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What Can You Learn From A Short URL? Pt. 2

Part 2 of Doing Competitive Intelligence Analysis With A Short URL.

short url insights.

Welcome back to our two part series where we are digging up valuable information on our competitors marketing practices based off of the short URLs they use.  Check out the first part to learn what to look for in our competitor’s link posting and how to get super valuable information from the link itself.  

Diving Deeper
Looking at the service that manages a link and any analytics behind the link can give you great insights but there is one more series of investigations you can do to learn more about your competitor’s marketing tactics. – Let’s watch how the link resolves.

While clicking on the link will likely take you to the final destination in a fraction of a second (or at least should if the link management platform is worth it’s salt!) there can be a lot that is learned from using a specialized tool to watch exactly what happens when a link resolves.

I’ve got two favorite tools for this task:

Redirect Detective – This very simple, browser based, tool has become my default due to it’s ease of use. http://redirectdetective.com  

Charles Web Proxy – This desktop app is incredibly powerful and while a bit intimidating to get started with, can give you amazing insight. I use it when investigating affiliate links, watching redirects on mobile devices, and when coupled with WonderProxy, testing links from foreign IPs. http://www.charlesproxy.com

(Leave a comment if you’re interested in learning more tricks about investigating a link based on how it resolves in a later blog article!)

Are they retargeting / remarketing?
It’s easy to see if your competitor is taking advantage of retargeting on their website or landing pages by using a browser plugin like Ghostery. However, it’s a bit harder to check if they are doing this with their links which is why one of the two tools mentioned above are helpful. Note that retargeting within a link, instead of bouncing users through a landing page, indicates a very high level of digital marketing knowledge.  

To check for retargeting within a link look for the orange “Meta Refresh” block as the link resolves using Redirect Detective (green 301 or 302 are the codes for a standard link redirect). The Meta Refresh indicates that a page loaded long enough for some javascript to fire, the standard practice for doing retargeting / remarketing.

Made In the A.M. - One Direction - smarturl.it/1DPerfect
Made In the A.M. – One Direction – smarturl.it/1DPerfect

 

To go deeper and identify which retargeting service they are using you’ll need a tool like Charles to watch the individual queries fire.  

Using Charles Web Proxy to resolve a link
Javascript for Facebook Custom Audiences, Google Remarketing, and Google Conversions are all fired during this redirect.

Are they using multiple retargeting services?
When looking at the steps a link takes to resolve, you may notice more than a couple redirects. This is an indicator that multiple services are being used. While not the most efficient practice it can be another indicator in not only the savviness of the marketer but what objectives they are trying to get out of a link.

Ads often sit on top of short URLs. Ads
The same steps followed to investigate a short URL in a social media feed can be applied to short URLs in paid ads. When your competitor is paying for clicks, you may find the information collected from those links is even more valuable.   

Tools like Spy Fu can be incredibly useful to determine if a competitor is buying ads and to find which keywords they are doing this for.

Once you’ve found an ad you want to investigate you’ll want to copy the original URL of the ad first, then run it through a tool like Redirect Detective to see the individual steps in the link’s resolution. Ideally in the process you’ll find that they used a short link. Once you’ve identified this, you can then follow the steps we captured in the first two sections to learn as much as possible about not only the link but also their paid ad campaign. As mentioned in the note about the long tail (in the first part), pay close attention to the referrers to see where this ad may be placed, and to the countries where it was clicked to see who they are targeting.

Grabbing the short URL behind an ad with Charles.
Grabbing the short URL behind an ad with Charles.

Write it down!
After spending some time to do this analysis on a competitor be sure to leave yourself some notes. This way, when you do the same investigations next quarter, you’ll have a baseline to compare against to see how things have changed.  

What do you think?
Know a bit more about your competitors and their link building and social media marketing practices?  Have another trick you can share?  Please leave a comment below.