Roll Your Own URL Shortener With Pretty Link

prettylinklogoIn the past few weeks, the Twitter crowd has seen a popular URL shortener disappear, then reappear. However, the initial disappearance has left many wondering what would really happen if Tr.im disappeared and all those URLs broke? This has lead to a sharp increase in the amount of DIY URL shorteners where you don’t have to rely on a third party. Heck, even WordPress.com/Automattic has jumped on the URL shortener bandwagon as I mentioned in an earlier post. I’m still waiting for WP.ME to become available for WordPress.org but until that happens, Blair Williams has got in touch with me to let me know about a plugin he developed called Pretty Link.

The Skinny:

Pretty Link is a plugin that enables you to use your own domain to create short URLs that you can share. In this instance, my short URLs look a little something like this https://www.wptavern.com/6ut which don’t bother clicking, it’s not active anymore. So I launch into my first gripe and that is, the URL is huge compared to bit.ly or is.gd. But the benefit is that I can control the target URL of this specific URL and it’s housed on my domain so it won’t disappear unless my domain disappears. Also as part of the package, I can turn on tracking for the URL to measure statistics. Speaking of stats, Pretty Link provides an option to either track normally or via a tracking pixel. The tracking pixel is interesting because you could create a special landing page for those that go through your affiliate link with this tracking pixel on it which would provide you an easy way to track stats related to purchases.

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Pretty Link also provides options to give the link a temporary or permanent redirect. One of the more interesting features is the ability to forward parameters within links. You can even apply custom parameter settings which ought to be a hit with those who want to share a link to a script or URL that contains a bunch of parameters. For the SEO minded, you can choose to No Follow a link or Follow.

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Last but not least, the other major feature of Pretty Link resides in the PrettyBar. Ever visit a link on Twitter that was shortened with Ow.ly and the top of the browser had a big dumb iFrame that got in the way? Now you can do that as well with a full compliment of design options to give your bar a custom look and feel. Thankfully, most of these iFrames provide an X on the right side of the window which makes it easy for me to get rid of. PrettyBar is no exception as it too has a way to easily discard it.

One of the last links you’ll see in the menu will be to Pretty Link Pro. You can’t use Pretty Link pro unless you have a username and password which you’ll get when you pay the price of $97.00 which by the way, is the price of the product before it launches. On September 1st, the price goes up to $147.00. From everything I could read, it seems like the paid upgrade is GPL compliant.

My Thoughts:

There is no doubt that this plugin has a ton to offer for those looking to use their own in house URL shortener that they can fully control, complete with stats and a user designed iFrame. However, there are a couple things that keep me from using a plugin like this for URL shortening.

While it’s not incredibly difficult, I don’t see myself routinely going into the Pretty Link area to create new URLs to send out to people after I publish a post. Instead, I’ll continue to publish the post, visit the post after it’s been published and then create a TinyURL based on the URL thanks to the TinyURL creator FireFox extension. Boy has that thing been a time saver for me. When it comes to short URLs, I’ve decided that I don’t care about stats, and I don’t care about the longevity of a URL. The URL is meant to be short and used right now with relevance quickly fading with each passing day. Tiny URLs to me are throwaways.

I wouldn’t mind seeing some sort of integration into the Write Panel so that I can click a button or create the URL in that panel rather than having to go through two panels outside of each other. Doing all of that stuff in one session would make things much better. I just want to create a short URL to the post and send it out to a bunch of people. I don’t care about anything else. The easier this process is, the more likely I’ll use it.

So in the end, I won’t be using this plugin because my needs for TinyURLs are met by the TinyURL FireFox extension which really does make short URL creation so easy. In fact, it even copies the generated URL to the clipboard for me which is thoughtful. But while this plugin is not for me, I can certainly see the opportunities for it to be used by a wide variety of people, especially those with affiliate links.

21 Comments


  1. Interesting review. I can definitely see the appeal of having a plugin that does this for your own blog, but as you say, it kind of defeats the purpose if your domain is long to start with.

    And to be honest, I think you hit the nail on the head here:

    Tiny URLs to me are throwaways

    The ONLY place I use bit.ly is for on Twitter. Anywhere else I have enough space to just use the link, and after a couple of days, no one is going to be seeing that tweet anyway, so who cares if the service stops being around.

    For a plugin like this to take off, it needs to be one click in my mind. After initial setup, where all the available options are defined globally, a post is published, and in the message at the top of the screen saying it is published, the short url is provided for you.

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  2. Jeff, thanks for the great review! You’ve hit on a few things that my users have been commenting on over the last couple of weeks. I just wanted to chime in to clarify a few things about the plugin.

    The plugin is indeed, GPL (including the Pro version). I’m a big fan of the Open Source movement and it made sense to release it under this license.

