Vanity URLs

When to use a vanity URL, how to shorten URLs for other uses, and how to request them.

A sign that says this area is a preserve of The Nature Conservancy. Protecting nature. Preserving life. It also includes a vanity URL and a phone number.
nature.org/wisconsin vanity URL. Preserve sign at The Nature Conservancy's North Bay Preserve in Door County, Wisconsin. North Bay is one of several natural areas in Door County where the Conservancy is protecting lands and waters that sustain native plants and wildlife and attract thousands of visitors each year to enjoy the outdoors. North Bay Preserve is part of an effort by multiple private and public partners to conserve about 13,000 acres along Lake Michigan from Toft Point to Three Springs Preserve. This outstanding landscape represents one of the best remaining opportunities to protect a nearly contiguous mosaic of open wetlands, streams, small lakes and conifer-dominated forest along the peninsula’s Lake Michigan coast. PHOTO CREDIT: Mark Godfrey © The Nature Conservancy © © The Nature Conservancy (Mark Godfrey)

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.

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 need to share a page with a long, complicated URL via print (or another format where a clickable link is not possible, such as radio), you can request a shorter, cleaner URL 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.

For example, say you are sending a print newsletter to a select group of supporters and want to share this story: https://www.nature.org/en-us/about-us/where-we-work/asia-pacific/mongolia/stories-in-mongolia/herder-communities-in-mongolia/

If you asked your audience to type in a URL that's over 100 characters long, no one would. Plus, this URL has a lot of special characters, such as slashes and dashes that make it more difficult to remember or get perfectly right. But if you instead printed nature.org/mongolianherders, your audience is far more likely to want to attempt to access the story because it's far shorter and uses whole words that are easy to remember and spell. 

vanity URL example
vanity URL example
nature.org/mongolianherders A short vanity URL automatically takes people to the destination page, which is much longer and would be nearly impossible to type out after reading it in print or hearing it spoken out loud.

When to use a vanity URL

Use a vanity URL for promoting a website or page offline. Certain digital use cases can also use a vanity URL. The chart below lists the most common places where you might use a vanity URL.

Note that ALL vanity URLs requests 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.

       Print media:          

  Other media:     

  • Business cards
  • Radio
  • Direct mail
  • Video                       
  • Flyers and pamphlets              
  • TV
  • Preserve signage
  • Billboards

Did you know? We can’t automate vanity URL expiration. Vanity URLs can be found long after your promotions have ended and lead to outdated information or 404 errors. You can help by letting us know when it’s time to remove them and we’ll do it manually.

TIP: When creating a link on a web 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 and contributes to poor site health.

What if I need a short URL for online uses?

For social media: We use nature.ly links for social media. When publishing through Khoros, these links are automatically shortened. These links also have unique tracking so we know they came from social media, not from an offline campaign.

For email: Create a direct link in email rather than using a short URL. If you'd like the link to appear short for branding purposes, you can type the short URL, highlight, and manually link to the destination (plus your unique tracking). This makes it look like a vanity URL for the reader but functions like a typical link.

For external web sites: Same as for email, you can ask the site owner to link directly to the destination page rather than using a vanity or other short URL. When you do this and add tracking unique to that site, we know how many visits came from that site and the visits aren't lumped in with other sources.

TIP: Always add campaign parameters to your destination URL when sharing digitally so we know where each visit comes from! Use the campaign tag generator for easy tracking.

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 global use and these requests will be denied if they are for pages from a specific region or program. Specific vanity URL requests are less likely to need to be changed later because they conflict with another program or resulted in user error.

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 and 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 vanity URL is short and to the point, while not sacrificing other best practices.

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 Short URLs and Redirects
  3. In the pop-up, choose Vanity URLs
  4. Complete the form

TIP: You don’t need to have a completed destination page to request a vanity URL. 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 an important tool for promoting TNC content offline, such as direct mail, pamphlets, preserve signage, and radio. However, nature.org vanity URLs are almost never an appropriate solution for sending visitors to a different website.

This is mainly due to branding and what a visitor might expect to get.

A sign in front of trees that says this area is a preserve of The Nature Conservancy. Protecting nature. Preserving life.  Nature dot org slash wisconsin.
nature.org/wisconsin vanity URL. Vanity URLs are a fast and easy way to direct people out in the world to pages on nature.org. We can't expect our preserve visitors to remember long and complex URLs with lots of slashes and dashes! Also our signs aren't that big. © © The Nature Conservancy (Mark Godfrey)

What a Vanity URL Communicates

In the image above, a preserve sign includes the vanity URL nature.org/wisconsin to direct in-person preserve visitors to the Wisconsin homepage. Visitors have a clear understanding of what they are going to get if they type in that vanity URL into a browser on their phone—a nature.org page with information about Wisconsin. This is important to a visitor's sense of trust in our organization.

People would expect that a URL that starts with nature.org is going to go to a page on nature.org. If it went to a different website, they might feel like they were being misled, which could cause loss of trust in our brand.

What if you saw a sign that instructed you to get weather updates at noaa.gov/weather? You might recognize and trust NOAA (The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) as an authority on weather and feel like it's safe to visit that page. But what if you saw a sign with bit.ly/weather? You might not feel the same sense of trust and safety and you might be less inclined to follow that link.

Wisconsin Homepage on Nature.org (redirects from nature.org/wisconsin)
Wisconsin Homepage on Nature.org Wisconsin Homepage on Nature.org (redirects from nature.org/wisconsin)

When We Redirect to a Different Domain

When people expect one result and get another, it can be confusing and cause suspicion. They may perceive this as a violation of their trust. Imagine if you typed noaa.gov/weather and ended up on a different website? You might feel misled. This is what happens when we redirect using a nature.org URL to a non-nature.org page.

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 could cause a vanity URL to direct to a 404 error page, or to a page that has been edited and is no longer about that topic.

Domain Best Practices

In order to be transparent, it is important that we use nature.org vanity URLs to redirect only to pages on nature.org. Similarly, we would use a natureunited.ca vanity URL to redirect to a natureunited.ca page (same for any other domain TNC owns).

The important feature here is that the domain of the target page is the same as the branded domain in the vanity URL. We do have some exceptions, such as using a vanity URL to direct people to our YouTube channel. This is because there is no other option. However, in these cases we strongly encourage hosting the video on a page on a page on the site and using a vanity URL to direct to the page.

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.