Three Great Reasons To Use A Link Shortener In Your eBook

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Link shorteners have become popular over the past couple of years. Mainly due to twitter’s need for brevity (Twitter now maintains their own service now, the sometimes annoying t.co), link shorteners have also become popular for brands to track activity across the social web. And with a services like bit.ly just about anyone can create their own short link and share it in just a few clicks.

When we started making books at Open Air we realized we had very little way to keep track of all the links we created in our how-to books. Quickly we realized we could leverage link shorteners to help us in more ways than even initially considered.

Here’s a couple reasons why link shorteners are great for us eBook developers.

Reason #1: Pass a technically invalid link through

I started writing this article after helping @incblotter (via the #eprdctn hashtag on Twitter):

 

The solution was a link shortener. Why? ePubCheck only checks the text in your files, so by passing it a valid url in the shortener it won’t bug you about where the link actually goes. That might seem minor, but considering some retailers will reject ePub files that have any errors in them, its a nice way to safely encapsulate your links.

Reason #2: Update a link without re-publishing

You just published a cookbook with links to the best products available on the internet. The next week you learn one of the websites you sent readers to changed their website and all of the links you used are now broken.

If you didn’t use a link shortener, you now have to update all of those links, then re-submit the book to retailers. That can lead to weeks of a book being out there with bad links in it. Readers might burn you with bad reviews for that.

If you did use a link shortener, all you need to do is update the redirected link in your shortening service CMS. Once you’ve re-saved all your links the book is fixed, no need to re-submit the book to retailers and risk losing time waiting on them and pushing an update to readers.

Reason #3: Metrics!

We all like to complain about how little data we get thanks to vendors like Apple and Amazon. How many people clicked on a link in a certain section? Did people actually use the lengthy appendix and footnotes you created for them? A link shortening service can give you a decent proxy for these items. It’s not perfect, but its better than nothing to just track clicks from the book to a website.

Sure, you could implement link tracking on the sites you send readers to (assuming you own those sites and can set up often complicated tracking systems), but most commercial link shortening services will provide you with great analytics in a well-designed interface. That’s what most people actually use them for, so why not use it to your advantage as well.

One Reason Not To Use A Link Shortener

Before you go and immediately update all of your links, there’s one reason why you might not want to use a link shortener. If you use a commercial service like bit.ly, you do run the risk of that company going out of business. In the past, some link-shortening companies have kept the link redirects online, others haven’t. So if you plan to do 5,000 links with a company, consider what that might mean if they shut down and kill all of your links.

One option is to create your own link-shortening service (just like we did at Open Air). Lifehacker has an example of one program you can use.

25 Responses to “Three Great Reasons To Use A Link Shortener In Your eBook”

  1. Excellent, and all great ideas for ebooks. I was one of those poor unfortunates who used a service that went out of business and after 6 months, none of the links resolved anymore. Gah!

    I use bit.ly (actually j.mp now) but can’t figure out how to a) search to see what the shortener was I used before; and b) edit the destination of a short custom url.

    • Derrick Schultz says:

      It’s been a while since I looked at bit.ly—would be unfortunate if this were true. I’ll take a look in the near future.

      I think using your own solution is probably better in the long run.

    • Derrick Schultz says:

      Found it! So when you hover over the link url in bit.ly, a light blue pencil icon will show up next to it. Clicking that will allow you to edit the URL. Very easy to miss!

  2. elmimmo says:

    The most useful use which on the other hand I see publishers usually not caring much about is metrics (!).

    The solution to #1, i.e. invalid links, is not a link shortener, but to use the link in a valid form in the first place! In the case above, the ebook producer was probably not converting the character & in the URL inside the href attribute of an a element to its character entity &, which you should always do.

  3. Derrick Schultz says:

    Yep, you’re right. but it is nice that a link shortener will convert those entities for you.

    I think publishers want metrics, but have fallen for the “Amazon won’t give them to you” trick and have stopped trying to find other ways around it. And, of course, by acknowledging that this shortener trick works as a stopgap measure means that a retailer could eventually refuse redirected links 🙁

  4. Link shorteners can be handy, but there may be a major downside with the latest ID-CC. ID-CC now checks for valid links, which is a marvelous timesaver, especially when working with books that have hundreds of links.
    But I wonder what link ID-CC is checking. Is it just checking that link shortener for validity, or is is following it on to a valid webpage?

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