In an era of 280 characters, space is King. That’s why URL shortening services are great to use. Here is how to make your own link shortening service.
In an era of 280 characters, URL shortening services are King. When typing out URL’s, it’s best to keep them as short as possible. Nobody likes long links but everybody loves convenience. If you had to choose between typing out https://www.groovypost.com/howto/chrome-os-android-studio/ or https://bit.ly/2RuBR7H, which one would you prefer? It’s a no-brainer, isn’t it?
Today, we’ll be looking at how to make your own link shortening service. The only cost is a domain name and annual hosting.
Make Your Own Link Shortening Service With WordPress
Services like Bitly and TinyURL take your long links and turn them into shorter ones which are easier to type and more memorable. Google’s Goo.gl, on the other hand, is being phased out and is virtually dead, which is another good reason to make your own. Services come and go. But yours can live forever.
Many websites such as the New York Times and the Washington Post have their own custom short URL domains (the New York Times has “nyti.ms” for example). This has the advantage of people knowing that “nyti.ms” links are coming from the New York Times. It’s classic branding in action, and the links are conveniently easy to type.
The New York Times uses Bitly t0 power their links. But from personal experience, I can tell you that Bitly has a very limited free plan and you are going to get huge bills if too many links are generated. That’s why a WordPress domain and WordPress short links plugin is basically all you need.
Get Your WordPress Domain
The first step is to get your short URL domain, and there are some things you have to bear in mind before committing to buying one.
The whole point of a short URL domain is….well, that the domain has to be short. Therefore, you need something that will convey your branding but at the same time save your site visitors from typing too much in the browser’s URL address bar.
The short URL domain I bought last year is https://mrko.nl . Since my name is Mark O’Neill, the aim was to remove as many unnecessary characters as possible from the name without destroying my branding. So I removed the “a” from Mark, and the apostrophe and three letters from my surname. groovyPost could be shortened to grvyp.st.
So write down your name or brand, and figure out which letters you can remove. But not so many that people can’t figure out in the end who the domain belongs to.
Pro Tip 1: See if the end of your name and brand corresponds to a country domain. The “nl” of my name is the country domain for the Netherlands. “St” in the groovyPost example just now is for Sào Tomé and Principe. Check out this Wikipedia page for the full list.
Doing this tip helps to shorten your domain even more because then you don’t have to add .com on the end. Most domain name registrars, such as GoDaddy, will help get you foreign domains. Or try Domainr. But with some countries, such as Germany, you have to be a resident there to register a country domain. But if you know somebody there, ask if they will register the domain for you.
I am not going to go into how to install WordPress. Mainly because the manual installation method is a whole other article. Plus, many web hosting companies these days have automated solutions where you can install WordPress with a few clicks of the mouse.
So I am going to jump over this step and assume you have got WordPress installed.
Make Your Domain’s Front Page “Static”
Once you have got the domain activated and WordPress installed, make a page and save it. You can either leave the page blank or have a photo on it. I chose to put a photo on it for branding purposes.
- Go into your WordPress settings and Appearance > Customize.
- Scroll down to “Homepage Settings” and under “Your homepage displays“, choose “A static page“.
- Under “Homepage“, choose the page you just made.
- Save and exit.
Set Up The Domain’s Permalink Structure
Next, you have to specify how the links on the domain need to be structured. For this, go to Settings > Permalinks.
To keep each URL short, you can’t have anything automatically tacked on to the URL after the domain name. So choose “Post Name” and this stops things like dates and categories being added on everytime you generate a link.
Set Up The Pretty Links WordPress Plugin
Now we need to set up the URL shortening part of the domain.
There are several worthy plugins that can do this but I am a fan of Pretty Links. But a search of the WordPress plugins directory will throw up many more, and you should experiment to see which one you prefer. Pretty Links pushes a paid pro version but you don’t really need it for short URL links.
Pretty Links tracks how many clicks you get for each link and provides other details about the visitor such as the website that sent them to your link. Plus the best feature of all – a browser bookmarklet so you can make short URLs for any website you are on.
Install the plugin, then under “Tools”, you will find the bookmarklet. Under the plugin’s settings, you will also find an option to create a new link.
Create Your First Link
When you click the button to create your first link, this is what you will see.
The fields that need to be filled out are self-explanatory enough. A short link will be automatically generated for you, but you can easily change it to something else. So my Instagram landing page is mrko.nl/ig for example, which is a lot better than mrko.nl/rghv.
Under “Advanced Options“, you can turn the tracking on and off, if that bothers you.
Other Plugins You Need To Install
There are some other plugins I strongly recommend you install on your WordPress backend. Remember, your link shortening site is valuable. If anyone hacks in, they can redirect links to spam sites as well as wipe out everything you have worked on. So protect it!
- Broken Link Checker – as the name implies, this will notify you if any of your links become invalid.
- Login Lockdown – this stops (or severely slows down) brute force hacking attempts into your site.
- VaultPress – the more links you accumulate, the more you MUST backup your database on a regular basis. At only $5 a month, VaultPress is extremely affordable and reliable. It is run by the same people who created and run WordPress.