Build a FREE Branded Short Link Portal For You and Your Community

Mitchell CuevasPosted by

If you’d like, feel free to jump to different parts of this post if you’re familiar with Zaps and the general process we’ll be following.


Yes, a real, actually free, short link portal with no developer

You may already know that short, branded links can help your marketing and content sharing efforts, but what if you took things a step further? Empowering your team, community, ambassadors, or other partners, may provide even more benefits for your brand and content. Today, we’ll talk about how you can set up your very own branded link shortening portal (like bit.ly but with your own domain) for free!

But first, why would you want to bother doing this? Here are some sample uses cases to get your imagination cooking:

  • Techstars and Startup Weekend use a link shortening portal to give their Organizers the ability to create a shorter, more memorable link for their events all around the world.
  • You can easily work with partners or contractors that you want to have simple access to create links on co-marketing campaigns or other efforts together. Regular guest authors and influencers are good groups to start with
  • Empowering ambassadors to share branded links on content they are spreading through your community
  • With your community at large: You may want to set up a shortener for your audience to use and share their own content and have it be associated with you. You just need to be sure you set some rules and that you have a community you trust before opening it up.

So all these branded links…are they worth it?

Depending on your needs and uses, these are some benefits you could see:

  • According to many, they are simply more effective:
  • Branding! Quite simply, you can build trust in your links and wherever your links ends up getting shared, your brand remains visible
  • Hide ugly UTM or tracking links (and/or automatically add them)
  • Make it shorter and easier to type in from printed marketing material
  • Easy tracking – many services, including the one I’ll show you today, have easy to understand analytics on each link
  • You can ‘power up’ your links in other interesting ways:
    • Link cloaking
    • Password protection
    • Mobile links
    • QR code generation
    • Country targetting
    • Link expiration
  • Gain visibility when leveraging 3rd party tools with weak analytics built-in: Example, a contest. Perhaps you run a contest on a platform that doesn’t have great analytics, with a link shortener that you run between the raw contest platform links, you get more visibility into how those links are performing.

What you need to begin:

A couple notes before we begin:

If you’re just looking to use a short link with your own content and you use WordPress, check out Pretty Links – https://prettylinks.com/

Similarly, if you only want direct employees to leverage the URL shortening service, you may be happy with simply using the Short.cm service and adding them as users – they can then use the Chrome extension directly from Short.cm to create the links they need. There are also a number of other shortening services available that allow for a custom URL (bit.ly, Rebrandly, etc.), Short.cm happens to be my favorite in terms of pricing, feature set, and ease of use.

Step 1: Get a domain

You’ll need to register a domain (or choose the subdomain you want to use on your current domain). You can use a service like GoDaddy or Namecheap for this. If you need a little guidance on picking out a domain, check out what some other companies have done. Once registered, jump to the next step to link it with Short.cm.

Step 2: Setup Short.cm and your domain

First, we’ll get everything set on Short.cm since the DNS entry you’ll make, might take a little while to populate.

  1. Sign up for an account, follow the dialog to answer Short.cm’s questions, and then you will you see the screen to add your newly purchased domain (or subdomain).
  2. Go back to your DNS provider and add the entries as instructed by Short.cm, one A record and you’re all set! Click ‘Verify DNS settings’ to move on.
  3. Wait a few minutes, Short.cm will notify you by email when everything is ready to go. While you wait, move on to the next step.

Step 3: Get your form ready.

Remember, you need to use a form service that works with Zapier. I’ll be showing Typeform because I like the look and feel it creates for this, but you can use the one your prefer if there’s a Zap available.

You’ll only need to make a two fields technically, but I recommend these 3 for the best experience:

  • Link to shorten
  • New preferred slug (optional)
  • Email (of the person that wants the short link)

In typeform, add your questions, you’ll use two short text questions and the ready-made email one. In the descriptions, I highly recommend adding context clues so that you don’t get bad data in.

Here’s an example of how you should coach people to fill in the questions correctly using the question and descriptions on the form:

Alternatively or in addition, if your form software allows, you can write logic to prevent bad entries or correct them before sending the data to Zapier. You can also use Zapier’s filtering tools as part of Zap if you’re on a paid plan.

Last, go to your form and put in at least one entry and use an email you have access to. This is just to make things easier when setting up our Zap later.

