Twitter Myth: URL Shorteners Save Space

Twitter Myth: URL Shorteners Save Space – Busted!

Twitter Myth: URL Shorteners Save Space

“Q: Why do I need to shorten my URL? A: The most popular reason to shorten a URL is to avoid exceeding Twitter’s character limit.”

That’s a quote from a recent article posted on the blog of a very popular social media management system.

The same idea is repeated on other social media blogs in articles about URL shorteners or branded short links. No, I’m not talking about John Doe bloggers or old articles.

What’s the reason behind so many similar assessments? Simple math counting. A shorter URL has fewer characters than a longer one. It makes sense indeed.

But is that true when we move from theory to practice?

1. Composing a Tweet That Has More Than 140 Characters

Update November 7, 2017: Twitter extended the character limit per tweet from 140 to 280 characters. While this blog post may look outdated due to this change, the reality is that the essence of the article is unchanged: whether the character limit is 140, or 280, or another one, the fact is that URL shorteners still don’t save space. Keep reading in order to understand why.

Let’s take a long URL and compose a tweet…

Want influence? Don’t be just a broadcaster. It’s called social media for a reason! More #TwitterTips:

How many characters? 152.

There’s no way you can send such a tweet, is it?

2. Sending a Tweet That Has More Than 140 Characters

Let’s do some magic… Hocus Pocus…

3. Why Was I Able to Send a Tweet Longer Than 140 Characters?

According to Twitter Help Center, “A URL of any length will be altered to 22 23 characters, even if the link itself is less than 22 23 characters long. Your character count will reflect this.”

In plain English, the length of your URL doesn’t matter.

Due to Twitter’s own URL shortening service, whether your URL is very short or very long, it’s counted as having 22 23 characters. Since 2011. Not breaking news :P

Update September 28, 2015: Twitter announcement:

On October 1 all new links wrapped with Twitter’s wrapper will use the https URL scheme.

The consequence is that the URLs aren’t counted as 22 characters anymore, but as 23 characters.

4. Another Social Media Myth Busted – Conclusions

Some apps or tools (examples: TweetDeck, Twitter’s web-based interface, JustRetweet) will adjust your character count as you compose a Tweet. 22 23 characters no matter the length of the link.

Other tools won’t adjust your character count. I have no idea why is that…

Maybe the developers of these tools weren’t aware of the piece of information mentioned under the sub-headline no. 3. Or maybe they didn’t bother to solve this tech issue because their tools use URL shorteners anyway. For tracking purposes.

I don’t know what their reason is. The fact is that they generated the myth that you need a URL shortener or a branded short link in order to save space when tweeting long links. No, you don’t.

A URL shortener doesn’t save space. It offsets tech issues not solved by some apps and tools. [And of course it helps you gather basic tracking info – but this is another topic, not related to this post.]

To Your Twitter Success!
Adrian Jock

P.S. Your turn… Did you know that the length of a link doesn’t affect characters counting on Twitter?

P.P.S. Follow me on Twitter for more interesting internet marketing tips & news.

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27 thoughts on “Twitter Myth: URL Shorteners Save Space – Busted!

  1. Well, I learned something new today. Sometimes the obvious is not so obvious after all.

    Thanks Adrian. ~Jude

  2. Hi Adrian,

    Great post! Totally agree and I am sure some didn’t know about the 22 character link thing, but only reason I like to use URL shorteners – because it just looks more tidy and neat than this long cut off URL in a tweet.


    1. Hi Adel,

      Thank you for your comment. Shall I understand that you prefer followed by a meaningless string of letters and numbers instead of your own meaningful domain name? Does a meaningless thing look better? :-)

      The long URL, even if it’s cut off, reveals way much more info than a meaningless string of characters. The followers discover the destination before actually landing on that page – some people are reluctant on clicking such links that hide the destination – the spammers love these services because they can hide the original link. The only biz reason for using an URL shortening service is tracking ;)

  3. Adrian I realized this long ago and always use my long form URL unless I am sending through Buffer. It is a good practice too for people remembering you/branding, etc.

    1. Hi Bill,

      Welcome to this blog! I’m sure you’re not alone… Many people discovered it long time ago. Still quite a significant number of social media experts (public perception, not mine) published articles that ignore the reality. If I add names, maybe you’ll say “Wow!” :)

  4. This is new to me Adrian! I’ve noticed this when I tweeted things out manually on Twitter but I never looked into it at all. I just thought it was a bug and moved on to something else LOL!

