URLs Are For Tracking. Cookies Are For Eating

Web analytics are a critical data component (or at least they should be) for marketers. And today, URLs are what matter – as much as cookies always have in the past. The analytics provided by URL shortening services are a marketer’s goldmine.

In today’s app-obsessed society, it’s becoming harder for marketers to track their consumers. Each app consumers use to access the Internet is like its own room within a giant hotel – when your customers access via an app, all you can see is a new visit. The inbound link is lost, along with the context of their visit.

Marketers and app providers alike have long relied on cookies to track consumers – the problem is that cookies have to be stored through a web browser. Since the tendency is now to share links via e-mail, Facebook and Twitter, these cookies are rendered useless. To compound the situation, consumers have also begun to revolt against intrusive toolbars and cross-tracking cookies.

Marketers and web analytics companies know that URLs survive sharing and allow them access to the engagement and behavior data they want – and need. So, with URLs being so important, how does the rise of URL shorteners like the ones developed by Twitter and Facebook impact our ability to track?

Emerging technology enthusiast and entrepreneur Alistair Croll says it best, “whoever owns the shortener sees the engagement between your consumers and the content you are producing, no matter where it happens.”

For instance, if you use Twitter’s built in URL shortener, t.co, THEY see your traffic behavior data – not you.

Hmmmm. What a treasure trove of valuable information that is. The spin on these kinds of URL shorteners is that they help combat spam, which is not inaccurate. But there’s more. So much more. The people who have the data win. Just about every time. And, in the case of Twitter and Facebook, they stand to benefit tremendously because of the value they can bring to their users – read that ‘brands’ – and advertisers – in the form of that data.

Here’s a snippet from the Official Twitter Blog on it:

In addition to a better user experience and increased safety, routing links through this service will eventually contribute to the metrics behind our Promoted Tweets platform and provide an important quality signal for our Resonance algorithm—the way we determine if a Tweet is relevant and interesting to users. We are also looking to provide services that make use of this data, an example would be analytics within our eventual commercial accounts service.

Google recently rolled out its own URL shortener, goo.gl which allows developers to integrate the service into their applications. It not only allows for shortening and expanding URLS, but provides access to history and analytics as well. The access to the analytics via the API is a big deal, because applications can monitor traffic and usage – which is something that’s not readily available if you use other shorteners. For instructions on how to get started using the Google URL Shortener, here’s the scoop.

Do you think social media properties like Twitter and Facebook (specifically their Facebook Connect service) gaining the ability to produce aggregated reports for marketers will make them more valuable analytic tools? Actually, that’s not a question – we pretty much already know the answer.

Which shortener do you like and why? Or does it matter to you at all?

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  • Jason Kruse

    URL shorteners are just a type of link wrapping technology that I’ve been using for years. It’s doesn’t impact the ability to track properly tagged URLs but it does allow for deeper analysis in a number of channels (link wrapping is vital for email tracking). As far as cookies are concerned, they are vital to track and target users as they traverse the internet, but I don’t understand your post. They have never been important in tracking link propagation or traffic orgination (unless you count behaivoral targeting… as traffic probation networks). Besides you can track what website users have go to without 3rd party tracking cookies

  • Anonymous

    Hi Jason – first off let me start by saying I’m not analytics expert. What I’m really getting at is the data supplied by a cookie or by being able to track a URL more valuable to marketers? So if we are all ultimately working for is to try to determine how their consumers are getting to our site, what they are looking at while they are there and who they might be sharing information with – how do we get the most efficient and accurate data? URL shorteners are an interesting component to me because if analytics from tracking URLs is truly more useful wouldn’t it be natural to assume that companies who own the URL shorting tool then become a great analytics resource? We think so.

You can also find me on Google+ Real Time Web Analytics