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Vanity URLs & SEO: The Definitive Resource
Friday, May 08, 2009
There has been a lot of discussion about vanity URLs this week. In fact I have even had a few questions about vanity URLs from clients this week. Even Google is talking about vanity URLs, offering up an option to use vanity URLs for your profile page. Facebook has also been getting serious about vanity URLs as TechCrunch reported in March.

People love vanity URLs. As TechCrunch states, MySpace figured this out a long time ago. People relate better to shorter, descriptive URLs. So then what's the big deal about vanity URLs? Prior to examining this further, let's define what a vanity URL is.

Vanity URLs Defined

Vanity URL - a shortened, descriptive URL (sometimes referred to as a domain) that points to a related item indicated within the URL. Typically companies use vanity URLs to point the user to a specific product page. A vanity URL is simply an easy to remember URL used to promote a product, event or service.

Loren Baker over at Search Engine Journal had a good example of a Facebook vanity URL:
Example :

Maker’s Mark Official Fan Page : http://www.facebook.com/pages/Makers-Mark/6355923333

Maker’s Mark Fan Page made by random Facebook user : http://www.facebook.com/pages/Makers-Mark-Whiskey/26391345957

There is no differentiation in the URL string what-so-ever to give the real brand page more value in search results or at first glance.

http://www.facebook.com/Makers-Mark/ would work much better. This way the search engines and users could easily idenitfy the correct fan page in the Google, Yahoo and Microsoft indexes AND the fan page would be much easier to use with print or broadcast media.

When Should Vanity URLs be Used?

Here's the thing, if you have mapped out your site's IA (Information Architecture) properly and designed your site with SEO in mind, you should not need to use vanity URLs. However, as we know, this is not always the case and there are times when you may need to utilize vanity URLs.
  • Online Promotion - where the desired landing page URLs that you instruct your audience to go to are not easily translated (i.e. the URLs are long, dynamic with many parameters) into the promotional material (Flyers, Press Releases etc)

  • When you want to direct users to your products - a vanity URL entices better user engagement, and will encourage users to bookmark and remember your pages.

  • When you are launching a new product or service - especially when your CMS causes issues with URL naming and creates a non-user friendly URL. Ideally when you create your pages, they should be created with search engine (and user) friendliness in mind.

  • When you want to direct users to the most appropriate landing page -as opposed to sending them to your homepage.
Why Vanity URLs Should Be Used

Good, strong and memorable URLs are important, both from a search engine perspective and more importantly from a user perspective. As studies have shown, descriptive URLs for products and services will deliver a higher click through rate. With vanity URLs, you can describe a product or service using the words people automatically associate with the topic or product, encouraging them to click more.

Vanity URL Tips
  1. Make Vanity URLs Memorable - without stating the obvious, be sure to make your vanity URLs easy to remember.
  2. Keep them short - this helps keep them memorable
  3. Consider Including Descriptive Keywords - that accurately describe the page or the product.
  4. Pay Attention to Redirection Needs- as an SEO practice, it's almost always best to use a permanent 301 redirect if you need to redirect any content. Redirects are an important aspect of using URLs and can help avoid duplicate content issues.
  5. Become familiar with the mod rewrite - a mod rewrite is part of Apache servers that can rewrite requested URLs on the fly. There are a number of resources on mod rewrites including:
  • mod_rewrite: A Beginner's Guide to URL Rewriting
  • http://httpd.apache.org/docs/1.3/mod/mod_rewrite.html
  • http://www.webdesignerforum.co.uk/index.php?showtopic=18267
  • http://davw.nfshost.com/web/mod_rewrite.html
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mod_rewrite
  • http://www.workingwith.me.uk/articles/scripting/mod_rewrite

Vanity URL & Related URL Resources

Here are a number of key resources on URLs and vanity URLs.

The Power Behind Your Website Name, Vanity URLS And Generic Domain Names - Twist Image
Supercharge Your URLs For Maximum SEO Impact - Search Engine Land
Too Many URLs Spoil the SEO: Fixing a Common Ecommerce Duplicate Content Problem - Get Elastic Ecommerce Blog
Vanity (URLs) Gets You Nowhere Locally: Implications of Google's URL Policy Change - Media Post
SEO Best Practices for URL Structure - Search Engine Journal
Should You Use a Vanity Domain Name? - Entrepreneur
Vanity URL Redirects - Search Engine Watch Forum
Mapping Complex URL Strings to Vanity URLs - Webmaster World Forum
Facebook Steps Up SEO for Brand Pages with Millions of New Indexable Links - Inside Facebook
Starbucks: Throwing Away 800 Links - Don’t Let It Happen to You - Seer Interactive
Unraveling URLs & Demystifying Domains - SEO Roundtable
Vanity URL Guidelines (2002) - University of Wisconsin Milwaukee
Vanity URL Re-Directs - Search Engine Watch Forum
How to create vanity URL (url aliases) for different users, URL Aliases - Web Designer Form
301 Redirect, How Do I Love You? Let Me Count The Ways at SMX West 2009 - The SEM Blog
HOW TO: Common URL Redirection Techniques for IIS, Summary - Blogger David Wang

Canonical Issues

Specify Your Canionical - Google Webmaster Central Blog
Canonical URL Tag Is Worth A Shot - Get Elastic
Canonical URL links - Youst
Be a Normalizer - a C14N Exterminator - Sugarrae Blog
Windows Web Servers and Case Sensitive URLs - More Visibility

Duplicate Content

Duplicate Content - Google Webmaster's Help
Demystifying the Duplicate Content Penalty - Google Webmaster Central Blog
Dynamic URLs vs Static URL - Google Webmaster Central Blog
Duplicate Content Due to Scrapers - Google Webmaster Central Blog
The Illustrated Guide to Duplicate Content in the Search Engines - SEOmoz


posted by Jody @ Friday, May 08, 2009  
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About Me
Name: Jody
Home: Kelowna, BC, Canada
About Me: SEO guy by day, family man 24/7.
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