    Thanks for the info! :)

  5. Hi Adrian,

    You are so right about this and I’m glad you wrote this post. I’ve been thinking about shifting my strategy when it comes to using link shorteners. I like to use bitly simply because it’s easy and I like the interface. But more and more I hear people saying that they don’t trust bitly shortened links. So even though I stick with bitly for my Instagram links I wish that Twitter would let us customize links so they would be easier to remember.

    I also like to use Pretty link so that the links will have my branding.

    1. Hi Ileane,

      1) Bitly => I don’t know why someone would use it. I don’t use Instagram, but on the other main social media networks you don’t need to shorten the links. Using bitly in emails is like shooting yourself in the foot. Tracking… that’s so basic that you don’t really need it.

      The only serious reason for using bitly seems to be hiding the original link. Good for spammers. That’s why a) their domain name is blacklisted and b) some people hesitate to click such links.

      2) Customizing links on Twitter => I don’t understand what kind of customization you refer to. In your tweets you can use any domain name you want and Twitter’s links don’t hide the original link. The link the users see is the original link. It’s your link. 100% customization. You cannot ask for more ;)

      1. Adrian,
        I certainly would never use a bitly link in an email and I agree that I’m not sure why anyone would do that.
        Here’s what I mean by customizing the link – let’s say you have a podcast and you are going to mention a link that you want people to remember. This is where Pretty link comes in handy. You’ll often here podcasters tell people to go to their domain name SLASH 121 – which stands for episode number 121.

        Now when it comes to bitly – if you’re not using Pretty link you can tell people to go to bitly dot com SLASH (fill in the blank). This works well especially on Instagram because you can’t really post links (with the exception of your profile link) so the bitly link will be easy for people to remember.

        I know this is working for a lot of people because you can see the tracking for anyone’s bitly link by adding a Plus symbol to the end of it.

        It’s a little hard to explain without putting a bunch of real examples and putting a bunch of links here in the comment box but I’m hoping you can imagine what I’m referring to.

        1. Ileane, I guess you misunderstood my question. The 2nd point from my previous comment wasn’t about “Customizing links” – I know what customizing links refers to. That point was about “Customizing links on Twitter” and it was related to your initial comment…

          I was referring to your “I wish that Twitter would let us customize links so they would be easier to remember.

          I didn’t understand what do you expect from Twitter. It already lets you use any link you want and it doesn’t hide it. Twitter’s links are so discreet that you don’t even see them unless you hover the original links. You can’t get more than “any link you want,” can you? Who stops you using on Twitter customized links that are easy to remember? Not Twitter :)

          P.S. Since I don’t use Instagram, I didn’t know that you cannot post links. Using a short and easy to remember URL address makes sense indeed. But only if – for a certain reason – you don’t wanna use your own short branded link ;)

          1. I shared a screenshot with you on Twitter — but that was before I read your response here. So it looks like you already know what I mean by a custom bitly link. And what I want from Twitter is to do the same thing because people will remember the words “T DOT C-O” followed by custom text better than they will remember BASIC BLOG TIPS followed by custom text.

            I know that people always get the name of my blog wrong and think that it’s Basic Blogging Tips or some other variation. So they will not remember the format . But every one remembers the words “bitly”. And it would be easy to train people to remember the words “tdotco”.

            This would help give your links life beyond Twitter – which is what I do currently with the bitly links. Fortunately for me, people know me and trust that I’m not going to share malicious links with them. So they remember the links and they do trust them.

            There’s one more reason the custom links are great and that is when you use them on images. If you use text overlays on your images you can include the link as part of the text and it makes the link more sticky. I do this all the time on Instagram especially when I want to send people over to YouTube to watch a specific video.

  6. @ Ileane – Hmm… the theme doesn’t allow one more reply.

    Of course I know what customized links are. Did you forget that I wasn’t born (online) yesterday? I used them in the early 2000 in short ezine ads :)

    Now I understood your wish, but I’m very surprised seeing that you prefer a third party link instead of a link that you fully control. Even if you’re not happy with the domain name you mentioned, you can always use a short branded domain name that you own. Lots of marketers do it ;)

    1. I agree that lots of marketers use the branded domain shortened links. The problem is that personally I can never remember their shortened links. I know I’m getting old but I think that if I can’t remember the link, than how can I expect my audience to remember them.

      And you’ll find that all the top marketers who have podcasts are using bitly links in their shows to promote sponsored content. Jay Baer does it on Social Pros, Joe Pulizzi uses bitly links on This Old Marketing and there are many more examples of top marketers that are using custom bitly’s because they know the links are easy to remember. If Twitter would provide customization options, I’m sure they would all switch over and use those instead.

