Over a year ago I added a subscription link to this blog in my email signature and used a link shortener from Bitly.com to hide the big ugly link to the subscription page. Strategically it was (and is) a good idea to do this. I got to hide an ugly link and present it in a more concise fashion. I also got some tracking ability with Bitly so I could see how many people over time had actually clicked the link from my email signature. Sounds like a pretty good idea, right? It is, except for one small problem…
Spammers Ruin Another Legitimate Technology
Turns out link shorteners are used by spammers a lot to make spammy links seem less threatening. Because of the wide use of shorteners for spam purposes, many email servers block emails that contain a shortened link within them. I’ve always known that spammers used link shorteners liberally…that’s why you have to be extra careful about what you click on in Twitter and Facebook. I just never thought about it in terms of email and the fact that the problem is apparently so widespread that entire platforms, like Bitly, are now blacklisted.
I had a harder time finding current lists of blacklisted shorteners than I would have thought but I came across this post from Sendloop from earlier this year that talks about this very thing. Not only can the inclusion of blacklisted link shortener hurt personal emails, they can hurt your email marketing campaigns too. Along with Bitly, other popular shorteners like Owly (used exclusively by Hootsuite) and Supr were blacklisted. These lists change so there’s a chance some of these aren’t on anymore but today I had an email to a prospect bounce back because of the Bitly link in my email signature. That’s enough for me to quit using it.
For now I’m removing the link from my email signature altogether. From what I can tell the best way to go is to create your own, personal link shortener (more about that on that Sendloop post too) and I may pursue that. In the meantime I’ll be even more aware of where my link shortening is happening.