You recently ran a tip describing how to hover over a link in email or on a Web site to determine where that link will actually go, and that was a really useful tip. Sometimes, however, I get links that are compressed, or shortened or something. I get links from goo.gl or bit.ly—clearly, these are obfuscating the destination URL. How can I preview where these links will take me without actually going there? I want to ensure the links are safe before clicking.
You are so correct: You should never click a link you don’t trust, and you should never, ever click a shortened link (like the ones you mentioned, and there are many others: bit.ly and goo.gl are the ones we see most often, along with tinyurl.com). For these shortened links, unless you’re really sure you’re getting the link from someone you know you can trust, you should preview the link.
What is a shortened URL, anyway? Rather than including long URLs in article, emails, and Web sites; it’s far simpler to replace the URL with a shortened, or compressed, version. You can find many online services that take a URL, store away its value, and provide you with a short version. These services maintain a reference to the original URL, allowing you to use the shortened version in its place. For example, here’s a URL to an item on Amazon.com:https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01H1CDURE/ref=s9_acsd_al_bw_c_x_2_w?pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_s=merchandised-search-3&pf_rd_r=9SR87R8DGH9C93A2A2G2&pf_rd_r=9SR87R8DGH9C93A2A2G2&pf_rd_t=101&pf_rd_p=5a5d1f09-c0cc-4be7-88f4-b7bc72469aba&pf_rd_p=5a5d1f09-c0cc-4be7-88f4-b7bc72469aba&pf_rd_i=13270237011.Obviously, no one can type that URL to find the item to which we’re referring.On the other hand, the shortened version might look like this: https://goo.gl/aW4j5v. Go ahead, look it up: We’re sure you’ll be jumping all over the opportunity to purchase this useful item.
So how do you preview the URL without actually going to the page? Like in so many other places, the “devil is in the details.” Each different URL-shortening service provides a means of doing this, but each one is different. One thing is for sure, however: As we said, unless you trust the source of the shortened URL, do not click it. Instead, copy it (or type it from scratch into the URL bar on a browser). Don’t press Enter, however. Each URL-shortening provider allows you to type something at the end of the URL to preview it. For example, adding a “+” after the URL takes you to a description page (that is, type https://goo.gl/aW4j5v+ for our previous example). Bit.ly works the same way. For TinyUrl.com, add the word preview in front of the URL.
For more information on previewing shortened URLs, check out this page: https://goo.gl/xyNUVm. You’ll find everything you need to know about the topic there.