How does the Google URL Shortener work

What is a url shortener?

A URL shortener shortens long Internet addresses and reproduces them in a shortened version via a third-party provider. Cryptic encryption is used for this. This can either consist of a generated code or a special wording, if this is not already available. Clicking on this shortened URL creates a redirection via a 301 redirect. The function, also known as "short URLs", is very popular on Twitter, in Youtube or Facebook descriptions.

This is how the URL shortener works

There are now a variety of URL shorteners to choose from. To do this, the user calls up the page and copies his long URL into the field there. In a second step, he can optionally specify an alias URL, otherwise the system will choose a random combination. Some providers also enable a URL shortener via a plug-in in the browser, ideal for those who need it very often. Anyone who uses social networks or microblogging professionally cannot avoid a URL shortener. With some tools, creating an account can be very useful because it gives users access to statistics on how often their short URL has been clicked. The short URLs can also be protected with a password or, as already mentioned, provided with a personalized code.

The technology behind it

The URL is not really shortened after this process, it just appears to the viewer and that's what it's all about. Shortened URLs, preferably with an individual code, are preferred. A URL redirect then continues to the actual destination. In technical terminology, an http-redirect is also used. If you want to run a URL shortener, you only need a server and the corresponding PHP script. This simple technique has caused several hundred providers to put their own URL shorteners on the web. An example to explain.

The original URL looks like this:

The URL shortener turns this into: The short URL used has a unique alias so that the service can precisely assign the long original URL. By clicking on the short URL, a request is sent to the web server, which activates the status code 301 and the client then forwards to the original URL. In terms of the Search Engine Friendly URL (SEF-URL), the short link can also have a special wording:

Well-known URL shorteners

The most frequently used URL shorteners are, or With, the search engine Google even offers a shortener itself.

URL shorteners are questionable

If you use a URL shortener, you should be aware of certain dangers and disadvantages.

  1. The destination of the short URL is usually unclear. The user receives no indication of the goal behind it. This can unsettle him and there is also the risk of cookie dropping. Most URL shorteners therefore integrate a preview of the actual target URL.
  2. Link hijacking is also a danger that should not be underestimated. If a special link is no longer used, fraudsters can use it for other purposes, so that potential visitors are redirected to wrong pages.
  3. Should unauthorized persons gain access to the externally stored data, they can analyze user behavior and use the information obtained in this way to prepare further illegal actions.
  4. With link spoofing, slightly modified URLs are used and circulated in order to then operate phishing. This is particularly possible with cryptic URLs with session IDs.
  5. A high level of security must be met on the part of the provider. Otherwise, hackers can use the services for various attempts at fraud and the customer has no control over it.
  6. Finally, there is also a certain dependency on the URL shorteners. Nobody knows how long they will stay online, when the provider can no longer maintain his service or simply becomes insolvent with his server provider.

Use in SEO and online marketing

For the purposes of search engine optimization, short URLs with the status code 301 should be used, as anchor texts and pagerank have a positive influence on the search results. Users prefer to click on shortened URLs than for ages that they cannot interpret. The extent to which the Pagrank (PR) or link juice is passed on depends on the side giving the link. Anyone who uses them in social networks, for example, must not assume that there is too much inherited link juice. But the incentive to click short URLs more often is an essential advantage for companies that run branding campaigns or generally want to use online marketing. Because ultimately this results in higher traffic and better results.