I’ve decided to squeeze in a special request before the official end of my #WhatILearnedToday daily blog challenge. If you follow me on Twitter (@TerriPaddock), you may have noticed – as keen follower and learner-requester Jonathan Baz (@MrJonathanBaz) did – that my tweet hyperlinks have looked a little different recently. Here are a few examples – can you spot what it is?
— Terri Paddock (@TerriPaddock) May 6, 2014
— Terri Paddock (@TerriPaddock) May 4, 2014
With just 140 characters to play with in a tweet, every character counts. Website addresses can be very VERY long – it’s quite possible to use up the entire 140 characters just pasting in a URL (especially if the website is database-driven) – so shortening these is a must for serious, savvy tweeters. If you use a standard shortener, like bit.ly or Twitter’s own t.co service, you save characters – reducing any URL, no matter how long, to 21-22 characters – but you don’t stand out. I wanted my links, particularly when linking back here to my own website, to be recognisably my own.
Social media branding of this kind is not exclusive to dailym.ai, huff.to or gu.com (do you know the publications all of those relate to?). It’s available to everyone – including you and me. Terri, I am, and terri.im was what I wanted to be.
Here’s how you can get your own custom short domain:
Step 1: Set up a bit.ly account if you don’t already have one.
From my experience, bit.ly is the best, easiest and most flexible of the shortening services, with great measurement tools that let you see just how many clicks your links are generating, when and where they’re coming from (in terms of country and referral platform, i.e. Twitter, Facebook etc).
Step 2: Purchase the short domain you want.
I used domai.nr to find out what was available – be prepared to fiddle around with suffixes and where your ‘.’ goes. And then I purchased terri.im from the US domain management provider iwantmyname.com for an annual license fee of $29.
Step 3: Create a DNS record for your short domain.
Warning: this is the kind of techie, fiddly bit, and it initially flummoxed me (my designer friend Tim Groves helped me out). Exactly how you do this will also vary according to where you bought your custom URL. As I used iwantmyname.com, I logged in to my account, opened up Domain Info and clicked the link to “Manage DNS records”. Here I chose A from the “Type” dropdown, then typed in the IP address for bit.ly, which is 126.96.36.199. Note: It can take up to 48 hours for domain changes to take effect and you won’t be able to do the next step until yours has.
Step 4: Instruct bit.ly to use your new domain.
Back to bit.ly… While signed into your account, click on the drop-down from your name in the top right-hand corner and choose Settings. Then click on the Advanced tab. Once your DNS has propagated, your new short option should be one of the ones available via the dropdown next to “Default short domain for your bitlinks”. Choose it!
Step 5: Update your dashboard.
When signed into your Tweetdeck account, click on Settings in the bottom left-hand menu, then go to Services. Swap your Link Shortening from Twitter to bit.ly. You’ll then need to enter some very long alphanumeric strings in the boxes for your Bit.ly Username and Bit.ly API Key. You can find these out by clicking on this API key link while still logged in to bit.ly in another browser window. Fill in the boxes in your Tweetdeck settings and click Done.
(If you’re wedded to HootSuite for your Twitter management, you can make custom short domains work with it too. Unfortunately, in the free version, the dashboard forces you to use HootSuite’s own ow.ly shortener format. You’ll need to pay a subscription fee for HootSuite Pro – starting at $5.99 a month – to override this with your own. Here’s a good article explaining how to do that.)
Step 6: Measure and customise further … or just enjoy.
Tweetdeck will now automatically apply your short domain to any hyperlinks you include in tweets composed via your dashboard.
An extra tip: If you have certain pages you want to direct people to again and again, you may want to create a full custom short URL (e.g. terri.im/awesome), just for that page. You do this back in bit.ly. Paste in the original long URL and then fiddle with the suffix – the guff after the / – until you find a good available combo. Accept and add it to your bitmarks library. If you remember to use this version of that page’s URL every time, rather than let Tweetdeck auto-generate a new random variation, you’ll be able to collate all of the clicks that you drive to that location, which makes your bit.ly stats even more powerful.