URL Shorteners That Frame Websites Hijack Your Content

By Liana “Li” Evans

hijackinghotspotWith the rise of Twitter and it’s limit of 140 characters (250 if you turn off javascript), when it comes to maximizing space to get your message across, every character counts. With that fact in mind URL shorteners are cropping up all over the place. There are some great URL Shortening services, Tweetburner, Bit.Ly, TinyURL and Cli.gs are some great services and actually will track your click throughs.

Then we have another new crop of URL shorteners appearing. These “frame” your content underneath their own branded bar. Digg of course is the biggest well known implementer of this kind of bar. There are several others that do this as well, Ow.Ly and BurnURL are just two. So what’s the big deal, why all the fuss? What could be wrong with what Digg’s doing, after all they are still sending you traffic, right? Well to start with, some of these services have the potential to play havoc with some analytics code. Then there’s the whole “hijacking” of your URL, which is likely one of the things that surfers on the internet are trained to remember, this is essentially hijacking your content for their own benefit – increasing the number of uses of their service.

What’s the difference between what Cli.gs does and what Digg does? Well Cli.gs does a 301 redirect straight to your content when someone shortens your URL, therefore when people click on a shortened URL done by Cli.gs you end up on the content and see the true URL. What Digg does is puts your content under their bar, with their own URL. The visitor NEVER, EVER sees your full URL. Sure some of these allow people to click out of the bar and show you a truncated URL stream to click on, but it’s certainly not the same as someone looking into the address bar for your site’s URL.

What happens when they want to bookmark your site and then entered through Ow.Ly, BurnURL or Digg’s bar? Their shortened URL is what is bookmarked not your site’s URL, doesn’t matter if they are bookmarking to their browser or to a social bookmarking site like Delicious or even StumbleUpon. Again, they are highjacking your content by keeping the framed bar with their URL in the address bar and not 301 redirecting like the other URL shortening sites are!

Sure, some of these URL shorteners that put the frames around can say “oh we make it easy to share with out pull down menu”. Well here’s the thing, people are already “trained” to bookmark or stumble through the bars they have installed in Firefox or IE, that’s where they are going to go first, not to a pull down on a frame. It’s tough to retrain people who’ve been stumbling or bookmarking for well over two years to use some “framed bar” from a new service that isn’t familiar to them, they are going to go with what they trust.

content-hijackThen lets look at the whole “oh I found this I want to blog about it” piece of the marketing and social media puzzle. Someone who finds some great content via one of these framing URL shortening services and isn’t quite tech savvy, pulls the shortened URL from the address bar. Guess what, your site doesn’t get the credit for that link, the shorten URL does. Again, this is basically like hijacking your content.

These URL shorteners make claims that it makes it easier to get your content to be more viral. Personally, in my honest opinion, that’s a load of bunk. It isn’t this tool that makes the content go viral – it’s the perceived value of the content itself that makes something go viral. Then stop and think, what is the sense of your content going viral if the visitors viewing it can’t even see your URL? What is the sense if they themselves can’t share it properly with their own communities like StumbleUpon, Delicious or Magnolia? Your URL is how people remember you, and a lot of sites don’t put their URL in their graphics or headings, they rely that its always going to be in the address bar.

I’ve been having discussions on Twitter about this, and one person claimed I was afraid of them stealing my “Google Juice”. I had to suppress a laugh at that term. I guess because I came into the industry as an SEO, some people will assume I “want my Google Juice” darnit! It’s not about Google Juice at all, at the end of the day this is about who owns the content. The publisher owns the content – not these framed URL shortening services who are hijacking URLs. It’s about it’s perceived value to the visitor and if the visitor perceives its value to be great, shouldn’t the original publisher get that credit, not these framing URL shorteners?

Here are some other great reads on this subject:

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6 thoughts on “URL Shorteners That Frame Websites Hijack Your Content

  1. I quite like the idea of having that Share Bar sitting on top of any shortened URLs I send out, so it’s easy for the recipient to save or share them further.

    Are you aware of any link shortening services that provide a Share Bar while also:

    - using 301 Redirects
    - not Framing the destination website
    - showing the True (un-shortened) URL in the browser address bar?

    Are these the issues, or are there others I’m missing?

  2. 1. Thou shalt not FRAME my URL.

    2. Thou shalt not display any advertisements during the redirection of my URL.

    3. Thou shalt not promote additional information during the redirection of my URL.

  3. In the light of what’s happening with tr.im, perhaps we need a 4th commandment, to the effect that “thou shalt not go out of business after users have entrusted years of link shortening history to you”.

  4. A really good point. I will start to put something new at the very top of my websites (above all templates and design)

    A so called “Permanent Original URL”: http://examplea.com/my-blog-post with a “_top” target to “break” all bars and frames if the user clicks it. This should enable the user to use his bookmarking tool of choice.
    Greetings from Vienna, Austria Robert

  5. Putting a target=”_top” parameter on an a href link will allow anyone who clicks on the link to break out of the frame, but you can also add some JS code to the page to _automatically_ break out of a frame if the page is framed.

    Adding the following one-liner Javascript somewhere in the BODY of your page will cause the page to reload in the Top Frame if the content is Framed:

    <scriptlanguage=”JavaScript” type=”text/javascript”> if (top.location != location) top.location.href = document.location.href ;</script>

    Note: use with caution if your site uses Frames itself – this code cannot differentiate between a URL-shorterner Frame and one for your own site.

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