Create Free Vanity URLs (Branded Links) Without a Website

Dr. Hale Pringle    3/28/2023  V 1

Create Free Vanity URLs....
Before I get into creating free vanity URLs, let’s look at what a Vanity URL is.  Let’s start with the fact that having a Vanity URL does not imply that you are vain.   I’ll use Lauren Horwitz’s definition here because she states it well:

A vanity URL is a truncated uniform resource locator (URL) that redirects a longer URL, while also extending an organization’s brand.

When your potential client sees your URL, it looks much more professional to give them a unique URL that is part of your brand.

Which do you think looks better (keeping in mind that I am promoing ERTC)?

  1. ERTCmax.us/Start
  2. https://portal.ertcexpress.com/qualify/halepringle

In this post, I am going to show you how to have option #1 for about $4.  (The money is for the domain name.  Adding links to the domain name is free. You will learn how to use your vanity URL plus a keyword to direct potential clients to several web pages and monitor how many people click on each link.  You end up with these benefits:

  • Brand Awareness – each link a potential client sees reinforces what you are promoting.
  • More professional and builds trust -Your links look like you mean business in your posts, in your emails, and on your business cards and flyers.
  • The ability to track where new clients are coming from by tracking how many times each link is clicked.
  • Added Flexibility – You can change where potential clients are sent in one place and it makes the change everywhere the link is used. For example, if you have sales, you can change the link to point to the current sale and the change happens everywhere the Vanity Link is used.
  • Easy to remember links to important web pages.
  • Simple enough that they can be told to someone in person or on the phone.
  • Links that do not scream AFFILIATE LINK. (Everyone knows that you want to make money and the link helps you do that.  On the other hand, screaming it at them is offensive.

Here are some examples to show you what I mean. I purchased the domain ERTCMax.us for a few dollars at GoDaddy.com (.US domains are very inexpensive.)  The name of the domain I purchased is congruent with one of my tag lines: “Get the maximum legal return possible from your ERRC claim.”  The next step is to connect my domain to my free account at Short.io. After some setup,  I can add short words (and associated target URls) to my domain name and send potential clients to any Target web page I choose.  We end up with four pieces to this system.  We are going to use ERTCmax.us/claim as an example.

  1. ERTCmax – This is the Domain name
  2. US – This is called a top-level Domain (TLD)- It often gives some idea of what is in the website the domain is part of.  For example: .Cim = commercial, .CO = business, .EDU = Education, .NEWS – News and on and on.
  3. claim – this is often called the Slug.  I’m calling it the KEYWORD.
  4. We also have Short.io who processes our Vanity URLS and
  5. The Target URL – This is where we want the potential lead to end up.

When a potential lead enters our vanity URL into a browser, the domain name and TLD are used to get the message to Short.io.   Short.io uses the domain name and our keyword (slug) to look in their database and see where I want the potential client to end up.  Short.io then redirects the message to the target URL.

There is no website and there is no cost except the once-a-year charge for the domain name from GoDaddy,

Here are some Examples:

  • ERTCMax.us/Start – sends potential clients to the signup portal of the program I am promoting.
  • ERTCMax.us/claim – Also sends potential clients to my signup portal. Short.io has a screen where I can see the click count for each shortcut I create. I can use the click counts to track how different lead sources are doing.
  • ERTCMax.us/LetsTalk. -This link sends Leads to my Calendly account where they can book an appointment with me for a Zoom call or a phone call.
  • ertcMAX.us/demo – ERTC Express has a Sandbox where someone can run the numbers without actually starting a claim.  This Vanity URL sends people to that web page.
  • ertcMAX.us/Overview sends the potential lead to the best overview I know of.  I can easily change this if i find a better overview.

I can change where a link points to in Short.io. The change will take effect in all the places where this branded link shortcut appears.

Shortcuts that can be changed online are useful when you have situations where you want to make a change to a link that appears in lots of places or in places that are hard to change:

  • In lots of places inside one post
  • In lots of different posts
  • In online Social Media comments that you cannot change.
  • On Business Cards
  • On printed brochures
  • In published articles.
  • In lots of different emails

.As I hope you can see there are lots of benefits to having a Vanity URL.  

Vanity URLs are common on Websites

As your business grows, you are going to want to have a website.  You can change where your branded URL sends potential clients.  If you create a website built with WordPress, there is a very popular plugin called “Pretty Links: that does the same thing I am showing you here.  This means that you can transfer your Branded link/keyword links from Short.io to your website.