      1. LOL, I don’t think that the fact that you don’t remember their links is due to you being old but because their domain names aren’t chosen wisely :)

        If you agree I’d suggest that we stop here the discussion about customized links. We’re very far from the topic of this article (URL shorteners don’t save space on Twitter) :) Thank you for your comments!

  7. Hey Adrian,

    Great post. I learned something new here today. I always thought it was intended to save space. Then I started to notice with some longer URLs and Post titles I had, I was still able to send the tweet off. I didn’t question it, but it was shocking.

    Now I know the answer.

    I flip from time to time .. each post I write.

    I always send one bitly with one heading. And then have another heading with my original link. Just doing tests to see which one would drive more clicks. But I’m a fan of using my own link.

    – Andrew

    1. Hi Andrew,

      Thank you for the comment. Regarding your tests… in order to make a useful test you should not alter more influence factors, other than the one you test (the link). Did you take this “rule” into consideration? For example, if you send the first tweet at 8 a.m. and the second one at 9 p.m., you already altered the test and introduced a second influence factor: the time ;)

  8. Hey Adrian,

    wow – this is new! I never knew that an URL is rounded off to 22 characters no matter what.

    However yes, I have never used any URL shortners as Twtter’s own will convert it anyway.

    I hope more people start to use the actual url of the posts as with short urls you never know where you will end up landed.

  9. Can somebody enlighten me why Twitter’s url shortener service doesn’t work whenever I tweet with a link? Did Twitter remove the url shortener service?

    1. Mon, that service works fine, but it doesn’t work as you expect – it doesn’t replace your links like the regular URL shortening services do. To see your links, go to one of your tweets and move your mouse pointer over the link without clicking it. You’ll see the link ;-)

  10. It’s somehow unbelievable to see how far people go save up characters in order to tweet a single post! But yes, people do that. While some tweets just disappear in seconds after they are posted, some others do live for like eternity.

    What I like about shortened URLs is that you can track them. And beyond the scope of this post, this is indeed useful for target marketing. And when it comes to branding, yes shortened URL providers don’t give you any brand influence. This is why it’s better to have one yourself.

  11. Hi Adrian

    I use shorteners because I thought they looked more appealing to the user in terms of Visuals. However after reading this post, I have gained insight about Twitter urls today. Take Care

    1. Hi Ikechi,

      No URL shortening link can look better than your own link.

      When you use your domain name, you can use whatever keywords you want in your links. When you use a URL shortening service, sometimes you’re not able to customize the link (and therefore the link is a meaningless string of letters and numbers), other times the links are customizable but you cannot use the keywords you’d like to because they were already used by someone else.

      On top of the inconvenient mentioned above, here’s another one: some people aren’t willing to click links that hide the destination.

  12. Hi Adrian. Thanks for making me stop and think about why I use a URL shortener. The only reason I can think of is habit, which is more of an excuse than a reason. I was blogging long before Twitter created and I got in the habit of using bitly every time I posted a link. Like you said, the only reason for using a URL shortener is for tracking, but since most of my links go to my own website, Google Analytics should handle all of the tracking I need. Looks like it’s bye bye bitly account.

    1. Hi Ben,

      Thank you for your comment. Habit… Sometimes helpful, other times dangerous. It makes our brain sleep, it makes us work on autopilot. Sometimes the original conditions change without warning. However, due to our habits we act like the conditions are the same. So bad!

  13. I am trying to find when this article was posted. I thought this was a recent update they had but apparently not?

    The one thing that absolutely drives me nuts is when I read a good article and click on the “tweet” button and the Twitter compose box comes up. It’s supposed to be a pre composed tweet so that all I have to do is hit submit and share the great article but it drives me nuts when the pre composed tweet is more than 140 characters. So I hit submit and it comes up error. Then I have go through and start deleting stuff from their message. Does that ever happen to anyone else?

    1. 1) If you really need to find out when the article was posted, you can check the source code of the page. You’ll see there 6h of May 2015. If you don’t know how to do it, you can check the date when the first comment was posted. It’s the same date.

      2) No, it’s not a recent Twitter update. It was made in 2011. It’s written in the article ;)

      3) When the pre-composed tweet is longer than 140 characters, there is no point in hitting submit. You need to update it by deleting some stuff.

      4) “Does that ever happen to anyone else?” – Of course it happens from time to time. I won’t enter into details on why it happens and how it can be solved by the owner of the blog. What you have to know is that it’s not your fault or Twitter’s fault but blogger’s fault.

  14. Great information about using link shorteners. However, I believe this will not change me from using such tools for 2 reasons.

    1. A short link looks more professional than the mega counterpart.
    2. I like being able to see the growing clicks as they come in all located within a single platform.

    However, knowing that it is desired rather than required is certainly refreshing.

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