Have you noticed that when you share the URL to an article that the URL is long and ugly? It is because tracking information has been added. Remove tracking from a URL and clean up links.
No-one likes tracking on the internet, except the people and companies doing the tracking of course. Many people do not want their online activities to be tracked and they employ various means to prevent it, like web browser privacy settings or extensions.
Links on websites, on social media sites and in emails may contain tracking information. Click one of these tracked links and the site you visit may receive information encoded in a specially crafted URL. Look at the URL in the address box of the web browser and you may see a very long and very complex URL. This is nearly always because of all the tracking information that has been included.
Here is an example of a URL with tracking information:
That URL is ugly and it looks bad when you share the URL on social media. It just looks like a lot of nonsense and it is hard to read. Maybe not for computers, but certainly for people. It is not even the worst example of its kind and there are many that are even worse.
Here is the URL without tracking information:
This URL is clean and simple and easy to read. It looks much better when the URL is shared on social media. It is not just about looks and the cleaned-up URL has no tracking information. This will mess with whoever is trying to track you because they will receive little information from the link when you click it, but some people really don’t like tracking.
Why do links have tracking information?
Take another look at that example tracked URL above. The link starts off OK, but half way through it turned into what looks like a long string of random characters. In many cases, code is added to a URL in order to track where a website visitor came from. It could be used by a site to tell whether a person viewing an article came from a link shared on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or somewhere else, like email.
Tracking where users came from and go to afterwards is useful for those doing the tracking, but many people do not want to share this information or use the ugly URLs when posting links on social.
Manually remove tracking from URLs
There are two characters to look for in a URL that contains additional information, a question mark and a hash character. Look from left to right until you find it.
The real URL is everything to the left of the ? character and everything to the right, including ?, is usually unnecessary and is usually tracking information. It can usually be deleted to clean up the URL, so the clean URL with tracking information removed would be:
Both URLs would show the same web page, but the cleaned URL does not pass tracking info.
I said ‘usually‘ because there are some situations where the ? and everything following it is useful or even necessary. For example:
where the ?t=44 tells YouTube to start playing the video from 44 seconds in, rather than from the start. Extra information can be used in many ways and is sometimes useful or even essential. How can you tell? There is no hard rule here, but usually tracking info is long and complicated.
The hash character in URLs is useful and it enables a link to be created to lower down a web page instead of the top. For example:
Would take you to wherever the web page designer has named a location ‘xyz’. It could be a heading, paragraph, table, or a section of a long web page. You can remove the # and everything after it, but usually it is a useful feature and it does not track you.
Clean links online with Link Cleaner
You can manually clean links by deleting the ? and everything that comes after it in a URL. However, this can be tedious and perhaps error-prone if you do not know what you are doing. There is an easy way to clean links and this is with the Link Cleaner website (it has the odd URL of linkcleaner.app but it works).
If you see a link with tracking information in the address box of your web browser, or if you copy a link on social media and want to make sure it is clean, go to Link Cleaner, click in the box and press Ctrl+V (PC) or Cmd+V (Mac) to paste the URL in.
The cleaned link with tracking information removed is immediately displayed. Click Copy to Clipboard to copy it, then you can go somewhere else, like social media, a blog or email, and paste it in.
Use Link Cleaner on a phone
Manually editing links on a phone to remove tracking information is possible, but awkward. It is much easier to use a website like Link Cleaner.
Copy a link
Press a hold on a link until a menu like this appears. This is on the Facebook website and there is a useful option to Copy link address in the menu. Press it.
Paste the link into Link Cleaner
Open a web browser and go to the URL linkcleaner.app. Tap in the box at the top and then press Paste to enter the URL that was copied.
Copy the cleaned link
The cleaned link immediately appears and tapping Copy to Clipboard copies it so you can paste it elsewhere, like social media, emails, messaging apps and so on.
Install Link Cleaner on Android phones
Link Cleaner can be installed on Android phones, which makes it even easier to use. It is not an app and there is no software to install, but the website can work like an app.
When linkcleaner.app is visited in Chrome on an Android phone (maybe other browsers too), a message appears at the bottom of the screen: Add Link Cleaner to Home screen. If you don’t see this, press the three dots in the top right corner and select Add to Home screen on the menu.
Install the app
A message appears asking you to confirm installation. Tap Install. It actually installs very little, and it is basically just a shortcut, similar to a web browser bookmark. It uses just 0.2 MB of storage on my phone.
There are more detailed instructions on the Link Cleaner home page, but I did not need them. It just worked straight away.
Share links via Link Cleaner
Now that Link Cleaner is installed, you can share links using it. Press and hold on a link on a web page until a menu like this appears. See the icon on the right of Share link? That is Link Cleaner and tapping it presents you with the cleaned link ready for pasting somewhere.
If you don’t see that icon on the right (it’s always the last share item used), press Share link.
Here is Link Cleaner. If you do not see it here, press the More button, the three dots. Only the two most recent items are shown and tapping More shows all possible share methods.
Alternatives to Link Cleaner
There are some alternatives to the Link Cleaner website and Android app. For example, URL Clean is equally easy to use and has a very simple design. Just paste in the URL and click the Clean It! button. There is an iPhone Shortcut at Cleanup URL (icloud.com). I have not tried it, but it is worth a look.