    The size of the url can now be altered in the Pro version — you can actually use an alternate url. So, if you owned the url tav.ly you’d be able to use that for your short links instead of the full https://wptavern.com. And with the Pro version you can actually allow your website visitors to start creating short links on your awesome new tav.ly domain name! :)

    I’m currently working on 2 features that might close the gap for you that will be released within the next month. The first is a Firefox Sidebar that will allow you to create and post pretty links to twitter. The second is link expiration — when you create links you’ll be able to set an expire time on them so these “throw away” links will actually disappear when you’re done with them.

    I hope that clarifies some of the reservations you’ve had about the plugin.

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  3. I only use URL shorteners on Twitter, and the URL is typically useless after a few days.. If it’s a link to my own domain, I use WordPress’ built-in URL shortener: mysite.com/?p=100 (100 is the ID of the post). A plugin seems fairly pointless to me.

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  4. I use prettylink and I like the automatic creation of shortened url’s it does for me when I am posting to my companies blogs. I don’t even have to think about it. It also automatically tweets the post for me! So, talk about easy, I think this is even easier than the FF sidebar mentioned in your article.

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  5. If you’re worried about the shortener not disappearing, I would recommend sticking with Bit.ly. Betaworks isn’t about to pull the plug on a service that integrates so nicely with another one of their projects (Twitter). Also, they have plans for the future (like the “Bit.ly Now” system which TechCrunch calls a Digg killer.)

    Ow.ly isn’t likely to go away anytime soon either. They seem committed to what they do.

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  6. Nice review there Jeffro. I have personally jumped on the ‘wanting to have my own url shortener service’ bandwagon only just a couple of days ago and I’m loving it. It’s made my Lester Chan and Ozh and can be found here: http://yourls.org

    Does pretty much the same as Pretty Link, but it comes with an awesome WP plugin to hook them together.. and it’s GPL :)

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  7. Matt, with all due respect, this plugin is definitely not a rip off … The free version provides at least as much functionality as most major URL shorteners (many more features than most of them) and uses one’s own domain name and brand. I can tell you that my intent is to truly provide value to the community.

    If a user decides that they want some of the more advanced features that are available in Pretty Link Pro then they can purchase it for a one time fee (Pretty Link Pro is also released under the GPL). Pretty Link Pro adds many additional features that I’ve never seen offered by even the best URL shortening services (split testing, conversion reporting, URL rotating, keyword replacements, twitter auto-posting, etc.).

    I’ve personally put a lot of hard work into this plugin to provide value to the community and my users. I’d encourage you to install Pretty Link and have a look for yourself.

    Thanks!

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  8. Ever since the “shut down” of tr.im I’ve been using URL shortening on my own domain. Even though they’ve come back online, I think it serves as a reminder you really can’t trust these third-party URL shorteners. I’ll admit bit.ly seems to be build on a pretty solid foundation though.

    Personally I’ve used the method Justin Tadlock mentioned above (example.com/?p=xxx) as well as a plugin called Twitter Friendly Links. Even the free version of Pretty Link seems to have more features though.

    I’d like to know why Matt thinks this plugin a “rip-off.” I think people looking for more fine-tuned control over things like SEO and tracking with their personal URL shortener will find value in the Pretty Link plugin. Good job with it Blair.

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  9. @Remkus – Gosh.. I should really start using that 5 minute window to edit my comments :s

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  10. Why in the world would you pay for something like this when there’s the insanely awesome YOURLS? It’s free, written by two well known WordPress plugin developers (Ozh and GamerZ), and doesn’t even require WordPress (although of course there’s a WP plugin to auto-shorten and even auto-tweet new posts or pages).

    You can run it on your existing domain (in a subfolder or whatnot) or buy a cheap short domain. I’m paying $10/yr for v007.me. :)

    Here’s a screenshot of the WordPress plugin at work on the write screen, and also an example of the thing in work (I used a custom stub, but if left it at the currently single character default, my URLs are currently shorter than bit.ly URLs and will be for quite a few hundred or thousand posts): http://v007.me/yourlsimg

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  11. I used to use YOURLS but I think it is hard to install, not like a normal plugin and doesn’t have half the features that even the free version of Pretty Link has! I’ve installed Pretty Link Pro after using the free version of Pretty Link and I think it is AWESOME!!!! The free version was dope but the pro version is full of features that are essential if you want to do some serious internet marketing. I’m using Pretty Link pro on three of my clients sites and it is super easy to use.

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  12. After the great feedback I got from this post, I just wanted to let everyone know that I just completed the Pretty Link bookmarklet — it’s available right now in the 1.4.11 release. Here’s my blog post that talks about it:

    Create Short URLs on the fly with the Pretty Link Bookmarklet

    I’m working on a Firefox sidebar that will be even better … but that will take a bit longer to complete :) …

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  13. @Barry – It was because wpmupremium (at that time) violated the GPL license, sorry if that wasn’t obvious from my comment. It’s not an issue anymore because they’ve switched to being fully GPL compliant.

