Today I received a direct mail piece from a B2B company which included a short URL link to a survey. This was one of the first short URLs that I have seen in print, rather than on the web. Short URL services provide re-directs to long, complex web addresses with a substitute, shorter version. The redirect is permanent, so long as the service remains in business, or at least the re-direct database remains active. These services really took off with the explosive growth of Twitter and its 140 character limit.
The good thing about the short URL in the printed piece was that second part, after the service name, was customized with a company abbreviation. This is a good bit of branding, and makes it easier for customers to type in the URL, since this appears on a printed piece. The bad part of the short URL was that they used tinyURL. This was one of the original short URL services and all it does is create a re-direct. As new services were developed, they added more features, most notably, click tracking. This important metric shows the number of times a link was clicked. Services like bit.ly also display all tweets that included any short URL linking to the post or page and the time of the clicks. The number of tweets, or retweets, is another metric worth tracking if you are trying to get readers to share your content. It helps you understand what content gets shared the most.
Here are more short URL tools, including ones that do more things, but include URL shortening as a feature.
So in the end, if you are using a short URL service, whether in print or on the web, make sure you use one that tracks clicks or other relevant data, because otherwise you are wasting an opportunity to better measure your results.