HOW TO: Create Your Own Custom Vanity URL for Branding and Traffic

HOW TO: Create Your Own Custom Vanity URL for Branding and Traffic

Last updated on

Vanity, thy name is shortened URL…

You’ve undoubtedly seen them around. You might’ve thought they looked bizarre. You might’ve wondered what was their purpose. You most likely wondered where you can get you some.

Custom vanity URLs.

What Are Vanity URLs?

vanity URL is a short URL or domain name, created to brand a certain website, product, person, etc. and be used in place of traditional longer URLs.

Vanity URLs allow users to instantly transform very long links into shorter ones that are better suited for sharing.

Bitly and Goo.gl are two of the most popular examples of URL shorteners; however, they are not what you’d refer to as “custom vanity URL” – the only vanity they serve is their own.

Custom vanity URLs are made for your company/name/brand name/product name specifically.

Vanity URL Examples

Here are just a few examples of vanity URLs – from big news outlets to restaurants to blogs:

custom vanity url examples

It certainly takes a bit of creativity to come up with a great vanity URL, but it’s well worth it in the long run.

Vanity URL Benefits

So what’s the point of having a custom short URL?

Custom Short URLs Make You Look Like the Big Leagues

ma.tt custom vanity url

Appearances are everything, aren’t they? No wonder people call them “vanity URLs”.

The very first time I spotted a vanity URL was years back on Matt Mullenweg’s blog. Back then, I had no idea what that type of URL was called, let alone that I could have one as well.

A thought crossed my mind

What would I have to do to get me one of those – reinvent WordPress?

After reading this post and learning how to set up your own custom short URL, you’ll feel like a big wig too.

Custom Short URLs Make Long URLs Look Better

turn ugly long url into vanity url

This was a great share by +Jenn Herman, but look at that monstrously long URL!

A short vanity URL would’ve taken care of it, plus it would’ve given Jenn a chance to brand herself while still promoting others (an incredibly great technique to make yourself more visible to other bloggers).

Vanity URLs Make URLs More Memorable

There are certain times when you can’t add clickable URLs to your content.

Example 1: YouTube Videos

Even though you can add a clickable URL to a YouTube video description, if that video gets embedded elsewhere, you lose a chance to capture that website trafficunless you provide an easy custom URL link in the video itself, like this:

how to use vanity url on youtube

Example 2: Slideshare presentations

With Slideshare presentations the tables are reversed: you CAN’T add a clickable link in the description (unless you have a PRO account, which I find too hefty of a price to pay for the features it offers), but you CAN add a clickable link in the presentations themselves.

However, many people still don’t know you can actually click on Slideshare presentation links, so it pays to add a memorable short URL to direct traffic – like I did in this presentation:

(This presentations is based on my SEO Traffic 2014: Your One-Stop Reference Guide for Non-SEOs post – you’ll see the short vanity URL pointing to the post at the end of the presentation.)

By the way, learn more about using Slideshare to drive more traffic to your site in this post.

Use Vanity URLs to Make Affiliate Links Look Better

Affiliate links can be bulky.

Taking an example from my YouTube video above, I used a tgcafe.it/wpsocial-pro to point my viewers in the right direction, which is still much better than www.trafficgenerationcafe.com/loves/wpsocial-seo-booster/ (great plugin, by the way; check it out here).

Use Vanity URLs on Twitter

shortented twitter vanity urls example

Since any URL on Twitter will be/should be shortened one way or another to make room for 140 character limit, you might as well brand YOURSELF while at it – NOT t.co, or bitly.com, or any other generic shortener.

Use Vanity URLs to Track Clicks and Traffic

Since all your vanity URLs will go through your Bitly.com account (I’ll show you what to do in a minute), you can see very detailed stats on how the link was shared, how many times it was clicked on, etc:

short vanity link stats in bitly

 

How to Create Your Own Short Vanity URL

Now that you are convinced you need/WANT your own vanity URL, let’s set one up.

What you’ll need:

  • creative ideas for your future vanity URL + patience to actually find an available domain name for it;
  • a Bitly.com account (Free);
  • a budget to pay for you new short domain ($10 – $40 a year, depending on the extension you get – explained below.)

WHAT? You can’t set up your vanity URL for free? Isn’t there a vanity short URL factory that generates those with a mouse click?

No.

Vanity URL Generator/Shortener

No such thing.

Yes, you can generate short URLs with any number of sites: Bitly.com, Goo.gl, TinyURL, etc., but they are not vanity URLs, i.e. that can’t be customized to match your brand.

At best, you can customize the last portion of a generic shortened link like turn bitly.com/1jc5obC into a more memorable bitly.com/anahoffmanrocks, but then it doesn’t come even close to a branded vanity URL.

