I want to talk about branding and custom short URLs today. You probably don’t think about custom short URLs very often, but you encounter them every day.

A domain suffix, or domain TLD is the part of a url that follows the dot. Common Top Level Domains are .com, .net. .org, and .gov.

But we also have country-specific TLDs and many other new suffixes springing up.

What a lot of people are doing now, is registering a domain that is a clever spelling of their brand that often includes part of the TLD to complete the spelling. For instance, the New York Times has this short url: nyti.ms

Rather than spell out the whole name or using the full domain, this shortens the name to something that is still recognizable, but saves some characters.

A common trick for coming up with your own short URL is to drop the vowels in your brand name. If you’re lucky enough, the last letters of your name make happen to match an existing TLD.

For instance in my case, I have seanw.es. I got lucky that the last two letters in my brand name are actually an existing domain suffix: .es is the official TLD for Spain.

I simply had to register a Spanish domain through a domain registrar.

Link Shortening

In order to be able to create a shortened links like this: seanw.es/YLhc, you need to sign up for a link-shortening service that supports the use of custom domains. In my case, I use CloudApp.

Short URL Expectations

Let’s look an an example of a url you might see:

  • youtu.be/GahMofwVDWg

Now where do you think that link is going to go? Probably a YouTube video, right? That’s branding! YouTube is synonymous with video. If you saw a URL like that and it went to some random article, you’d be thrown off.

Let me give you another example:

  • instagr.am/p/qkaFH1HfCw

Where do you think that link is going to go? Probably an image. Instagram – image. YouTube – video. There’s a correlation. There’s a connection and an association being created through consistent branding.

The thing is, I see people doing this wrong all the time. They get a custom short URL and use it for link shortening and because they’re so excited about it, they use it on everything they share.

If they find a funny video, they use their short url, if they post a nice article, they use their short url.

They’re doing this for two reasons:

  1. They’re over excited about their new domain because it looks cool.
  2. Link shorteners show you how many times someone clicked. They’re addicted to seeing the meaningless stats and as a result they’re diluting their brand.

The primary function of a short url is to indicate the kind of content being shared. It’s branding the content. The fact that you can track clicks is purely secondary.

Your URL is Branded by the Content You Share

When you share a link with your own custom short URL, you are branding your name through that URL. What are you branding it with? You are branding it with whatever content you decide to share through it.

Shorteners like bit.ly are more ambiguous because anyone can use them to link to anything through them.

When using your own custom short URL, you have an opportunity to brand that URL by the content that you share. You want to share specific types of content to breed familiarity with your followers.

Your use of a custom short URL should be limited to content created by you that lives on your own domain.

Once again, you don’t want to obscure the content that lives behind the link. Don’t link to a YouTube video with your custom short URL—use the YouTube link. You don’t want to dilute your brand.

By being consistent in the use of your own custom short URL by limiting it to only your content—content that you’ve created—you’re going to breed familiarity and trust with your followers by instilling a knowing that your links will lead to what they expected.