URL Shortenerget help

Why use a URL Shortener?

If you have a very long URL that you'd like to communicate in a medium that restricts the space available to you, you can use the SFU URL Shortener service to create a short alias URL that will direct people to your content.

Shortened URLs are particularly useful in places where you have very little room for text: in a cellphone SMS/Text message there is a 160-character limit, for example. If you try to communicate a URL such as this: http://www.sfu.ca/continuing-studies/programs-and-courses/area-of-study.html , you've already used 76 of your 160 available characters. A URL shortener will make an alias that will bring users to your content, but take up much less of your available space. This URL, created with the SFU URL shortener, will bring you to the same page: http://i.sfu.ca/NaLtpv , saving 54 characters for the rest of your communication.

Note that in the past, the URL shortener was useful in services such as Twitter, but since this service was created most Social Networking services use their own internal shortening service and/or exclude URLs from their character limits. While Twitter used to be a primary use of the SFU URL Shortener, it is not often necessary any more.

Other services that do the same thing, such as TinyURL, have been around for a long time. The primary reason for using the SFU URL Shortener is to provide some branding to the link, showing that there is an SFU relationship to the target content.

For branding and semantic purposes there are three hostnames available for your shortened links: http://i.sfu.ca , http://at.sfu.ca, http://get.sfu.ca . Our initial intent behind the names was that they might indicate the kind of content that the link points to, but you can use whichever host you feel is most appropriate for your use:

  • i.sfu.ca : "personal" information: stories, CV, research pages about an individual. This is also the shortest variant.
  • at.sfu.ca : for events or other things that might be at a location "at" an SFU campus
  • get.sfu.ca : downloads

Using the URL Shortener

To create a new short URL, visit any of the URL shortener hostnames: http://i.sfu.ca , http://at.sfu.ca , or http://get.sfu.ca . You must have a current SFU Computing Account (student, staff, or faculty): you will need to log in with the SFU CAS login page if you're not already logged in.

On the main page you'll see a single field titled Enter URL to Shorten: . Type or paste the long URL into that field, then hit the button immediately to the right labeled Shorten!.

After you click the Shorten! button, a new field will appear on the page: within that field is the short alias for your long URL, simply use that URL wherever you like: Twitter, Facebook, email messages, etc. You can use the same short version URL in as many places as you wish.

NOTE: When you create a shortened URL, the URL Shortener will provide the short URL with the same host name as the host where you created the URL: if you start at http://get.sfu.ca, for example, your URL will be presented to you as http://get.sfu.ca/abcdef .  If you decide that you'd rather use a different host name in your communications, simply change the hostname: the alias will work under any of the three options, so http://get.sfu.ca/abcdef , http://at.sfu.ca/abcdef , and http://i.sfu.ca/abcdef are all equivalent, you do not have to create a separate alias on a different host.

Tracking Results

Currently you can view the number of times a short URL was followed as some basic indication of how many people responded to your communication. 

Note that these are very basic results representing only the number of click-throughs of a particular short URL. There is no support for breakdown of statistics related to visitor types (eg. browser type, country, referring URL, etc.). If you need anything other than "number of clicks" for analytics, use a tool created specifically to track specific characteristics of click throughs such as Google Analytics. 

After you create a URL, each visit to the short URL will be recorded and a count of the number of times the short URL was used can be viewed by you at: http://i.sfu.ca/myurl . On that page you will see a listing of all each URL and alias that you created followed by the number of times the short URL was followed.

One caveat: short URLs are checked for uniqueness and new short URLs are not created for URL targets that have already been created either by you, or by another person. That means there can be some conflict in the results from click throughs if you create a short URL already created by another person. This will manifest itself by i) your URL will not show up under the http://i.sfu.ca/myurl listing if somebody else uses it and/or ii) your new short URL may show a number of "clicks" right from the start.  To mitigate this, do something to help guarantee that your URL is unique from the perspective of the URL Shortener such as using a query string addition. For example, if you are referring to http://www.sfu.ca/canvas/, add some information to make it unique in the query string, such as http://www.sfu.ca/canvas/?campaign=Jan2017Email . This option may not be available to you if your target URL already requires specific values in the query string and/or will fail with a query string attached; generally pages hosted in SFU's content management system, AEM, can have arbitrary query strings added without affecting page access. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Query_string on Wikipedia for more detailed information on Query Strings if you're unfamiliar with them.