Now onto the tutorial on how to create your very own custom vanity URLfinally!

Here’s what you’ll need to do step by step:

Step 1. Brainstorm a short vanity URL; buy it

Step 2. Tell Bitly about your custom short domain

Step 3. Create a DNS record for your new short domain

Step 4. Verify your tracking domain

Step 5. Share your custom vanity short links!

Let’s get vanity URL cracking.

Step 1. Brainstorm a Short Vanity URL; Buy It

The easiest way to do it is with one of my favorite domain suggestion tools: Domai.nr (another great example of a vanity short URL by the way).

find short vanity url with domai.nr

Type in the word you want to include in your short vanity URL and Domai.nr will come up with different ways to put it together with a variety of extensions.

It also shows you which options are available for purchase.

This is the most time-consuming step of the entire process of getting a custom vanity URL, just like it would be with any new domain name research I suppose.

Ideas to Come Up with a Great Vanity URL:

  • Use alternate extensions: this is my favorite way to find a great short vanity URL. Traffic Generation Café vanity URL was created using Italy country extension tgcafe.IT. Many country extensions can be used to help create a unique short url. Another great example of using country-specific extension is glennga.BE (Belgium extension) – Glenn Gabe’s hmtweb.com.
  • Branch out: you don’t have to use your site name or company name as a basis for your vanity URL. Consider product names, personal name (like glennga.be example above) or your niche. For example, Netflix at one time used movi.es short URL (Estonia country extension).
  • Use initials: This tip works for personal or organization URL shorteners. For example, Sony Pictures Entertainment uses spe.com.
  • Remove vowels: make sure the brand name is still recognizable though. Good example: Nissan – nssn.co
  • Abbreviate or shorten: use common abbreviations to make things shorter. For example, “4″ can be used instead of “for“.

You can also browse this list of existing vanity URLs for inspiration.

Important: Your URL will need to be fewer than 15 characters in order to work with Bitly.

Once you’ve found your future vanity URL, buy it using any domain registration site like a site like GoDaddy.com or Domain.com.

Remember, using a branded vanity URL is a commitment to keep it for as long as you keep your business (if you ever drop it, all your shortened links will be broken), so consider the cost of carrying it year after year.

In other words, take your time, make it good, and stick with it.

Step 2. Tell Bitly about Your Short Domain

I assume you already have a Bitly account; if you don’t, create one for free here.

Here’s what you do:

  • Click on Settings, then Advanced. bitly url settings
  • Select either ‘Personal’ or ‘Business’ under the ‘Custom Short Domain’ header.
  • Enter your short domain. enter new bitly short domain

You’ll need to complete Step 3 (set a DNS record for your short vanity domain) before you can verify it.

Step 3. Create a DNS Record for Your New Vanity Domain

The Domain Name System (DNS) is what allows a web browser to match a domain name to the actual website associated with it.

You will need to tell DNS that your short vanity domain should now point to Bitly.

The way you update DNS varies depending on your domain registrar. In general, the process goes something like this:

  1. Log into your domain registrar’s website.
  2. Select the short domain you want to modify.
  3. Find the section for managing DNS entries. The name of this section varies, but is usually something like “DNS Configuration,” “DNS Records”, “Advanced DNS,” “Total DNS”, “Host records,” or similar.
  4. Edit the existing A record for your site and change the IP address to 69.58.188.49

If there is no existing A record (which is uncommon), add a new one. The A record’s “host name” should be either the character @ or your base domain (both mean the same thing). You should only have one A Record. If you have more than one, remove all others and leave only the one pointing to Bitly IP.

Since I register most of my domain names with GoDaddy, I can show you what this process looks like with them:

  • After you log in, go under “Domains” and select your new vanity domain (click “Launch“). Go under (1) DNS Zone File. You’ll see the record you need to change highlighted in pink. Click on (2) Edit button to proceed.vanity domain details with godaddy
  • Next, you’ll see Zone File Editor. Hover over the A (Host) record and you’ll see the little pencil pop up as shown under (1). Clicking on it will allow you to edit the record. Change the IP address (under Points to) to Bitly’s 69.58.188.49 – and don’t forget to Save Zone File (2).

change vanity URL IP to point to Bitly

It can take up to 48 hours for domain changes to propagate. You’ll know the DNS has been set up correctly when you have the ability to default your short domain in your bitly settings under ‘advanced’.

If you are stuck on this step, Bitly has some troubleshooting suggestions. Better yet, contact your registar and ask for help.

Step 4. Verify Your Tracking Domain

Now you want to make sure you can actually track all the click traffic to your site in Bitly. This is something you should do whether you choose to set up a custom vanity URL for your business or not.

