What Is Bitly? An Intro to the Social Link Sharing Tool

Photo © Bitly

If you’ve ever clicked on a link shared on a social media site like Twitter, chances are it may have been a Bitly link. But what is Bitly, really?

If you already guessed that it’s a popular URL link shortener, then you’re partly right. But since making its mark on the web as one of the best and most popular link shorteners processing eight billion clicks on their links every month, Bitly is also a powerful online marketing tool.

Bitly as a Simple URL Link Shortener

If you go to the Bitly website, you can paste in a link at the top to have it shortened automatically. A new page shows up with your newly shortened link, a button to easily copy it, a summary of the contents of the link, how many clicks it has received and an option to join Bitly as so you can save and monitor all your shortened links.

If all you want to do is use Bitly for the sake of shortening a link so it’s easier to share, you can do that no problem without signing up as a user. But if you’d like to track clicks on those links, visit them again later or see what links other people in your network are sharing then signing up for a user account is probably a good idea.

'Your Bitlinks' on Bitly

Whenever you generate a new bitlink, it gets posted into your feed (with the most recent at the top and oldest at the bottom) so you can always refer back to it later. You can click on any link in the column on the left to see its details on the right, including the title of the page that it links to, a quick "copy" button to easily copy it, traffic and referral clicks and also daily trends.

Each bitlink can also be archived, edited, tagged or shared using the buttons to the right of the bitlink. If you create a lot of bitlinks and need to find something specific, you can use the search bar at the top to find it.

'Your Network' on Bitly

Like most social sites, signing up for Bitly is free and allows you to connect to your Facebook or Twitter account so you can find friends or followers who are also using Bitly. Under “Your Network,” you’ll be able to see all Bitly links shared on the web by any of your friends.

'Stats' on Bitly

The "Stats" section of your Bitly gives you a glimpse of your clicks and saves both over the past seven days and for all time. You can sort these stats by date and even see some extra details as you roll your cursor over each one.

Bitly’s Public API

You may have noticed other popular online sites and tools that automatically incorporate bitlinks into their features. That’s because Bitly offers an open public API so that third-party services can take advantage of it.

Bitly Tools

Be sure to check out Bitly's tools if you create and share lots of bitlinks. Add the Google Chrome extension to your Chrome web browser, drag the bookmarklet to your bookmarks bar, download the iPhone app or add the WordPress plugin to your blog so that you always have a way to easily save and curate as many bitlinks as you need to, wherever you are.

Using Your Own Branded Short Domain

Bitly is versatile enough that it even supports branded short domains you purchase from a domain registrar. For example, About.com has the branded short domain, abt.com.

Bitly walks you through how to set your branded short domain up to work with the platform so that you can track your clicks and stats just like a regular bitlink. And if you ever decide to get even more serious about using Bitly in your online marketing, you can always upgrade to get access to their premium tools for link branding, detailed audience analytics, mobile deep linking and increased rate limits.