Bitly decided to get in bed with the marketing industry big-time

I use Bitly for my links on this blog, and I know most major organizations do as well — I can tell you from personal experience that PBS and ESPN do, for example. Their business model is interesting, though: they shorten about 500 million links per month and those are ultimately responsible for 8 billion clicks somewhere in the digital ether (that’s like 1 click per person on the planet), but … how do you monetize that? There’s a cool story in Fast Company about this right now, which semi-leads with this gem:

When Mark Josephson joined Bitly as CEO last September, the six-year-old startup still hadn’t really decided. “There was a consumer product team. There was an enterprise product team. There was a science team. No marketing team. And three salespeople who had no go-to-market strategy,” he says.

Sounds fairly common, actually.

Bitly had some cool products they were considering rolling out — there was one thing that could look at the links you shorten and share and predict for you other links that you’d likely click on had you seen them on social media. (That’s cool, especially with the current social algorithms, because people miss a lot of interesting content.) Then there’s Bitly For Feelings, which allows users to give more context to whatever link they’re sharing.

Again, though, similar problem: those are neat little things to have (“nice to have”), but can you make money (“need to have”) from them?

Instead, Bitly and Josephson decided to chase the marketers on this one — they created a platform called “Bitly Audience,” and here’s essentially what it does:

When someone clicks on a Bitly link for the first time, the site plants a cookie on his her profile that keeps track of all the Bitly links he or she clicks on after that. So Bitly knows not only when someone visits a marketer’s site from a link, but also whether that someone has clicked on links from that marketer before. It can also paint a pretty good picture of who the clicker is based on what he or she has clicked on in the past. So with the new product, if Dunkin’ Donuts only wants to target New England mothers, Bitly can tell them which of the people clicking on their links likely fits that profile. Then Dunkin’ Donuts can buy ads to retarget them on other websites.

Bitly Audience will also allow marketers to integrate Bitly data with a CRM software like Salesforce so that if they want to, say, only send a discount coupon to people who have clicked on two links in addition to signing up for the newsletter or receiving a call from a representative, they can.

Ah, Big Data. Ye truly are the future.

Probably a smart move by Bitly — after all, marketers are desperate to know what exactly people are doing with their links/content, and what else they might value. If Bitly has 500 million examples along those lines, that’s what they should be monetizing, right?

Down the road, the system should be able to “re-target” link clickers by integrating Bitly data with ad marketplaces. Overall, this seems like it will be a useful tool for the marketing side — assuming people know how to use the data they get back.


Ted Bauer