Once you verify your tracking domain, ALL click traffic on your tracking domain, including clicks on links that were created by other Bitly users, will appear in your dashboard.

Tracking domain is NOT the same as vanity short domain. The tracking domain is the “long domain,” owned and controlled by you, for which Bitly will report all click traffic from all Bitly users.

  1. To set up your tracking domain, go under the ‘Advanced‘ tab in your settings.
  2. Enter the domain name you want to track (your site’s long domain) in your Bitly account. verify tracking domain settings
  3. Verify that you own the domain.

You can demonstrate ownership of your domain by choosing any one of the following:*

  • Add an HTML tag to your web site’s home page
  • Upload an HTML file to your web site
  • Make a DNS change

*Note: This information is explained in further detail on your Advanced Settings Page once you select a tracking domain.

After you verify that you own the URL (there are three ways to provide verification), Bitly will automatically convert any links you shorten from that site to your custom short URL.

Step 5. Share Away

Once you cross your T’s and dot your I’s, as long as you are logged into your Bitly account, any URLs from your long domain will be automatically custom-shortened.

This set up will not customize links to your site that others are sharing, unless you are The New York Times with an enterprise-level Bit.ly partnership and get some 17 million uniques per month.

One More for the Road

After you are done setting up your short vanity domain in Bitly, it’s wise to set it to redirect to your site.

Why: by default, whenever your potential direct traffic types your short vanity URL into their search bar, the URL will go straight to Bitly.

Of course, you don’t want that, and here’s how to set it up to go to your site instead.

Under your Settings, go to Advanced, then scroll down to Custom Short Domain Root Redirect. Change the default Bitly URL to yours.

short url redirect

HT: Thanks to Jeremy Lesarge (aka Ray) for mentioning it in his comment below.

Ways to Share Your New Vanity URL

There are many ways/places you can share your custom vanity URL and, best of all, most of them are completely hands free once you connect your Bitly account to other social sharing tools you use.

Add Bitly Key to Your Social Sharing Buttons

If you are using a WordPress social sharing plugin of any kind, chances are it’ll ask you if you’d like to use Bitly as your URL shortener. Always check the box.

Depending on the plugin, it might ask you for your Bitly Key; it might look something like this:

bitly vanity url key settings

You can find YOUR Bitly key under Advanced Settings.

Integrate Your Vanity Short URL with Other Social Sharing Tools that Use Bitly

There are many 3rd party applications that Bitly integrates with across the web.

Here are just some of the popular apps you can use your new short vanity URL with:

Buffer

Here are directions on integrating Bitly with Buffer

Twitterfeed

Directions on how to use Bitly with Twitterfeed.

Other Social Sharing Tools

You can find more social sharing tools you can use your new vanity URL with here.

Install Bitly WordPress Plugin

With Bitly official WordPress plugin, you can automatically create short vanity URLs for new posts and have those short links pushed to your pre-existing social sharing tools.

Download from WordPress.org: ‘Official Bitly for WordPress’ plugin.

Use Bitly Chrome Extension or Bitmark Bookmarklet

Bitly Chrome Extension is a super-easy way to save & share links right from your browser – converting ANY link from any site you share to your custom vanity URL.

If you don’t use Chrome, you can install Bitly Bitmark bookmarklet; it’ll do the same thing.

Vanity URLs Marketing Takeaway

Setting up your own vanity URL shortener might look like too much work at first glance, but trust me – the 30-60 minutes you invest into setting everything up will quickly pay off considering all the additional branding you achieve using a custom vanity URL vs any other generic URL shortener.

And the best thing is once you set all of it up, you don’t need to do a thing.

Every time I share anything from Traffic Generation Café, the links are automatically converted to my vanity URL links – effective and hands-free.

Let me know if you have any questions about setting up or using your short custom vanity URL.

 

Happy branding,

traffic generation cafe comment below

Google+ Comments

28 Comments (click here to leave a comment)

  1. David Beman

    Excellent posy. Last night, I found your site and I am impressed. Where have you been all my marketing life? :0)
    I will be a regular. Thank you so much, Ana.
    God bless,
    -David

  2. Mattia Montanari

    Vanity URLs are definitely good as the make the URL more memorable and all that, but what I’m concerned about how SEO friendly vanity URLs are. Do you think a vanity URL passes the Pagerank to the main URL?

  3. Great post! I think we can all agree that shortened urls are not going anywhere so learning how to brand them if definitely worthwhile. As a matter of fact, I didn’t realize this was possible until reading your post.

    Have you ran across any case studies on how often shortened urls get clicked as compared to their full length counterpart? I notice another person mentioned that above and I would love to see some stats if you know of any.

