AEA365 | A Tip-a-Day by and for Evaluators

Apr/10

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Susan Kistler on Monitoring Information Dissemination Through Clickthroughs

My name is Susan Kistler and I am the Executive Director of the American Evaluation Association. I contribute each Saturday’s post to the aea365 blog.

Hot Tip: Use a URL shortener to monitor information dissemination. A URL shortener takes a long URL (location information for a website such as “http://eval.org/”), and makes it shorter. Just shortening URLs is useful – it makes the unwieldy manageable and decreases the chances of a URL accidentally breaking across lines and becoming unusable when sent via email or posted online. But the power in terms of monitoring comes in that many URL shorteners have built in tracking.

Shortened URLs can be used to track click-throughs when items are posted on websites or blogs, shared via social media, or included in emails. While site statistics, such as those provided by google analytics, can tell you how many people clicked on a link within a given website, or clicked through to a specific page from outside a website, shortened URL tracking allows one to know how many people clicked on a URL regardless of the origin of the URL and as a link is passed from user to user. This is important because it means you can track links to other people’s content, not only your own.

As an example, AEA uses URL shorteners for tracking its headline and resources list. We use Twitter as a content management system (follow aeaweb), so the notices are initially sent out daily via Twitter and most contain a shortened URL for learning more about a headline or resource. The notices also appear in the “News” section of AEA’s LinkedIn Group and on the “Headlines” page on AEA’s website, are shared via a compiled list each Sunday on AEA’s listserv – EVALTALK, and may be subscribed to so as to be received via a weekly email or RSS feed. By using the URL shortener, and tracking use, we gain a better understanding of how the content is being accessed and in what format, and make adjustments accordingly.

How does it work? There are many URL shorteners, but one of the easiest to use is bit.ly. Bit.ly is free and also has the advantage that you can choose the characters for part of the shortened URL.

Here is the quite long URL for a sample course syllabus posted by Gina Weisblat in the AEA eLibrary http://comm.eval.org/EVAL/EVAL/Resources/ViewDocument/Default.aspx?DocumentKey=bd4678d4-4497-47f0-a89c-cbf9ca9987e0. To shorten it, you copy the URL, go to http://bit.ly/, paste the URL into a box, and click “Shorten.”

Bit.ly returns: http://bit.ly/dhi5IZ To make it more user-friendly, once you have shortened a URL, you can also enter characters into the “Custom Name” box and get a more recognizable URL. For instance, I then entered “weisblat’ and bit.ly provided the following shortened URL: http://bit.ly/weisblat

 

If you click on either of the shortened links above, I can see the click-through statistics increase by 1. I can check on clicks over the past day, week, or month, and will know if the URL is shared via twitter or friendfreed. If you send it to a colleague via email or post it on your own website, bit.ly will still maintain the tracking and click counts.

This contribution is from the aea365 Daily Tips blog, by and for evaluators, from the American Evaluation Association. Please consider contributing – send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org.

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3 comments

  • Susan Kistler on Monitoring Blog Use | AEA365 · May 8, 2010 at 3:03 am

    […] Hot Tip: For many links, we use a URL shortener to track clickthroughs because clicks can be tracked in this way whether on the site, used by subscribers via email, or even if forwarded to a friend or colleague. I wrote more about clickthrough tracking in a previous post. […]

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  • Tweets that mention Susan Kistler on Monitoring Information Dissemination Through Clickthroughs | AEA365 -- Topsy.com · April 3, 2010 at 7:06 pm

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by honeycutt and SocialMediaDigest, CoBooCo. CoBooCo said: Susan Kistler on Monitoring Information Dissemation Through … http://bit.ly/bIstge […]

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  • Admin comment by Susan Kistler · April 3, 2010 at 10:22 am

    Wonderful Readers,

    A colleague noted an inaccuracy in the language in my post. I had originally noted that “While site statistics, such as those provided by google analytics, can tell you how many people clicked on a link within a given website, shortened URL tracking allows one to know how many people clicked on a URL regardless of platform as a link is passed from user to user.”

    I should have said “While site statistics, such as those provided by google analytics, can tell you how many people clicked on a link within a given website, or clicked through to a specific page from outside a website, shortened URL tracking allows one to know how many people clicked on a URL regardless of the origin of the URL and as a link is passed from user to user. This is important because it means you can track links to other people’s content, not only your own.”

    I have now updated the post for posterity.

    What’s the difference? Google analytics usually are available only to a site’s administrators. Thus, only the administrators can see who is clicking where. URL shorteners allow anyone to track links and clicks regardless of whether it is to content on their own site. Thus, I could include a shortened link to an article on the New York Times website for instance, and know how many people clicked on the link that I shared, regardless of whether I shared it on my own website, on a blog, when I was commenting on someone else’s blog, posted on Facebook, sent via email, or conveyed via any other sharing mechanism.

    Stewart Lee, thanks so much for helping me to clarify!

    Reply

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