You Should Already Be Using a Form of a Vanity URL

Our accounts of Social Media Sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and more usually start as a long )long, long) number.  Most of these sites have a setting where you can replace that number with a Keyword.   Facebook.com/HalePringle is a lot easier to deal with than Facebook.com/a-12-digit-number


NOTE:  When you upgrade to a website, the domain name (without a /Keyword) will send potential clients to your website’s home page. Do not use your domain name without  /keyword to send potential clients to a signup page or an Overview page or anything else.   If you do and then you upgrade to a website,  you would have to search all of your posts, emails, business cards, etc to find and change all of the places you used it.

Let’s get started.

STEP-BY-STEP SETUP INSTRUCTIONS FOR YOUR VANITY URLS

The first step is to go to GoDaddy.com and buy a Domain name.  If you don’t have an account, you will need to create one.

I’m not going to show buying a domain name. You need to search for a domain name that is not taken and relates to your niche/objective and then buy it. (In fact, you “rent it”.)  You can ignore all the various upgrades GoDaddy offers. You can add privacy later if you really start to get big with this domain. The standard extension for businesses is “.COM”, but other extensions are becoming more common. I used “.US” here to show how inexpensive it can be.

I recommend using GoDaddy here partly because all the instructions at Short.io presume you bought your domain from GoDaddy.  Other companies will sell you a domain name, like NameCheap.com.

SET UP AN ACCOUNT  WITH SHORT.IO

It has been years since I created an account on Short.io. I can’t imagine that it is different than other sites.

SETTING UP YOUR VANITY URL ACCOUNT – USE THE ACCOUNT MENU OPTION

We will start by looking at your account information.

Click the 3-bar menu to see the main Menu option

There is a three-dash menu behind the image of my head. Click on that to activate this menu.

Click ACCOUNT SETTINGS

The first option is USER INFORMATION

#1, #2,  and #3 show how to get to this screen.

This is the USER INFORMATION and you enter your information,

There are some default settings under the  PROFILE option.  

We need to turn off the cloaking option.  Free Accounts do not support cloaking and the way things are set up, makes it hard to enter new links if you have not turned cloaking off here..

#1 – shows we are working on DEFAUlt SETTINGS.

#2 – Turn Cloaking off.   Cloaking means that when the potential client gets to the Target location you sent them to, the URL at the top of the screen continues to show your Branded URL/keyword.  The cloaking feature is not available in the free account.

#3 – Leave this as 302

#4 – This one does not matter. We are going to overwrite these random letters with keywords that are easy to remember and indicate where the potential client is being sent.

Here you can change the photo, active email address, and a couple of other things.

Short.io will also send you an email with a link to verify that you have access to the email account you enter here.

Click SAVE CHANGES when you have entered any new information.

The last two options in the run-together vertical menu. let you set Light Mode or Dark Mode or let the system detect which one would be better.  I assume that this means that it detects whether it should display things using a light color against dark screens and use dark colors to display when the screen color is light.

The last option asks if we want to use a template.  there are none available for free accounts.

MAIN PAGE OPTIONS

Setting a few defaults on the page we will to to create vanity URLs

Short.io will build a very generic home page for you.  I didn’t fiddle with it   The HOME page is where people go if they enter your domain name without a keyword/slug.

MAIN SETTINGS FOR YOUR VANITY URLS

You can leave defaults or use what you see here,

The one exception is #2. You need to click on the CONFIGURE link,

Clicking on the CONFIGURE link pops this  screen pops up:

Dealing with the home page issue The one of our vanity urls that does not have a slug

I just sent them to the signup screen for ERTc Express.  I do not send potential clients here using this URL intentionally.

As I noted earlier, do NOT USE this intentionally.  When you upgrade to a website, this link will go to the home page of the website.  If you are using this Vanity URL for something like signing up for something, the link won’t work for that anymore.  You need to send the potential client somewhere in case they enter the link themselves, just don’t use it for something important.  Broken links after you upgrade can take a long time to find.

Test it. If it gives you the message you see on the next screen, click on LINK CLOCKING on the left side of the screen. Turn it off and SAVE. Test your URL again. Link Cloaking is described in more detail a little further down.

If you try to use Cloaking with the free version, your visitors will see this message.

The messages our Vanity URLs create if we try to use Lik Cloacking using a free Short.IO account

Not Cool!  It messes up your whole page.

When you turn cloaking off, they will see the page’s actual URL, but not the funking message.

DASHBOARD SETTINGS

Click the three-dash menu and chose DashBoard this time.

#1 – Turn to cloak off.

THEME PREFERENCE

Here are some options we are not going to use.

ADD A DOMAIN – The Critical Part of  Setting Up Your VNITY URLs

Click the three-bar menu.

