Why and How to Preview Shortened Links

Lori Halley 07 October 2009 4 comments

Link-shortening services are more widely used every day, and very useful to turn a very long website address into a tiny URL that’s a better fit for social media, email, and mobile use — but it’s important to be aware that shortened links can also hide a security risk, and stay safe by knowing how to preview a shortened link's destination before you click through to a bad web page!

Because a shortened URL cloaks or hides the link’s destination, it can be used to fool you into visiting a web page that’s “not safe for work,” or an affiliate sales page. That’s an annoyance, sure, but a cloaked link could do much worse — take you to a virus-infected site or straight to an executable file that tries to install some sort of malware on your computer.

sample of shortened bit.ly link preview

Most shortened links have been shortened for convenience, not for devious or malicious reasons, but if you’re at all in doubt —

Before you click on a shortened link, consider the source.

If you know the person who has sent you the link, that’s a good start to staying safe.

But a known source is not an absolute guarantee of safety.

Links spread like gossip, and the origins may be lost in a maze of online sharing long before the link reaches you.

The fact is, some people do forward links to their friends or share links on social networks without ever having checked out the site for themselves, for a variety of reasons and often with the best of intentions.

Check it out for yourself.

The only way to know for sure where a shortened URL might lead you is to preview the destination website before you click the link. Some Twitter clients, such as TweetDeck (Mac, Windows, Linux) and Nambu (Mac) will show you a preview of shortened links from most of the major services. And a growing number of social networks and social media platforms will automatically expand any short URLs or give you an easy way to check out the links for yourself — FriendFeed, for example, automatically expands most links — but you’ll want to have another trick or two up your sleeve:

Browser add-ons

LongURLPlease, LongURL, and PreviewLink are Firefox browser extensions that automatically preview the destination URL for shortened links from just about any shortener you can name. Bit.ly has a Firefox add-on, too, that not only previews bit.ly links but also those from other major services, and checks to see if there’s a existing bit.ly link to the same page (and if there is, you can see the click-through stats for it)>


If you don’t use Firefox, a bookmarklet is another easy option. LongURLPlease and ExpandMyURL.com offer bookmarklets — snippets of javascript you can add to your Bookmarks and click whenever you want to preview a URL.

Web-based Link Preview Tools

LongURL also has a web-based tool to expand any shortened link — enter the shortened URL and click to find out where the link will lead. Other web-based link-previewng tools like this are available at PrevURL, ExpandMyURL, URL Snoop, Securi.net, PreviewLink.

(For more details on using these and other link-previewing tools, see Social @ Blogging Tracker's 12 Ways to Reveal Suspicious Shortened URLs.)

Preview Shortcuts

And if you find that you only need to check out the occasional link, here are quick shortcuts to see a preview for some common types of short URLs — just change the original link as noted:

Add “info/” after the “bit.ly/” part of the link:
e.g. change  http://bit.ly/p0n5 to http://bit.ly/info/p0n5

Add a question mark to the end of the link:
e.g. change http://budurl.com/wd34 to http://budurl.com/wd34?

Add a hyphen to the end of the link:
e.g. change http://is.gd/42S0V to http://is.gd/42S0V-

Snipurl, Sn.im, Snipr, or Snurl
Add “peek.” to the beginning of the link:
e.g. change http://snipurl.com/sdnpr to http://peek.snipurl.com/sdnpr

Add “preview.” to the beginning of the link:
e.g. change http://tinyurl.com/2qcgdn to http://preview.tinyurl.com/2qcgdn
(Alternatively, you can save time by visiting http://tinyurl.com/preview.php and setting a cookie in your browser (one click!) that means in future you’ll automatically be taken to the preview page whenever you click on a TinyURL-shortened link.)

Many of the major shortening services recognize the growing security concerns around cloaked links and offer previews for shortened links, and are integrating a preview feature. (Sadly, my own current favourite web-based Twitter manager, HootSuite, has not yet introduced a preview feature for ow.ly, its own link-shortening service.) Every time Hotmail users are infected en masse by malicious spam, or Twitter and Facebook are hit by a phishing scam, the perils of shortened URLs become clear to more and more web users — but the sheer convenience factor almost guarantees that the use of shortened links will keep on growing. Best learn to stay safe, and know where you’re clicking to!

What tools do you use to preview shortened URLs?


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Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Posted by Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Published Wednesday, 07 October 2009 at 4:17 PM

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  • Twitter Trackbacks for Wild Apricot Blog : Why and How to Preview Shortened Links [wildapricot.com] on Topsy.com  said:

    Wednesday, 07 October 2009 at 8:44 AM
  • steven said:

    Thursday, 15 October 2009 at 2:15 PM

    i use goaturl.com to hide all of my affiliate id's

  • Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

    Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] said:

    Thursday, 15 October 2009 at 7:09 PM

    Steven, goaturl.com doesn't seem to have a preview option...?

  • simon wallis said:

    Friday, 16 October 2009 at 3:34 PM

    Rebecca, that is such great advice. Most of the time I avoid clicking anything that looks shortened! What a wealth of free info you have there!



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