A reader asked me recently whether links from other websites which used link shorteners, like TinyURL, “counted” as an inbound link in the eyes of search engines. For example, http://tinyurl.com/5u3plp takes you seamlessly to the BMON website, so would Google see that as a link to TinyURL, or to BMON?
The answer is that it depends on how the link redirection is done (which you probably don’t know), and on the policy of the search engine (which you probably don’t know). My guess is that with the big search engines and big link shortening services, it’ll be seen as a link to the eventual site. Almost every link on Twitter, for example, goes through a link shortener, and links from Twitter do seem to count as inbound links for search engines.
But if you can get the external site to link to you properly, rather than through redirection services, always do so. The reason for this is unrelated to search engines, but to do with the link being out of your control. The link shortening service could stop working tomorrow, leaving the link pointing to nothing. But worse, some of the services are scams, and the owners, at some point in the future, have every intention of redirecting all the links to sites of their own at the flick of a switch.
Now, it’s unlikely either of these will come to pass. But why risk it?