Click the ADD DIMAIN link

#1 – a Domain I bought at GoDaddy.com

#2 – I do not want to pay monthly. so we will set it up ourselves.

Describe the domain we will use to create Vanity URLs

#1 – Entered your Domain Name again

#2 – Chose an option (probably the first one)

#3 – Click the button

Message in Short.io telling us to go to Godaddy and link our Vanity UTL domain to Short.io

#1 – This message tells me I need to go back to GoDaddy and do a little work.

#2 – This link will send you right to the GoDaddy Login Page

#3 – Instructions about what to do at GoDaddy

#4 – We will come back to this page. It is where you create Vanity URLs by adding the keyword that will be placed after your domain name and you will enter the Target URL. The example at the beginning of this document was ertcmax.us/start. “Start” is the slug/keyword and there will be a URL I want users sent to when they browse to this URL.

This article is a little out of date. Especially the IP addresses that Short.io wants you to use.

 

This article walks you through the steps.

I’m going to repeat his steps.  Don’t be surprised when you find that GoDaddy made changes in the menu structure “to make things better.”  You might need to search a little or call support. One of the reasons I suggested using GoDaddy to buy your domain name is that their Support Staff has always been great.

You Purchased a Domain Earlier *se For Your Vanity URls.  Let’s Find It.

#1 – In my case, they asked me to verify my security settings.

#2 – MY ACCOUNT almost always has the option to see my domains.

#3 – Yup! There is the DOMAIN’S link.

Finding our domain name on GoDaddy

And there is the URL I want. It is a clickable link, so click on it.

When I click on that link, I get the Domain’s Settings, which is where I want to be.

In the article, the author had to click a dropdown menu to get to the DNS Settings. Now it is a main offering as shown by the arrow.

If you mess the following up, GODADDY SUPPORT will fix it for you! Do not sweat the small stuff!

To Set Up Our VANITY URLs We Need to Make Changes.

Which DNS recores we delete and which we keep when we are attaching our domain to Short.io so we can create Vanity URLs

The author said to” delete the unnecessary records but didn’t go into what was necessary.

I’m going to say keep the NS records and the SOA record.  Everything else needs to be deleted.

Deleting DNS records that are there from the start

I’m going to do a BULK delete so I put a checkmark beside the lines I want to erase. These are shown with Red arrows. The Blue arrows show the ones I want to keep.

Teaching note: The internet works off IP addresses. There are four sets of numbers separated by periods (e.g. 211.138.22.6). The system is being upgraded to have six sets of numbers. (The change bumps the total number of available addresses from over 4 billion to 300 followed by ,000 12 times.) When you put in a URL name, the computers in the background ask some special database servers (computers) if they know the IP address for the domain you entered. If they don’t, there is a system where they can go to other databases and find the IP address. You need to have access to one of these servers to TELL the system your domain’s IP address or the whole thing falls apart. The NS (Name Server) lines and the SOA line are your domain’s access points. You can see why it is a good idea to keep those records. (Sorry, the nerd peeks out now and then.)

ADD RECORDS – THE LAST VANITY URL SETUP STEP ON GODADDY

Here are the two the article  asks us to add  (OUT OF DATE)

– “A” record; @ Host; 52.21.33.16 IP address (it connects GoDaddy and Short.io).

– “A” record; @ Host; 18.184.197.212 IP address.

NOTE:  The word HOST confuses things here.  Ignore the word.  We do NOT enter it anywhere.

We had an A record that marked the Domain as PARKED. We will add a new A record too. We could have edited the existing one.

NOTE: Instructions on the Short.io site say the two IP addresses should be 52.2.56.64 and 52.21.33.16.

If you need to modify an “A” record, click the pencil icon a the end of the row.

I know this is hard to read. The “A” is his instructions is a record with an “A” for the first value. Follow that with just the @ sign. The next piece is the IP address. Be sure they are right and have periods. I changed the value of the last field to “1 hour” to match his.

So there are four values for each row 1)A, 2) @, 3) IPAddress, 4) 1 hour.

Use for one ‘A’ rec9rd 52.21.33.16  and 8.184.197.212 for the other.

You will choose “1 Hour” from a drop-down menu.

Double Check the number. The screen shown above has an error that I caught on that last check.

What the author of the article appears to say, does not work..

Demonstration an error when createing DNS recordsHere are the final configurations using the IP address from the Short.io site, not the ones in the articl3.

Here are the instructions from the Short.io screen after you press the Instructions Link.

Step 1: Go to your domain registrar, sign in, and locate the domain DNS Manage section.

