Simple URLs can make a big difference in your marketing campaigns.

Suppose you’re launching a new product. You work hard on getting the copy just right. You hire a photographer and get some lovely images, and hire a designer to create illustrations. You work for weeks and finally get it all online and it looks great.

Now you want to promote the site to bring in potential buyers. You set up an email marketing campaign and design a new brochure — and then you put in the URL: www.fakewebsite.net/productlist/en/customerfiles/xref/products/newproductname/newproductlandingpage.html

The Miles-long URL

For your email campaign it doesn’t matter so much that your URL is so long: the link will be encoded and all the user has to do is tap or click. But what about those people who decide to print your email out to look at later? And what about that brochure? If you plan to print it (as opposed to posting it as a PDF on your website or emailing it out), you’re going to have to put that huge URL on there for everyone to see.

This ungainly URL doesn’t just look terrible in print. It’s so long that at least a handful of potential customers won’t want to type it into their browser — and there goes what could have been your next sale. Wouldn’t it be nice if the URL could have been www.fakewebsite.net/newproduct instead?

Enter the Vanity URL

It’s very easy to set up what is called a URL redirection so that no matter what the actual location of your webpage is, you can still use a short URL that will be easy on the eyes and easy for customers to type. If you have someone else manage your website for you, then simply ask for a vanity URL —  letting them know what you would like it to be. However if you manage your website yourself, then you need to know a few details.

The easiest method is to use a redirect in the meta tags in your HTML. You would create a folder on your webserver right off the root with a name to match what you want to show in your URL, then put an index.html file in there with the redirect code.  For example, to enable using the shortened URL www.fakewebsite.net/newproduct, I would create a folder called newproduct, then put a plain text file called index.html in that folder. This entire  index.html file would look like the sample below, where the time to delay the refresh is set to 0 seconds, and the URL of the page to load is set to our absurdly long URL:

A sticky little problem, though, is that Google and other important SEO gods look on these redirects as cheats, so using this method, while easy and effective can have a negative impact on your search engine ranking.

I confess that I often take the lazy route on my own sites and use the above method. But a better way is to set up what is called a “301” redirect. This takes a little more effort, but is viewed by Google and others as a permanent redirect and so does not adversely affect your search engine ranking. For instructions on multiple ways to set up a 301 redirect see this article on webconfs.com.

Finally, you’ll thank yourself later if you keep a list that matches the vanity URL to what the “real” URL is.  This will help you avoid having multiple vanity URLs for a single page.

The moral of the story

Set up vanity URLs to hide a messy folder hierarchy, save users from too much typing, and keep your URLs pretty.

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