We’ve all seen bit.ly links in a million Tweets before, but they have more uses than just saving you a few characters in your posts. Bit.ly provides good click through reporting that can show you how many of your followers clicked on your link and when they clicked it. Additionally, if you’ve shortened a URL that someone else has already shortened, you’ll see the total number of clicks from all sources. This last feature can be used to see the popularity of links that other people have in their social media posts without having access to their web stats package.

Here is how it works. First, get the long version of the bit.ly link using unshort.me Next, login to your bit.ly account and create your own bit.ly link using the long web address. A new entry will now appear in your history. For the new entry you’ll see something like “0 Out of 5”. The first number is how many people have clicked on the bit.ly link you’ve made (since you haven’t published it, it will be 0). The second number is the total number of people who have ever clicked on that shortened link and the overall popularity of that link.

Why would you want to do this? One simple use is to help you focus your online efforts. As a simple (and contrived) example, imagine that you are on Coke’s social media marketing team working on the RiteAid account. You have enough time and resources to work with only one blogger/website on an upcoming campaign. Who do you choose? All things being equal, you’d work with the site that has the largest reach.

To determine this, you first go to search.twitter.com and type in the search string “coke riteaid bit.ly”. You get back two results that reference links to a recent Coke promotion at RiteAid using bit.ly’s link shortening service. At this point, there is only one bit.ly link pointing to each of these web pages describing the promotions. Follow the above steps to get results similar to these in your bit.ly stats:

As you can see, the first link has more total hits on its link than the second. If there are no other factors in your campaign, you should contact the owner of the first site and work with them on your campaign.

Another use of this method is for competitive research. If your competition is using bit.ly links, you can use this method to compare the number of click throughs they’re getting to the traffic that you’re getting for your links. If they’re getting more traffic, they might be working with a more popular/authoritative website or emphasizing a particular feature of their product that appeals more to the target audience.

The manual method described above works well for a small number of links but can be cumbersome if you want to monitor a lot of links. Both bit.ly and Twitter have APIs that should help you process and report on many links with a little programming.