What is a Vanity URL?
A vanity URL is a short version of a long or complicated URL that makes it easier for people to get to a specific page. Take a look at three examples of vanity URLs in the list below, followed by the real URLs to which they are pointed.
Real URL: https://www.nature.org/content/dam/tnc/nature/en/documents/TNC_NY_Impact_Report_2019_single.pdf
Real URL: https://www.nature.org/en-us/about-us/who-we-are/how-we-work/finance-investing/naturevest/
How does a vanity URL work?
A vanity URL is simply a URL on nature.org that automatically redirects to a different URL.
If you want people to visit a page with a long, complicated URL (for example: https://www.nature.org/en-us/about-us/where-we-work/asia-pacific/mongolia/stories-in-mongolia/herder-communities-in-mongolia/), you can set up a shorter, cleaner vanity URL (for example: nature.org/mongolianherders) that automatically redirects.
Without a vanity URL, it would be nearly impossible to expect anyone to type in a 100+ character URL without making a mistake or giving up.
When to use a vanity URL
Use a vanity URL for promoting a website or page offline. The chart below lists the most common places where you might use a vanity URL. On the next page, see examples of some of the actual ways that TNC programs have used vanity URLs. Note that ALL vanity URLs must be approved by Global Digital, even if the requested URL has been used in the past. Submit your request as soon as you know you need it.
Did you know? We can’t automate vanity URL expiration. Vanity URLs can be found in Google long after your promotions have ended. You can help by letting us know when it’s time to remove them and we’ll do it manually.
TIP: When you are creating a link online to a destination page always link to the page directly using the page path on AEM. If you link to the vanity URL it will look as though the visitor arrived at the page from an offline marketing effort. Also, a vanity URL creates a redirect chain that makes the page take longer to load.
Vanity URL uses in the Wild
What if I need a short URL for online uses?
We use the URL shortener service bl.ink for adding short URLs for use online, including in email, social media, and webpages. This service is perfect for any time a URL can be clicked because it functions the same way that a vanity URL does, only it doesn’t require a whole new URL to be created.
TIP: Add campaign parameters to your URL before shortening it (src=myawesomemarketingemail) so we know where the traffic comes from.
If your promotion is both online and offline, request a vanity URL for consistency.
Example: nature.org/twopaths, which was used in a press release and as part of a larger campaign.
How to choose a vanity URL
Choose a vanity URL that meets your needs and follows best practices:
Step 1: Be Specific!
The vanity URL must be specific to the page it’s redirecting to, as well as the program or region. Generic vanity URLs (e.g., nature.org/forests) are reserved for broad use and these requests will be denied.
Step 2: Be Consistent!
The words used in the vanity URL should appear in the page content, preferably in the title or header.
Step 3: Make it Easy.
Choose a vanity URL that is easy to remember and type in. It should contain whole words or common phrases/abbreviations that are easy to remember. For example, nature.org/ChesapeakeBayAquaculture is more memorable than nature.org/CBAC, even though it is longer. This means fewer errors and more people visiting your page. Make sure your URL is short and to the point, while not sacrificing other best practices.
Step 4: Be Unique!
Choose a URL that will not need to be changed due to user error or because it is requested by another region or program. Being specific (step 1!) can help you to be unique.
Request your vanity URL as soon as you know you’ll need it!
This gives the Global Digital team time to reserve it and make sure it fits the guidelines. One to two weeks in advance is best.
How to Request a Vanity URL
Submit a digital request as soon as you know you’ll need a vanity URL:
1. Go to nature.org/digitalrequest
2. Choose Redirects and Large File Uploads
3. In the pop-up, choose Vanity/1-to-1 Redirect (nature.org/vanity)
4. Follow the instructions for the description field. Be sure to include:
- Your desired vanity URL (and preferably a back-up choice)
- The destination URL (if it is known)
- The date by which the redirect should be live (give at least a week, if not more)
- Whether the vanity URL will be used in specific channels (membership mailing, magazine, etc.) so we can create the proper campaign tag for tracking purposes
TIP: You don’t need to have a completed destination page to request a vanity URL. In your request, simply let us know what the page will be about and how you’ll promote it. Once it’s approved and reserved, make sure to use the words in the vanity URL on the destination page.