    • Ana Hoffman

      Not sure it’s possible to replicate the exact conditions to conduct such an experiment, Travis – it would have to be exactly same platform, time, audience, etc; not really doable.

      Consider this though – on Twitter, all links are shortened, so they might as well be branded.

      • Travis

        Good point, it would be really hard to replicate exactly but a close replication could still offer insights. Maybe test it with paid ads to replicate similar traffic.

        Either way, thanks for the info and taking time to reply.

  4. Well hello Ana this reminded me of and solved the problem with Mike Filsaime’s Power Click Generator which also highlighted the power of branding your links but did not have an easy way to analyze your links en masse. By piggy backing onto the bit.ly service we get the best of both worlds.

    A couple of things I did struggle with is:

    Your description of setting the DNS, this is actually in the hosting service and not the registrar service, I keep these separate as I prefer to keep the registrar in my own country for legal reasons and the hosting can be anywhere in the world as its just a server.

    In step 2, telling bit.ly about your custom link, only use the personal option, if you select the business one, you are presented with a screen saying they will call you back at some point in the future! I went back and clicked on the personal option the second time and was able to follow your instructions.

    Thanks for taking the time to share this, as there is no way I would have figured this out on my own.

    igor

    • Ana Hoffman

      The instructions I gave were for GoDaddy, which as you know is a registar, not a hosting service, Igor.

      Thanks for letting me know about the “personal option”; it’s been a while since I set mine up.

  5. Thank you Ana for providing the inspiration for me to write my latest blog post on this very subject! Took me four days to finally get my own vanity url activated but finally got it activated today!
    Anyway I do mention this post quite a bit on my latest if you care to check it out!
    Well I just wanted to say thanks for the inspiration and I am now editing my Twitterfeed account.
    All the best and keep blogging

    - PD

    • Ana Hoffman

      Glad to hear you worked it out, Phillip – sometimes the quickest way to get something done is to ask for help.

      By the way, tried to leave a comment on your post, but got an error message that I was a spambot. You need to clear the cache in whatever caching plugin you are using.

      • Wow really, So sorry about that!
        Been having probs with my pc all day and just got it working! I run W3TC on mine so will do that for you.
        Many apologies on that Ana.
        Best
        - PD

          • Looks like I missed out on loads it seems! I did test it in an incognito window and it said that I was a spambot as well!
            I really did not want to turn off GASP as I was getting hundreds of spam comments every day!
            So in the end I turned off the user refer check and that seems to have things sorted now!
            Once again thanks for bringing it to my attention

  6. One additional thing you might consider is redirecting your short domain to your website. What I mean is if someone typed tgcafe . it into their browser address bar it will redirect to bit . ly by default.

    You can change that to redirect to trafficgenerationcafe . com or another site/page if you want in the bitly advanced settings area.

    More information about this at bitly here:
    http://support.bitly.com/knowledgebase/articles/185069-how-do-i-redirect-my-custom-short-domain-to-my-own

    • Ana Hoffman

      You are very welcome, Robert.

      Are you referring to using short bitly URLs for your affiliate links? If so, then yes, absolutely – they’ll carry all your aff tracking codes, etc.

    • Ana Hoffman

      Good question, Sahith, and no – most short URLs (bitly URLs for sure) pass all the attributes to the actual URL because of the type of redirection they use.

  7. The step by step explanation gives really clear idea about how it works.

    I too usually use shorten URL for internal links. And during publicize my post in Google+ it is shown like shorten URL.

    I just noticed them, but today i came to know what exactly it meant for.

    Thanks for sharing.

  8. Hi Ana,

    This one was very interesting indeed! :)

    Yes, I’ve been seeing these kind of vanity URLs on a few posts that I share and come across, but never knew they were literally made, till I read about it all here. I’d been using the usual bitly or other kind of shortners for a while, then switched recently to having the full URL as I read somewhere it’s more clickable as people can see the real link etc, especially on Twitter.

    But I understand that making your own makes it all easier and better to keep a track of too. Thanks so much for sharing this with us. Have a nice week ahead :)

    • Ana Hoffman

      I agree, Harleena – full URLs are more clickable since people can see where they lead them to.

      The point of short vanity URLs is just the same – to show people where the link leads without the bulky links.

Leave a Reply

traffic generation cafe comment below

Commenting Policy STOP & READ: I appreciate and read all comments, even though I do not always have the time to respond to each one. Your comments are extremely important to me, so keep them coming. Please, do not use just keywords in "Name" field; you MUST leave a real name, if you want to see your comment approved. Thinking of dropping your link spam? Save the effort: your comment will NEVER show up on this blog.