Keeping Vanity URLs in Check: A Few Criteria

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Shortcuts, Vanity or Marketing URLs, are all names for the requests Web managers get to shorten Web addresses. The shortened links make it easy to share long links as well as track clicks on those links.

On a recent discussion thread on the Web Managers listserv, several agencies offered the criteria they use to manage the requests and we’ve compiled it below.

NIAID Criteria

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At the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), the New Media and Web Policy Branch developed the following guidance for Internet and Intranet URLs:

Internet

Change of URL for a specific organization, branch, lab, division, or topic is determined on a case-by-case basis. Criteria for this change include the following:

  • Applies to a site, not an individual page or document
  • Affects a broad intended audience
  • Use of the URL in print publications
  • Will be used in print publications
  • Duration of the requested change

Intranet

Changes of URL for sites on Inside NIAID are determined on a case-by-case basis, and must meet all of the following criteria:

  • Made for sites, not individual pages or documents
  • Is a project or event generally lasting between 2 weeks and 1 year
  • Has a specified end date (for shorter URL)
  • Affects all of NIAID, regardless of specific job responsibilities
  • Intended for use as a part of a substantial print campaign

Alice Litsinger, Supervisory Digital Information Specialist at NIAID, acknowledges that it’s hard to define good criteria and long-term management around this topic.

GSA’s Shortcut Guidance

In GSA’s Enterprise Web Management Office they refer to these requests as shortcuts, as they consider vanity URLs at the “top level” domain, according to Mark Kaprow. Their guidance around shortcut approvals are:

  • Shortcuts should be created in lowercase letters and generally contain less than three continuous words.
  • Shortcuts may not include special characters or underscores, unless those that contain upper letters or special characters are legacy exception shortcuts

Marketing URLs at USPTO

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) calls them marketing URLs, according to Arva Adams, as they are the shortened URLs often used in print, audio or video productions. The User Guide the USPTO developed contains this guidance for those requesting marketing URLs:

  • You want your marketing URL to be plain language and easy to remember for all audiences.
  • Avoid acronyms, unless they are commonly used terminology in the industry (e.g., TM, FAQ).
  • Even if it seems long, words are easier for your audience to remember than letters. For example, www.uspto.gov/patentsforhumanity is easier for your audience to remember than www.uspto.gov/p4h or www.uspto.gov/pfh, especially if the audience is unfamiliar with the program.

Why Go.USA.gov Doesn’t Create Custom URLs

The Go.USA.gov team gets frequent requests for vanity URLs, such as Go.USA.gov/mysite, according to Meghan Daly. This is a feature of other URL shorteners like bitly.com and TinyURL, but they’re still not sure if they want to implement this on Go.USA.gov.

Go.USA.gov URLs are permanent, by design. They do not change, and the team does not presently allow users to edit the destination of a Go.USA.gov URL. They don’t want someone to create a URL like Go.USA.gov/wildfires and have it permanently point to a URL that may go out of date or be taken down.

The Go.USA.gov team also wants to prevent a landgrab for the most valuable vanity URLs. You can only imagine what would happen if someone created Go.USA.gov/healthcare or Go.USA.gov/immigration.

You can learn more about Go.USA.gov and its recent improvements and features.

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