URL shorteners. We use them. You use them. Lots of people use them. URL shorteners like bit.ly are widely used nowadays, but are they really as good as they appear to be?
Mouse in the House digs a bit deeper into the pros and cons of URL shorteners.
On the positive side:
- URL shorteners obviously provide useful features like making a long URL shorter (i.e. so it fits easily in a Twitter message)
- They enable you to track and analyze clicks on a specific short URL
- Some URL shorteners like twt.tl also provide some browsing safety by analyzing the target URL for harmful website code or phishing attempts
But on the negative side, URL shorteners also introduce:
- An additional single point of failure: when a URL shortener service is down (or corrupt) the link won’t work
- Additional load time for a page to fully load
WatchMouse website monitoring monitored the most popular URL shorteners for one month to find out how they are doing in terms of availability and speed. During that time we monitored 14 URL shorteners and collected the uptime and performance statistics. The uptime results are shown in the chart below:
Uptime is still clearly an issue for some of the URL shorteners. This is important because it has a direct impact on the uptime availability of the website the URL shortener actually directs to. Only goo.gl and twt.tl score a perfect 100%.
The performance results can be seen in the chart below:
According to our data, Facebook’s fb.me is by far the slowest. It adds over two seconds on average to the page load time after the click on a link. And, quite a few others still take over half a second of the page load time, which is really way too much for just a URL redirection. This substantially affects the user experience.
Another interesting thing we noticed is that only a few of the URL shorteners optimized their name servers (DNS) for international use – i.e. it takes half a second for some of the URL shorteners just to lookup the IP address that is needed for a browser to retrieve a web page. That means, that while it might be fast for a visitor from the US, a visitor from Asia might get some extra waiting time when using snurl.com, for example.
And, while bitly.pro might offer more options than the free bit.ly (like having your own domain name), the paid version is also slower on average than its free counterpart.
Some details about how we measured all this: The URL shorteners were checked every five minutes from one of the 50 WatchMouse global website monitoring stations. For each short URL, only the redirection was measured, not the actual loading of the target page. The redirection was expected to be done within eight seconds without any errors (like when a server error occurred or if the expected target URL location was not found in the http header). If that time was exceeded or a second error was established, WatchMouse verified the results using another of its monitoring stations and the result was counted as either poor availability or unavailable.
We plan to continue to monitor URL shorteners and as of today, plan to share the results publicly through our brand new website portal: http://url-shorteners.public-website-status.com/. Here’s a screenshot:
You can also receive Twitter alerts so you know immediately when URL shorteners go down by following http://twitter.com/url_shorteners.
Now it’s your turn to tell us what you think. Are URL shorteners useful or can you live without them? Does the additional time to load a page concern you?
Update: as pointed out at in some comments here and at other blogs that followed up on this post: The results of bitly.pro shortheners like tcrn.ch is affected greatly by the name servers of the bitly.pro clients, and those servers are not controlled by the bit.ly people. In the performance chart above the resolve time of tcrn.ch is indeed responsible for the lower overall performance. Binged.it, another bitly.pro client is actually faster, due to a great worldwide DNS performance we saw from our 45 monitoring stations in 26 countries. Also, the bitly.Pro service is actually free!