in Tools & Tutorials

How to make your own URL shortener in less than 10 minutes

Link by Profound Whatever on Flickr

Photo by Profound Whatever on Flickr

When I was in junior high, my mother had a vanity license plate that read MOMS CAB. Everywhere she went in the great metropolis of Billings, Mont. people saw those plates on that beast of a Suburban and knew that was Cathy Lynch’s truck (and they had better get out of the way).

Times change. The ultimate vanity license plate is to have your personal website at the domain name of your choice so you can reserve your little portion of the great interwebs.

Let’s take your web domination one step further with your own URL shortener. This is the recipe to make it in less than 10 minutes.

You’ll need:

  • Web hosting. If you don’t have a host, a good cheap one is JustHost (and good job, you just made this process longer than 10 minutes).
  • Your short domain name of choice. Your shortener will start by adding three unique letters and a backslash to the end of your domain; then it will move to four characters, etc. as it uses up all of the available letter and number combinations. So a good rule of thumb is to start with a domain that uses 10 characters or less. Domainr is an excellent way to see which domains are available around a certain word or name. It even looks up those exotic foreign domains!
  • A mirror. Just to make sure you look good.

Install WordPress

“Whoa,” you might say. When did this blogging software come in to play in making a URL shortener? Well it just so happens that WordPress allows you to make a URL shortener in lots of different ways, and I’m going to show you the laziest/easiest way.

You can install WordPress the traditional way, or if your host provides Fantastico, you can install WordPress with just a few clicks.

Redirect your domain

Once you have WordPress installed, your domain will have the WordPress “Hello World!” post and the software’s default theme. Just in case someone decides to visit the root of this domain, you should redirect it to a web property that actually reflects positively on you. Using cPanel’s Redirect panel, select your domain from the dropdown and paste in where you want it to go. Make sure this is a Permanent 301 redirect. This example shows how I redirected joshl.us to joshua-lynch.com:

301 Redirects in cPanel

Install Pretty Link WordPress plugin

The Pretty Link plugin makes it easy to create your own URL shortener.Here’s the lazy part. You could go through the effort that Rae Hoffman-Dolan did on her implementation of a URL shortener, or with one click, you can install Pretty Link and start configuring it.

The plugin itself has just a few options. I recommend leaving the tracking on (that way you can see how many times your link has been clicked) and using Permanent 301 redirect as your Link Redirection type.

Once you’ve saved your settings, you’re ready to share your first link. Definitely create the Pretty Link bookmarklet by following the directions on your Pretty Link Tools page so you can make these short links with just one click.

If you have any troubles setting up Pretty Link, this tutorial video should help. Download the free version or buy the Pro version to really get your vanity on (or support the developer).

Show off

Now that you’ve created your very own URL shortener, it’s time to use it for every tweet, email and Facebook share so that everyone can know how intense you are!

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