads some links and gives you a thumbnail, but it also publishes the whole link just above it, putting lots of filler in the sandwich – your comment, the link and responses from others.

The thing about this is that the friend of mine works for a major political party at the federal level. He works in Parliament and his Facebook wall, though entirely personal and of his own making, often discusses party news and articles about legislation.

He needs to use an url shortener.

Anyone, anyone who wants to use Facebook and twitter for conversations, to promote their ideas, to syndicate their articles (I’m looking at you journos and SEO pals) needs to use url shorteners to keep their links concise. This is not just a rule for my good friends working in our nation’s capital trying to make a difference, it’s for anyone with a content strategy. It’s for anyone who should have a content strategy and doesn’t!

Url shorteners do three things for your links:

1. They make your posts more readable. We want to understand your commentary on the topic. If all you have to say is that you agree without reservation or inflection, just point straight at it. But if you want to add a level of understanding, do so.

2. They make your posts more shareable. The more room you have in your twitter message for retweeting, the easier it is for lots of people to forward your message along. On Facebook, they make that tiny, faint, non-intuitive share button way easier to see.

3. They make your content more searchable. Search engines see those links on curation blogs and prominent sites like Business Week which embeds links from twitter. If you want to get really technical, the good url shorteners are treated by search engines the same way they treat a 301 redirect – or the ‘not-spam’ redirect. So all those posts and reposts and conversations and links go to where you’d like it to go.

Making your content – or just your favourite links – more readable, shareable and searchable is basic to any conversation. It’s not only for websites trying to sell ads and boost their authority, it’s for anyone who wants to have a conversation, short or long. If you want to get people to an event, the link to that event shouldn’t overpower the invitation platform. Same with driving directions on a Google map, a photo slideshow (these are at times the worst offenders AND top innovators in short and clean urls. For some reason, there’s very little middle ground) a neat thing you want to buy or that you want to suggest to a friend.

Whatever it is, make it readable, shareable and searchable.

Now the bad news: the main argument against url shorteners is link rot. By using a third-party between your main link and your audience, the possibility that they might shut down someday puts your links in jeopardy. There’s a really good reason to assume that these third-parties won’t last forever, just look at Tr.im. It’s a totally valid concern and there’s no real consensus on how to avoid it, other than refreshing links often – which everyone should do anyway – and embedding full links in more than one place (did I just hear an echo of cross-linking in regular content? I think I did!)

The other issue is spam. If you want to be sure of what you’re clicking on, you’ll have to take for granted that you’re clicking on something safe. This is really no different than some of the assumptions we have to make about long urls as well. Even if they look legit, they could be covered in malware and other garbage once you get there.

So link shorteners are far from perfect and don’t work alone to support your content. But if we’re talking about conversation between people, especially on social media platforms, it’s worth it to shorten your url anyway. And the benefits of the link shortening tools like analytics, shorteners built into publishing tools and even vanity url shorteners could outweigh the costs of potential link rot. You can even get technical and use url shorteners as a search interface. (awesome!) This concept is great, and they actually use their custom short url as a calling card!

Keep your conversation about your conversations. Share ideas using short links couched in your context and topics, don’t weigh down your convos with long strings of overwhelming gibberish.

Language is what we use to create our reality. So create something convincing, that flows and interacts; don’t wall yourself off behind unreadable gibberish.

PS: now that you’re ready to shorten your links, here’s where you can start: