How to create short link stickers for your best content

In yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, I share my favorite hacks for getting more out of conferences — including the trick of making stickers that let me add a short link to my business cards.photo of short link stickers

I love my short link stickers because they give me an immediate way of following up on a conversation. Giving someone a link to something I’ve written that directly relates to our conversation is a lot more compelling than giving them a plain business card. And people seem to get really juiced about the stickers themselves: every time I pull. out my sticker book and start flipping through it for the appropriate link, I hear exclamations of delight.

Since these links and stickers have worked so well for me, I thought I’d share some photos and offer a how-to guide for others who want to follow suit.

Who needs short link stickers?

I created my short link stickers because every conversation I have ultimately turns into tech support, so I constantly found myself writing down the URLs of my favorite blog posts about the sites or services I recommend. But that is just one (weird) use case: anyone who regularly points people to the same few web pages or posts can find these stickers useful.

Here are some other people who might want short link stickers:

  • Writers and journalists: If you’re a writer or journalist, you may have a few publications or stories you share again and again. Create a short link sticker for each of the publications you write for (e.g. http://alexlov.es/wsj) or for your favorite stories (http://alexlov.es/mentors).
    sticker for alexlov.es/reallife

    This sticker links to my TedX talk, so it’s great to share with people who are interested in booking me as a speaker.

  • Sales people: If you have a few web pages, PDFs or resources you like to share with people during or after a meeting, create a short link and sticker for each one. You can even roll up multiple web pages onto a single web page (just create a page with a bunch of links) or create a shareable Dropbox folder so you can provide one link for multiple documents.
  • Commentators: I do a lot of media interviews, and every journalist always asks how what to call me and how to describe me. Now I just give them a business card with my http://alexlov.es/hername sticker.
  • Job hunters: Create short links to your LinkedIn profile, a downloadable version of your résumé and examples of your best work. Keep those stickers handy, and if you get asked about specific experiences in an interview, hand over a card with the relevant sticker. Give people links to your best work when you’re sharing cards in other contexts, too.
  • Health professionalsIf you regularly give patients or clients the same pamphlets, or the same links to exercises they need to do, try short link stickers instead. If your patients are anything like me, they’d rather have these resources in digital form, anyhow — they’re harder to lose!
  • Conference speakers and attendees: As you might gather from my WSJ story, I find stickers incredibly useful at conferences, when I’m meeting lots of people. I made a point of creating alexlov.es/SXSW16 stickers last year, which I used at SXSW to let people know about my session, and I also created lots of stickers that linked to content related to my talk.

I’m sure there are many, many other folks who would find short link stickers useful. If you have ideas about how they can work for you or your profession, I’d love to hear them!

Creating short links

To understand your options for creating short links, you need to know that a short link like bit.ly/shortURLS101 consists of two parts: the domain (bit.ly) and the path (shortURLS101). The domain is how all your short links will begin, so you want one that is nice and short; the path is what you’ll create for each individual short link, and will look different each time.

You have three options for creating your short links:

1. Use a standard web-based URL shortener like bitly. This is the easiest option, and if you use bitly itself, has the advantage of making it immediately obvious that your sticker is a short link. A couple of tips:

  • Create your short links while logged into an account on your URL shortening service, so that you create a list of all the links you create. You can use these links to track analytics for your short links (i.e. how often they get clicked) over time.
  • Customize the path for each link so it’s short and memorable. This is essential: a link like http://bit.ly/2nncFhk may be fine when you see it online (and can click on or copy it), but good luck typing it correctly as you read it off a sticker. And creating links with names that relate to the subject matter of your content will help you remember which sticker goes links to which webpage.
  • Make sure you know whether the service you are using is case sensitive. For example, on bitly, if you create the link bit.ly/shortURLS101 someone else can still create the link bit.ly/shortUrls101, and it will go to a completely different place. But on my own link shortener (alexlov.es), capitalization doesn’t matter: those two links would go to the same place.
  • If you want to track who is looking at your links, consider creating multiple short links that point to the same destination. For example, you could create one version of your link (and sticker) that you use when you give to prospective customers, and another for general interest; that way you can tell if this is helping you generate sales leads. Just don’t go crazy creating multiple shortcuts to the same URL or you’ll have trouble remembering which link goes where.

2. Get your own custom domain and use it on a commercial service like bitly. Many URL shortening services, including bitly, will allow you to register your own domain (like alexlov.es) so that it replaces their domain when you use their service. You’d still be using bitly, but each link you create will begin with your domain (alexlov.es) instead of theirs (bit.ly).

If you decide to go this route, there are a couple of things to look for in your domain shortening service provider:

  • Custom namespace. Most URL shortening services make everybody share the same namespace. That means that if someone else has created the short link bit.ly/shortURLS101, you can’t create the link yourna.me/shortURLS101. That’s a drag, because it means you end up with much less flexibility when you’re creating your short links; you’ll get plenty of error messages saying that link or path is already taken. This article from The Next Web recommends ShortSwitch as a service that allows a dedicated namespace, but you’ll want to double-check that whenever and wherever you set up your shortener.
  • Editable links. Very few link shortening services allow you to edit the destination URL after you create a short link, because that would be a recipe for people sharing links that they think go to one place, only to have them later redirected elsewhere.  But I really like having the option to edit where my short links redirect to, in case I have a new and improved piece of content to share — for example, I’ve changed alexlov.es/evernote so that instead of pointing at my very first blog post about Evernote, it now points to a collection of my Evernote posts. Rebrandly seems to be one service that prides itself on allowing you to edit your destination after creating a link.

All the suggestions I make under #1, “Use a standard web-based URL shortener”, also apply here, so please read those tips too.

3. Set up your own URL shortener. This is the approach I use, running the open source YOURLs URL shortening software. I love it, and it’s worked great for me.

I set up YOURLs for myself, on my own server (with some help), but I can’t say it was easy for me.  If these instructions are daunting to you, you can look at one of the many web hosts that now offer YOURLs hosting; that’s what I’d do if I were starting from scratch. I’m afraid I don’t have one to recommend, but you can find one via this link to my very favorite short link service, lmgtfy.com.

Note that you will need to register a new domain to use this option or to get a customized version of a commercial link shortening service. Make sure so choose something short, memorable and easy to read, so people won’t make mistakes when transcribing it. I’m extremely fond of my short-linking domain, alexlov.es, which I got by registering a Spanish domain (.es is for Spanish domains, but you don’t have to be in Spain to register one). The only downside is that people don’t necessarily recognize it as a domain, so I have to explain to them that they can just type in my short link as it appears on the sticker.

Most of the tips I offered above under options #1 and #2 apply here, too, so please do take a look.

Making your stickers

Once you have your URL shortener selected, it’s time to make some links — and some stickers.  Here’s how:

Create a short link for each URLs you frequently share. And from now on, keep a running list of everything you’d like to be able to share, so you have it handy the next time you order stickers.

sticker design for http://bit.ly/VisibleWomen

An example of a sticker image exported from my template and ready for upload to Moo.

Choose your sticker printer. You can print stickers at home using labels you buy at at an office supply store, but I like having mine printed. It’s a lot easier to keep my stickers looking nice when they are contained in a little sticker book, and I suspect that my sticker book is part of what delights people about my stickering process. I order my sticker books from Moo, and I’ve been very happy with the results.

Design your stickers. Moo provides a template for designing your stickers, but it took some experimentation for me to make that work, and I had to give up on the dream of creating my stickers on the Moo site itself. Instead, I created a Photoshop template (get the PSD file here!) that I use to create each sticker as an image: the background layer has my domain, and then I put each short link on a separate layer, flipping the visibility of each layer on when I want to export a PNG of that sticker.  I save all those PNGs in one folder and then upload them to Moo to create my stickers.

Practice stickering your cards. Before you hit the road, figure out where you are going to attach stickers to your card. You’ll want to ensure they adhere properly, and also check that you have a spot to put them where they won’t obscure crucial information. I like to put them on the back of my business cards, where I have a simple headshot.

Using your stickers

Once you have your short link stickers in hand, you’re ready to start wowing people with your stickers — and content. I make a point of carrying my short link sticker book in the same business card wallet I use for my business cards, so it’s always handy when I’m giving someone a card.

I also check my URL shortener periodically to make sure people are actually visiting the links I share. Looking at the top short links I’ve created in the past two years, I can see that a number of my most-clicked links are getting traffic from stickers. (I’ve highlighted the links for which I’ve created stickers, and excluded the top 8 links .) Note that these stats don’t reflect the overall traffic to these web pages, but rather, just the number of times my short link has been used to get there.

analytics from YOURLs show 50+ clicks for many stickered links

Fifty clicks may not seem like a lot, but when you realize that almost all the hits on alexlov.es/2x2s came from people who presumably entered that URL off a sticker, it’s actually an amazing result.  People really do hang onto my business cards, it appears — and adding those short links mean they’re taking the time to look at my work.

Short link stickers have become one of my favorite conference and networking hacks, and I hope that you can now see how they can work for you, too. And of course, if you want to share this post, I have a short link for you: alexlov.es/linkstickers

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