Six easy steps to create a custom short URL

Short-and-Tall

URL shortening is de rigeur when using character-bound services like Twitter, but it’s also generally useful to turn gigantic and unwieldy URLs into something a bit more manageable. One thing you may have noticed is that lots of custom short URLs seem to be cropping up. It’s not just bit.ly or wp.me or fb.me any more…Sites like the New York Times now generate their own custom short URLs (i.e., nyti.ms). In fact, when you look on Twitter, it’s common to see more custom short URLs than those generated by services like bit.ly.

So just how do all the cool kids get their custom short URLs? Is there some magic or privilege involved? The short answer is No. Anyone can easily create their own short URL that points to their Web site.

How to create a custom short URL

The secret sauce to creating your own short URL is bit.ly. In addition to their core functionality of shortening URLs, they also provide a means for registered users to customize their URLs. Here’s what you need to do:

  1. Create an account on bitly.com.
  2. Choose the domain you’d like as your custom short URL. Unfortunately, you can’t just pick any random string of letters for your domain. You’ll need to choose something that matches an existing top-level domain (TLD). The Web site domai.nr can be used to offer you suggestions and find available domains. Go there, type in the domain of your Web site, and check out the suggestions they provide. In my case, when I went searching for a short domain, I ultimately landed on bitstr.at (a domain in Austria, but who’ll know the difference?)
  3. Register the domain you want. Domai.nr provides links to many registrars. Depending on the domain you want to register, it should cost about $20 / year.
  4. Once you’ve registered, you’ll need to wait until your domain becomes "visible" (i.e., when DNS updates, which usually takes less than a day).
  5. Change the DNS records for your domain to point to bitly. You should be able to update these settings on your registrar’s site. The bitly site has instructions on exactly what you need to change.
  6. Update your advanced settings on bitly to point to your new short domain; also update the root domain redirect so that anyone who types in your short URL directly goes to your Web site.

And that’s it. Now you’re ready to use your custom short URL. If you use Twitter and Tweetdeck, you can just update your settings to use bit.ly as your URL shortener, and then enter your bit.ly username and API key. Otherwise, you can just use the bitly site, shorten your URLs, and then replace bit.ly in the short link with your custom short domain.

Now that you’ve got your own custom short URL, go forth and share!

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