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Promoting a search term over a vanity URL

Vanity URLs. They’re not all they’re cracked up to be. This came to my attention last year when a large marketing campaign was done to reach 100K+ people, primarily to people under 30. The take-up of various vanity URL’s out of tens of thousands of visits to the site was a little lower than expected. What I did notice when I was going back through the analytics was a sharp increase in searches for our brand and keywords relating to the campaign, with the majority landing on our homepage or getting to the campaign site directly from Google.

People are used to taking multiple steps to reach a destination. They’ve been doing it (our target market at least) for 10+ years: searching.

The great benefit of promoting a search term is that the user doesn’t have to remember exactly what the search term is, it allows them (and you) to be flexible.

Based on this information, people seem to be more likely to remember a search term than a URL. Especially if the term directly relates to the service/product advertised.

Below is data from our analytics account filtered by keyword searches coming to the landing page of the campaign site. The peak reaching 950+ visits via search into the page.


Comparatively over the same time period / landing page, the number of visits via vanity URLs. With the peak reaching just 135+ visits.

Vanity URL referrals to website

As you can see from the data above, it’s clear what works better.

Additionally, drilling down further into the keyword searches, just under two thirds (520+ visits) of the peak traffic contain one of the campaign words.

Keyword increase including the searches with a campaign term

If they can’t remember what it was, they’ll just search for it. So why not cut the middle step and tell them what to search?

Vanity URLs perceivably provide harder facts and easier to determine statistics, however with some filtering of your keyword data you can see the results of your campaign through search.

“We use different vanity URLs for different mediums Dom!”, I hear you cry. Well, yes, that’s true, but you can also use different search terms for different mediums as well. Yes you won’t get 100% accurate¬†data, but you also don’t get that from vanity URLs. If they can’t remember what it was, they’ll just search for it. So why not cut the middle step and tell them what to search?

While a vanity URL might look great on that print publication, a search term can also be made to look not too shabby.

Vanity URL or search term?

That vanity URL doesn’t exist and¬†it’s not a subtle hint, my birthday is miles away, but that search term returns my website as the first result (or second depending on location). The following variations will also return my site, albeit various different pages depending on the keywords:

  • dom sammut birthday
  • dom sammut birthday party
  • birthday party dom sammut
  • sammut party dom

In one weeks time, if you were prompted to regurgitate the vanity URL to my birthday party, you’d most likely completely forget or have the incorrect URL.

Alternatively, you could just do a search for it.

[Note the stats in this article are a percentage of the total, and do not reflect the entire campaign]


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