Step 4: Bring it home, make the Zap

There are two options here, the easy way and the free way. If you don’t have a paid account in Zapier (and therefore don’t get multi-step zaps), you’ll want to skip down to the free version where I show you how to string together separate Zaps to get the same effect.

  1. Click ‘Make a Zap’ in the top right after you login to Zapier
  2. Set the trigger app to Typeform and select ‘New Entry’ as the trigger itself:
  3. Connect your Typeform account. You can follow the link provided in the popup from Zapier or browse to https://admin.typeform.com/account#/ to retreive your Typeform API key.
     Your Typeform API key is right under ‘Language’ in your account information.
  4. Choose your form on the next step:
    Make sure everything works on the next step by letting Zapier pull in the test entry you submitted earlier.
  5. Next, set up Short.cm as the ‘Action’ app.
  6. Set the Action as ‘Create a Short Link’
  7. Click ‘Connect’ on the next screen to connect the Short.cm account you setup in Step 2. You’ll see this window popup:
    Grab your API key by clicking the link provided. It will take you to Short.cm on the page where your API key lives. Paste that key into the popup on Zapier and continue. Alternatively, you can browse to https://short.cm/users/connected_apps
  8. Set your Short.cm details using information from the Typeform, filling in the domain you want to use. You also need to set the Long URL, this is the first question from Typeform and you can pull that in by clicking the dropdown on the side (where you see the blue dot). For the ‘Path’, you’ll want to put in the results from the the second question on your form where you asked for the preferred slug.
  9. Test and complete this part of the Zap.
  10. If everything works, you can go to Short.cm to see that your test entry has now been pushed into Short.cm and a new link was created. If as you’re using this or let others, it’s worth knowing that you can come into short.cm and update or change links. This could be useful if someone messes up the form or you just want to use more short.cm features on that link after it’s been generated.
  11. So far we’ve taken the form results, pushed that over to short.cm and made a new link. Now we just need to get that link over to the person that requested it. So, add one more step to your zap and send an outbound email:
  12. Configure the template how you like and make sure you insert the short URL (called Secure Short URL) from Step two into the email body. Fill in the other details as you desire and continue:
  13. Make sure the email works by letting Zapier send a test. If all went according to plan, you’ll receive the short link at the email address you used when you submitted the test entry on Typeform.

Step 4: Bring it home, make the Zap for FREE

I highly recommend upgrading your Zapier account and getting multi-step zaps, along with other perks. However, I also get wanting to keep things free, and that was what I promised at the beginning! We’re going to follow the same process from Step 4, except we’re actually going to make 2 separate zaps that will work off of each other, instead of one with 3 steps.

Zap 1: Take your Typeform responses and create a short link in short.cm. Follow instructions from Step 4 all the way through the tenth sub step. Then, move on to setup Zap 2 below.

Zap 2: Triggers an email to send out with the new link to the person who requested it. For this one, set Typeform again as the trigger app, but set the Action app as ‘Zapier Outbound Email’. You could also use MailChimp or another mail service if you’d prefer. Make sure to configure the details as such in the email:

It’s really important that in the body of the email, you write in the first part of your short url, and then add a ‘/’ and then insert the answer they listed for URL slug right after it. So http://yourshortdomain/[answer for slug from typeform]. This pieces together the URL for them and in the email they receive, it will be clickable. I also always note it could take a few minutes – since we’re not working off the same zap, it could take a few minutes for the link to be created and it’s possible they receive the email just before short.cm has had a chance to catch up.

Step 5: Make it look nice, optional

If you intend to have non-employees of any kind use the portal, I recommended putting it on a page on your site by simply embedding the Typeform (or form you used). Typeform makes this easy under the ‘Share’ menu.

For the ScreenChecker portal, I used my favorite website builder in Tilda. It’s very easy to work with and makes it easy to drop in the Typeform code and be done. The Techstars and Startup Weekend example above also uses Tilda and you can see in the image above they put some content before pushing you to the URL form itself, another benefit of putting things on your own site before you finish up. With Tilda, it’s also easy to set a password if you want to keep a lid on your portal under site settings. We set a password on ours using Short.cm, so you have some options.

Conclusion

If it helps to see how this all ends up looking for the user, go ahead and try ours with password ‘zapier’ to generate a short link. http://get.screenchecker.com/link

We here at ScreenChecker really hope this is useful to you and we’d love to hear if you build your own version of this. Let us know in the comments or reach out to us at hello@screenchecker.com, thanks for reading!