Redirecting to a Non-Nature.org Page
Vanity URLs are useful tools for promoting TNC content offline and help current and prospective supporters find nature.org pages. However, nature.org vanity URLs are almost never an appropriate solution for sending visitors to a non-nature.org page. In this section we explain why vanity URLs are useful and why the domain in a branded the vanity URL should always match the domain of the target URL.
- Vanity URLs are permanent and should be simple and specific
- If using a TNC domain in the vanity URL, it should match the domain of the target page full URL (a.k.a., nature.org vanity URLs should point to nature.org pages)
The Value of Vanity URLs
Vanity URLs are an important tool that we use to provide supporters with short URLs on printed materials and advertisements, such as direct mail, pamphlets, preserve signage, and radio ads.
For example, a preserve sign might point visitors to a site page where they can learn more about conservation in Wisconsin and list the Wisconsin homepage as nature.org/wisconsin. This is a vanity URL and when a visitor types this into their browser, the URL changes to reflect the actual full URL - https://www.nature.org/en-us/about-us/where-we-work/united-states/wisconsin/.
The full URL is more than we can reasonably ask a visitor to type into their phone or computer browser, so we use nature.org/wisconsin to redirect to that page. However, if you are linking on AEM to the Wisconsin homepage, always use the page path: /content/tnc/nature/us/en-us/about-us/where-we-work/united-states/wisconsin (Global site path).
What a Vanity URL Communicates
The nature.org/wisconsin vanity URL gives the visitor a clear understanding of what they are going to get – a nature.org page with information about Wisconsin. This is important to a user’s sense of trust in an organization and in a link.
If the user trusts The Nature Conservancy and/or nature.org, they may click on or type in a link because they trust the source and have expectations about what they will find based on the vanity URL. For example, if you saw a sign that instructed you to get weather updates at noaa.gov/weather – you might go there because you recognize and trust NOAA (The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) as an authority on weather. You might not feel the same way about godaddy.com/weather, and you might be less inclined to follow that link. Similarly, you don’t know exactly where bit.ly/weather will take you – it could be to a trustworthy website or it could be to a risky site.
The same principles apply to for search engines. When they crawl a nature.org vanity URL, they will expect to see a page on the domain nature.org. And they may evaluate that page based on the authority they ascribe to nature.org.
When We Redirect to a Different Domain
When people and search engines expect one result and see another, it can be confusing and even suspicious. They may perceive this as a violation of their trust. Imagine if you typed noaa.gov/weather and ended up on a BlogSpot page about hurricane warnings in the US? Would you feel misled? Not sure if the page was authored by NOAA experts and if you should trust it?
This is what happens when we redirect using a nature.org URL to a non-nature.org page. Both people and search engines can flag the page as suspicious and misleading. At best, this could confuse visitors. At worst, the destination URL could be flagged by search engines and devalued for appearing to employ deceptive SEO practices.
Additionally, if we redirect to a property that TNC does not own, such as a partner site, we do not control what is on that page and the site can change without our knowledge. This would cause a vanity URL to direct to a 404 error page. Vanity URLs are permanent, just like a real page on nature.org. We have no way of automatically retiring a vanity URL. There is also a large volume of vanity URLs, so we cannot regularly audit them to ensure that they are still pointing to relevant or correct information.
Examples of Good and Bad Vanity URLs
The table shows two good uses of vanity URLs, where a natureunited.ca vanity directs to a natureunited.ca page, and where a nature.org vanity directs to a nature.org page. The middle example is a bad use of a vanity because it uses the nature.org global site vanity to direct people to a site specifically designed for a Canadian audience. Each TNC domain should have its own set of vanity URLs.
|Vanity URL||Target Page URL|
In order to be transparent with our supporters and follow SEO best practices, it is important that we only use nature.org vanity URLs to redirect to pages on nature.org. Similarly, we could use a natureunited.ca (the Canada site domain) vanity URL to redirect to a natureunited.ca page. The important feature here is that the domain of the target page is the same as the branded domain in the vanity URL. It is true that sometimes we use link shorteners like bit.ly to send folks to nature.org pages – and the domain of the target page is not bit.ly – but this is an exception because bit.ly links are understood as shortened links.
If you are looking to shorten a URL for another web property or partner site, reach out to the Global Digital Team well in advance of when you plan to use the URL redirect and we can provide advice and solutions that fit your particular use case and domain.
Questions? Looking for Advice? Want to request a Vanity URL?
Submit a Digital Request form! Submitting a form ensures that a member of the Global Digital team will review your request and respond in a timely manner.