    I should clarify that I think the local shortlink part is useless, external shortlinks is a harder problem.

    You could generate extremely short URLs for WP by just using a base62 of the post ID (that’s what wp.me does) and catching the 404 handler. If your domain is too long just alias it to yours and WP’s canonical features will take care of the rest.

    Stats are redundant because all of the clicks go to your site, which should already run a stats package like Google Analytics or WordPress.com Stats. Click tracking is only useful to know about traffic you’re sending someplace else. (WP.com stats already tracks outgoing clicks.)

    Shortening other people’s links is useful. Long term, though, I hope shortened links go away for everything but severely constrained mediums, like SMS. (And who clicks on links from their SMS anyway?)

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  14. @Justin Tadlock and @Matt – I can see your point on the technical side of this argument … but for me and my users, just having the ability to use a /?p=100 or a link with a base64 hash as the slug on another domain name doesn’t quite cut it for several reasons. When people use twitter or facebook to build their brand many of them want their links to be short and to be able to completely control how they look (whether it’s an internal and an external link).

    My shorurl slugs are generated with a Base36 algorithm and can be 1-3 characters in length (which is more than enough space since these links are being created on domain names that don’t have to support millions of users) so I at least filter out special characters in the generated slug (like ?,=, etc). Users aren’t tied to a generated slug either, they can customize them any way they like.

    As far as the stats go, you’re right … there are a myriad of different options available. The stats in pretty link aren’t aiming to be anything like Google Analytics or WordPress.com stats, it focuses mainly on reporting simple, real-time clicks for urls that could be internal, outgoing, or completely off of the site (like a url posted to twitter) — Pretty Link doesn’t care, it will show click-thrus on any link. The Pro version adds the ability to track flows through specific sequences of links (like in an email campaign) to measure conversions and to easily setup split tests.

    I agree that short links should probably disappear someday but I believe that there will always be a need to have complete control over how your links appear whether they are going to a page on your website or anywhere on the net.

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  15. Boy, what a great discussion. I bought Pretty Link Pro and love it!!!!

    Features I really appreciate:
    1) the short urls are longer than bit.ly, but they’re increasing my blog’s brand!
    2) because my blog is in the url, I believe my readers can trust my shortened links. I’m constantly reading about people who are afraid short urls are phishing or something else. My readers can trust my urls. (by the way, my blog is http://blog.planet5d.com so tho that’s longer than bit.ly with the slug, it is worth it to me to have the 1) and 2).
    3) I LOVE the new bookmarklet – makes creating slugs much easier
    4) I love the pro feature with the keywords. I often use specific keywords/phrases in my blog and I love not having to re-key the links – PLP does it for me auto!
    5) I LOVE the pretty bar – I have an example where one of my external links was picked up by others and retweeted about a bizillion times, and because I used the pretty bar, thousands of people were exposed to my blog because it was on top of what everyone else saw… and how did I know this was even happening??? Because of
    6) the statistics! I didn’t even know people were tweeting my link in 5) until I looked at the stats… (and I never would have seen it in Google).
    7) combined with woopra giving live stats, I’m in heaven :)
    8) oh, and you get affiliate sales if you buy the pro version, I’ve already gotten 1 sale :)

    here’s my first post on Pretty Link: http://blog.planet5d.com/th – it shows more about item 5)

    I love PLP!

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  16. I heard about Pretty Link through 30 Day Challenge. It’s my impression that it’s not just about shortening the URL, but also making it more SEO friendly. Can anyone expand upon that?

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  17. @Leslie Nicole – Actually, if you set up your wordpress permalinks properly — wordpress itself does a great job of making your links SEO friendly. Pretty Link is more about making your links easier to proliferate. It helps your SEO by allowing you to create short links to your internal pages and external links that use your domain name. The idea is that not only is Google seeing these links but they’re more memorable (since your domain name is a major part of your brand) to the humans who are clicking on them.

    With internal pages, this comes with a caveat though — as with any link shrinking service, if you aren’t using a 301 redirects or have canonical links setup on your internal pages, you could actually stifle your SEO efforts. This is because Google won’t know which link to count towards pagerank so it may split the pagerank between the short link and your page. I’ve talked about this several times on my blog. The safest bet (whether you’re using this plugin or not) is to see if your theme is creating canonical links and if not, install Joost de Valk’s canonical link plugin — it will take care of this for you.

    With that said, I get feedback every day from people using this plugin who are finding that it really helping their marketing efforts, both through SEO and building awareness for their brands. These links can be re-tweeted or just copied directly, used by other bloggers or automated services which build some back links for you. Any way you slice it, it’s a good idea to use links from your domain name when you can …

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