Digg recently released a URL shortener that doesn't take customers to your website. It wraps your website in a Digg frame instead. This presents a number of challenges.

It isn't just Digg that uses this technique. HootSuite, a platform which allows companies to manage Twitter profiles, offers ow.ly as a URL shortener that behaves in the same way.

Traffic powerhouse StumbleUpon is close to releasing su.pr which may well also make use of the frame-wrapping technique.

So what are the challenges?


Analytics gets hit hard. The main victim is the important referral stat. These next-generation URL shorteners obscure where the traffic to your site is coming from. Since the digg.com URL shortener wraps your site in a digg.com frame it is always digg.com that is seen to be requesting your site.

As a result traffic might be coming from Twitter.com, a competitor's site, an affiliate or even Digg but the referring site will always be credited as Digg.com by many analytic solutions.

In fact, it may appear as if digg.com is driving traffic to your site without the site ever actually being submitted to digg.com. If your social media campaign is using referrals from social sites as a metric then this is a curveball.


Most affiliate terms and conditions prohibit affiliates from wrapping merchant sites in frames. This is done for brand protection reasons, especially to prevent the affiliate from passing off a look-a-like domain as actually being your site.

The frame-based URL shortener may not always display the URL or the full URL of the site being pointed to. For example, an Ow.ly link for bigmouthmedia describes the URL as being http://www.bigmouthmed... and the rest of the address is obscured.

This URL obfuscation means that affiliate tracking codes might be passed around as the short URL is shared. In fact, when the next generation URL shortener is combined with a site like Digg then it is possible a large amount of traffic will be driven to your site in such a way that the affiliate benefits.

It's worth noting that many forms of affiliate tracking will be immediately visible if the shortener shows any of the “long” URL at all.


The frame style of URL shortener isn't particularly good news for an SEO campaign either. The best of the first generation of URL shorteners are kind enough to issue a 301 redirect from themselves to the original “long” URL.

If a link from a trusted site to another site counts as a vote from the trusted site to the other then the 301 redirect ensures that as much of that vote passes through the URL shortener and to the intended site as possible. Google requests 301 redirects are used in situations like this.

This is not the case when the URL shortener wraps the target site in a frame. In this scenario the worth of link is not passed through to the target site – it stays with the URL shortener.

Andrew Girdwood

Published 9 April, 2009 by Andrew Girdwood

Andrew Girdwood is Head of Media Technologies at Signal and a guest blogger for Econsultancy. He can be found on Twitter here.

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Comments (3)


Craig sullivan


I've seen this issue cropping up more on Twitter where some regular posters use wrappers to 'discourage' people from tweeting links as 'their own' instead of doing a retweet.  It doesn't really prevent a determined link 'borrower' but also causes other issues too.

If you navigate to a new page, either by clicking on a link or by direct URL, the top bar stays with you.  If you are using ow.ly then closing this toolbar now takes you back to the original URL.  This is a usability disaster, as well as causing double counts on stats.  I think these techniques suck and cause great damage both to the originator, the generator and the end recipient.

My personal feeling is that sites should stop using them - I don't like people taking control of others browsing habits or control of their software.  Perhaps if the usability issues were ironed out they'd be slightly more palatable but they'd still leave a bad taste in my mouth.


over 9 years ago


alex Thomas

Frames are a throwback to the web in the 90's and just show how many new issues the use of short urls are posing.  From lack of transparency, with the user not knowing where they end up when clicking on the link to frames not passing link juice.

However the problem of affiliate links being shown as the url with the final destination being shown in a frame is not that much of an issue as 1)should affiliates be hiding affiliate links inside short urls anyway, with the user not knowing where they're ending up? 2)If they do, they will be smart enough to choose from one of the many services that don't use frames as redirects.

Because of all the issues surrounding short links and their lack of transparency I created a website http://www.expandmyurl.com that takes the short link and expands it, showing the user the long url so they know where the final link ends up.

over 9 years ago


Heritage Pakistan

Heritage Pakistan, being a nation’s or rather a population’s inheritance is very sacred. It depicts that particular race’s progress, development, and intuition towards the future.

over 8 years ago

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