We marketers love a smart redirect. A vanity URL is a unique web address that does not have its own content, but redirects to another page. It allows us to track web traffic from campaign marketing materials and, with careful wording and a little luck in what URLs are available for purchase, the vanity URL is easy to remember, quick to say and type, and builds the campaign brand.
Done right, it is marketing gold.
However, errors in using redirects can sabotage SEO gains, confuse users, or otherwise work against your brand and marketing objectives. This post aims to arm the non-tech-geek with enough understanding of URLs, redirects, and URL-related SEO to avoid vanity URL pitfalls.
We’ll focus on the use of vanity URLs for this hypothetical campaign:
Your animal advocacy organization, whose website is www.Example.org, is running a campaign about panda diet. You want to track traffic to your site from the Pandas Love Bamboo campaign. Bus wrappers, radio spots, and social media promos are all prepped to promote your newly purchased vanity URL, PandasLoveBamboo.com.
Don’t Build SEO Credit Separate from Your Site
It may be tempting to skip the whole redirect. You could design and code up your campaign-specific content to live as a microsite at PandasLoveBamboo.com.
Granted, the primary goal is to get your campaign message out and bring your audience to your online content, wherever it lives and however they click there. But if you host PandasLoveBamboo.com as a microsite living in its own domain, the campaign content and all the traffic you’re going to drive to it will only deliver a small bump up in traffic to Example.org; you’d get that from click throughs from a company promo on PandasLoveBamboo.com.
Also! You might think hosting PandasLoveBamboo.com as a stand-alone site would leave SEO for Example.org basically untouched—no better, no worse. However, Example.org is sure to have some content similar to what you put on your new microsite. So PandasLoveBamboo.com is now competing for SEO credit with, for instance, Example.org/Preserving-Habitats/Pandas. If there are 3 other web properties competing for first search result rank for your keywords, PandasLoveBamboo.com and Example.org/Preserving-Habitats/Pandas now each have a 1 in 5 chance of succeeding instead of 1 in 4 chances if they weren’t both in the running. In short you are cannibalizing your SEO efforts on both domains.
Host the Campaign Within Your Site
So instead find a logical place for the campaign to live within Example.org. Build the campaign section under an SEO-appropriate URL like Example.org/PandasLoveBamboo and then any SEO credit, or “link juice,” for that rich campaign content will benefit your main web property, now and in the future.
Now you’re ready to point the short, easy vanity URL to that subfolder!
Avoid the Allure of 302 and Other Redirect Codes
Hopefully you have a solid tech team who knows 99% of the time, you should use a 301 redirect, also known as a “permanent redirect.” A 301 redirect transfers the link juice from the redirecting address to the destination address. This transfer of SEO credit is hugely important when you’ve invested in either end of the redirect.
The danger is to go researching redirect codes and to put weight in their names. If you start contemplating whether you’re dealing with something that’s “permanently moved” (301) or “moved temporarily” (302 or 307), you could head down the wrong path.
Don’t Decide Not to Use a Vanity URL
All that said, do use the vanity URL! Scared to execute something wrong, it might seem well enough to simply promote the relevant section of your main website Example.org/PandasLoveBamboo. It’s not much longer. But you can’t count on your users typing out anything after the .org. They know it’s not necessary, will only get far as the homepage where they may or may not look for a campaign promo, and there’s now no tracking information telling you this user came from campaign materials.
Build on Your URL Expertise
If this all seemed reasonably manageable, keep going. There are other lightly technical but totally digestible tips to help you understand and use URLs. Read up on URL shorteners and free up characters when tweeting. Buy and redirect common URL misspellings to draw in users who are already sold and trying to get to you.
GUEST BLOGGER, AMY CHASE
Amy Chase is a freelance digital strategist and project manager and a friend of Williams Whittle. Her company Digital Sidekick LLC, is based in the Washington, DC area serving clients across the country. In her many years at agencies and in her own practice, she has enjoyed projects with clients from healthcare to education to government and beyond. Amy is motivated by making people’s lives easier through her work, both by facilitating smooth projects and via the products she helps create. You can find her on LinkedIn.