Whilst browsing around on Twitter last night when I should really have been browsing the inside of my eyelids, I saw an interesting question from @euan:
Wondering if shortened url's count towards Google page rank ....
Now my immediate thoughts were (1) no of course they can't, because otherwise nearly every website in the world would be getting an SEO bump and that doesn't make any sense and (2) If (for example) bit.ly has a PageRank of say 7, then that PageRank would be split between millions of URLs, so it wouldn't actually be worth anything anyway.
@euan RE: shortened URLs/PageRank. Negligible effect if any. Their PR juice is spread amongst ALL outgoing links. Like PR/1,000,000
One day I WILL learn to think things through thoroughly before twittering. Then I thought some more and realised that if shortened URL links didn't confer any SEO value, the search engines would be missing a lot of the power of social media. Now, I know that search engines strive to keep their algorithms as simple as possible - i.e. they include as few exceptions and special rules as possible. So, how could they judge the value of an incoming shortened URL?
Duh - by looking at the page it comes from. Somehow, the SEO value of the link must 'bypass' the shortened URL to be conferred to the target URL. How does this usually happen with websites? A webmaster's best friend: the 301 redirect. In fact, that's exactly how all the URL shorteners I've tested so far work (bit.ly, is.gd and tinyurl - not the most comprehensive testing I know).
Try it yourself - put a shortened URL into: http://www.webconfs.com/redirect-check.php - I bet it comes back as a search engine friendly redirect.
So, in answer to @euan's original question - shortened URLs DO count towards SEO/Google PageRank, but they amount to which they do so depends entirely on the page(s) where the shortened URL is found. It's the only way it could work really.
A final aside: when I've previously used 301 redirects to confer PageRank from one domain to another, it's taken anything up to 3 months for that PageRank to have visibly transferred. I'm guessing that this is an artefact of the fact that the big G only updates PageRanks every few months, not continually. I bet that the SEO value is conferred almost immediately, both in domain redirect 301s and shortened URL 301s.
Was this all totally obvious? Am I wrong? Let me know in the comments.