Track your links with

Short URLs are a really valuable tool for social media, and anyone who’s been tweeting for more than a few months is already a devotee of services like tinyURL or But there’s a good argument to be made for the great big new kid on the block:

If you hadn’t already heard of it, I’m sure you’ve guessed that it’s an URL shortening service from Google. And sure enough, if you point your browser to you can quickly get a short URL suitable for emailing or tweeting.

URL shortening screen at

Shorten an URL or check click totals for links you've already shared

But things get really magical once you log in with your Google account. You are already registered at Google, right?

Creating an url while logged in adds it to a list of all the shortened URLs Google has created for you. And it gives you data on how many clicks each one received, from what continent and what operating system and browser. So whether it’s a tweet, an email or even a Facebook post, you can see exactly how effective each of your shared links is.

You even get a QR code as an image. Save that to your phone and you can share your link on the go with anyone who has a QR-equipped smartphone.

Previously, using shortened URLs handicapped your Facebook links because it wouldn’t always get a picture and summary from the page you are sharing. But Facebook now follows links through to grab that data and make your links look pretty.

You still get a description and thumbnail when sharing.

You can get link tracking from or HootSuite as well, but I’m a big fan of the service. I’m already logged into Google all the time to manage ads and view analytics, so it’s one less account I need to juggle. And the features are pretty powerful for a service that’s completely free.

Where do you use shortened URLs? And what service do you prefer? Please share your experience in the comments.

Facebook Turns “Fans” into “Likes”

Facebook will soon move the familiar “Like” function to fan pages, removing the existing “Become a Fan” call to action, according to a post by Inside Facebook. Facebook announced the change in confidential emails sent to ad agencies (and leaked to ClickZ and MediaMemo).

Given the audience for their email, Facebook was obviously upbeat on the benefits to businesses who put up fan pages (and buy ads to drive traffic to them). According to their internal data, users click “Like” links twice as often as “Fan” links. Using “like” makes it easier for someone to express their interest in a brand when “fan” may overstate their level of engagement. That sounds like a big opportunity to get a whole lot more fans.

It also sounds to me like an opportunity to breed ill will, especially if users are slow to realize the weaker wording doesn’t change the fact that they’re still giving the company permission to post updates to their news feed. Facebook optimistically projects that “users will understand the distinction through explicit social context, messaging and asthetic differences.”

Likable Facebook adsI’m not so sure. Particularly when you look at the examples they give of the “Like” function in practice. It’s not a matter of just changing the link at the top of a fan page. There’s also a big change to Facebook ads. It’s now possible to “Like” an ad, which automatically enrolls you as a fan (in the old parlance) of the advertiser.

I’m all for friendlier wording. And I’d love to have more people receiving updates from the fan pages I administer. But I think it’s important to be transparent and honest. I’d prefer a term more like “follow.” It removes the “fan” label but still makes it clear what the result will be when you click that link.

The greatest strength of social media is inviting users to interact with you and share their experience with their friends. Replacing the old broadcasting model of shoving your message down the consumer’s throat is what’s so new, interesting and effective about it. Anything that seems disingenuous or makes the user feel tricked is destined to backfire.

Competitive Search Bookmarklet

Here’s a 5 minute tutorial on saving advanced search criteria in Google into a javascript bookmark. So you can select any text on any web page and run a search on that text using your advanced criteria.

I use it to track what my competitors are saying about any topic I run into.

Competitive Search Bookmarklet Tutorial from Brent Billock on Vimeo.

Here’s the code you need. Watch the video to see how to use it.

Special thanks to, whose google search bookmarklet I adapted for this tutorial.

Look, Mom. I’m a real writer

OK, it’s cheating, but if you were to stumble upon this page at Yahoo Finance, you might mistake me for a real reporter or financial analyst.

I work for Zacks Investment Research in the internet marketing department. Fortunately, nobody relies on my stock analysis. We have highly trained professionals for that. I just sell our products online. And run a stock picking community site where anyone can write analysis.

My Macworld piece on Yahoo Finance

But when Apple pulled out of Macworld, our chief editor actually did ask me to write up a short piece on it. You can see it here on this blog, but it also was linked off the front page of Zacks for a day in the “Special Coverage” section.

Zacks also syndicates content out to Yahoo Finance. It’s a great source of new members to us, because somebody who reads content that we produce and finds it useful is much more likely to click one of the three or four links that lead to one of our products or to our free newsletter registration.

The side benefit for me in this case is that it almost looks like I’m a writer for Yahoo Finance. That’s my byline just a few pixels below their logo.