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)

Vanity URLs

Learn when to use a vanity URL, how to choose one, and how to shorten URLs for other needs.

What is a Vanity URL?

A vanity URL is a basic redirect: a shorter 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 full URLs to which they are pointed.

How does a vanity URL work?

A vanity URL a simple redirect: it automatically takes you to a different URL.

Most of our page URLs are long and complicated, with lots of dashes and slashes. It would be impossible to ask your audience to remember a long URL! Similarly, printing a long and complex URL on a postcard or newsletter is not reasonable. We create these shorter, more memorable versions that automatically redirect, which we call vanity URLs.

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/

Would anyone manually type in that whole URL into their phones or computers? Not likely. But if you instead printed nature.org/mongolianherders, your supporters are far more likely to attempt to access the story because the URL 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.

All vanity URLs have custom tracking built in so that we can tell how many people used it during your promotional period.

The standard vanity URL tracking starts with ?vu= (or &vu= when other tracking is already part of the URL) and then includes the phrase contained within the vanity URL. From the examples at the top of the page, that tracking looks like:

  • ?vu=maineclimateguide
  • ?vu=naturevest
  • &vu=nhevents

It's this tracking that we can see in Adobe Analytics and tells us how many visits to the page were a result of the vanity URL. It's important to remove this tracking from the URL before copying and pasting it anywhere else, especially in the campaign tag generator. Otherwise it will be very difficult to know where your visits came from.

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.

       Print uses:          

  Other uses:     

  • Business cards
  • Radio
  • Direct mail
  • Video                       
  • Pamphlets              
  • TV
  • Preserve signs
  • Webinar
  • Billboards
  • Phone

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.

TIP: Always add custom tracking!

Tracking parameters ensure you know where each visit comes from.

Use the campaign tag generator

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 from the campaign tag generator). 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.

How to choose a vanity URL

A good vanity URL is short, memorable and unique. You're asking your audience to read a URL, remember it, and type it into their phone or computer. This is a lot to ask! We'll help you choose the best vanity URL for your needs so your audience has an easier time.

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.

Be Consistent!

The words used in the vanity URL should appear in the page content, preferably in the title or header. Avoid requesting a vanity URL that uses words from a promotional campaign if those words aren't also in a prominent location on the page.

Make it Easy!

Choose a vanity URL that your audience will easily remember and type. It should contain whole words or common phrases and abbreviations. 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. On the other hand, well-known abbreviations, such as state name abbreviations, are often very easy to remember. Make sure your vanity URL is short and to the point, while not sacrificing other best practices.

Think about how the vanity URL will be shared with your audience. If it's going to be spoken out loud, such as in a video or on the radio, say it out loud to yourself to make sure it isn't confusing (though this is a good practice to get into anyway!). For example, nature.org/MIwildflowers looks great in print but sounds like nature.org/mywildflowers when spoken out loud.

Similarly, some vanity URLs can be confusing in print: a capital I could easily be confused for a lower case L. Generally, try to make sure it's as clear as possible.

Request your vanity URL as soon as possible!

This gives us extra time in case there are conflicts or other concerns.

Request a vanity URL

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 rarely an appropriate solution for sending visitors to a different website.

This is mainly due to branding and what a visitor might expect to get. In the cases where we do need to set up a vanity URL for another website, we want to retire it as soon as it's no longer needed to avoid further risk.

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)

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 owned and branded 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, let us know well in advance of when you need the short URL and we can provide advice and solutions that fit your particular use case and domain.