Short URL integration idea

“Newspapers who send offline readers to their site should use bit.ly links to monitor if the readers actual visit the site.”

An interesting idea from @cophotog: run shortened URLs, linking directly to the story, in print with most (all?) stories. This could provide an excellent tool for quantifying reader overlap and reader conversions. There are some challenges, though.

  • Even if we assume that shortened URLs all have short shelf lives, relying on a 3rd party shortening service, especially when most are still in startup mode in a bad economy, seems risky.
  • Making a short URL is one more step in an already complex production system
  • Print layouts are often completed before the story makes it to the web CMS, in which case there wouldn’t be a URL to shorten.

So is the data to be gained from such links worth the challenge? Perhaps. Done right, in the right production environment, this could be a powerful tool for gauging readership.

The first step is to eliminate the middle man by running your own short URL service. There appear to be plenty of scripts and CMS plugins popping up to add basic service to most sites so this shouldn’t be a major hurdle.

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Once you have a working shortener, it will have to be integrated into the CMS. This would be easiest in shops with a modern, single CMS for web and print. Shops using legacy workflows where print comes before web production will not be able to make use of this. The model for this should be WordPress’ permalink field in the Edit Post screen. The CMS (possibly WordPress, even) should present the story’s final URL in both long and short formats to the author. These URLs would be stored with the story so they can be retrieved by the page layout application or middleware.

During print production, the layout software or middleware application should access the short URL field and allow the data to be placed on the page with the story’s other fields.

Finally, the shortened URLs need to be integrated with the site’s existing analytics package to ensure that the on-site behavior of short URL users is tracked separately from long URL users.

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