Step 2: In the DNS Manage area, you need to find and delete all pre-existing records of type A and CNAME.

Step 3: Create a new type A record with the name ‘@’ and value 52.21.33.16. Save changes.

Step 4: Repeat step #3 with the value 52.2.56.64

So you will see two new records:

@ A 52.21.33.16of

@ A 52.2.56.64

ONE STEP FURTHER – MAKE YOUR VANITY URL WWW

Make your links work if someone adds WWW.  (Some people still do that automatically.)

Add another copy of the “A” records and replace the “@” with “www”

Final DNS records used to link your domain name to Shorit.io Making www work I added two new A records;

They are exactly the same as the two we just added except for the name column.  The original A records had @ in the name column.  The new A records have www in that column.

The red ellipses show the two sets of records.  #1 shows that a @-name and a www-name are pointing to the same IP address.  #2 shows the other pair pointing at the other IP address.

Time to Go Back to SHORT.IO And Create Some VANITY URLs

It is going to take a while for the values you just entered at GoDaddy to replace the old values in the Name Servers around the Internet.  When Short.IO sees the changes, you will see this screen and you will receive an email telling you the Domain Name is connected with Short.io

You Will See This In The Upper Right Corner  Where the Instructions Were.

Done! Now wait for the server’s updates; it might take 1-2 hours. We will notify you by email.

Now we wait. We will get an email as soon as Short.io can see the connection to your domain. Pressing the REFRESH button will give a Success Message once the changes we made have been propagated to servers around the Internet.

Your screen should look like the one below. If you do not see the menu names across the top (#1), click the three-dash menu (#2) and click on Dashboard.  You won’t have the list of links until you add them.

Getting to the screen in Short.io that we use to create Vanity URLs (also edit them and watch the click counts)

The first option I would choose is Domain Settings

Taking care of the Vanity URL that has no slug

#1 – Domain Setting

#2 – Make sure you are working on the correct domain.   They give you a sample to play with.

#3,#4, and,#5 are all in the red elipse.  They help you set up where the potential client should be sent if they enter your domain without a /xxxx.


It is important to remember that this will be the home page of your website when you upgrade to a full website.  don’t use this link for anything now,  You need to have it go somewhere but don’t give it out or print on your business card or include it in posts or emails.  You will probably have another use for your website’s home page and you don’t want to have to go find this link in fifty different places.  Plan ahead!!!

If the page says the HOME page is not configured, click on #3, the pencil icon.  When you do, this screen will pop up.

Taking care of the Vanity URl that has no Slug

#1 – shows which URL we are working on.

#2 -shows what I have been calling the Keyword, but it is technically the SLUG.   We want this to be empty because we are configuring where the root domain by itself will send people who enter it into their browser.

#3 is a title.   This will be changed when we upgrade to a website.  Actually, we won’t be using Short.io for that site.

#4 – shows where we are sending potential clients who enter this link without a slug.

#5 – is an optional folder.  I am using one because I have used this account for several things over the years.

#6 – The SAVE button will turn green when we have changed things and there is something to save.  Click the button when you are through editing this screen.

NOTE:  There is a separate SAVE button for the TAGS line.  I am not going to talk about tags!

You will probably come back to this later.

Before you leave I would click on Slug Generation.

Automatic slug generation when are creating Vanity URLs. We overwrite these.

#1 – Click on the Slug Generation and then pick one of the options (#2)

In most cases, I overwrite these random codes with a word that makes sense to me and others (e.g. Claim or Start or Home).

Be sure to click SAVE CHANGES.

You need to go back to the previous screen, fill it out, and save it.  You really need the cloaking button set to off.  It makes entering new links much easier.

Let’s Get To Where You Create Your Vanity URLs (Branded Links)

Creating Vanity URLs - Overview of the screen we use to add or edit the URLs

#1 – Click on Branded Links

#2 – This is where you will paste the Target URL.

More information will show up here. See the net screen

#3 – you can edit an existing link by clicking the pencil;

#4 – Here you can see your click count

ADD A NEW VANITY URL (Branded Link)

If you have not set the cloaking off, this section is funky. There may be a better way and if I see it, I’ll update this. For now, this works.

Click on the Short.io logo in the upper left (not shown) and then click on DASH OARD to get to this screen.

Step 2 - Creating Vanity URLs - Paste the Target url

Under the Branded Links, you will see the little field at the top of the work area (#1).  There is also a plus sign to the right of the field, but I have not had to use it.

Enter the target URL in this field.  Where do you want the potential client to go?

If it is a legitimate URL, the small screen shown above should immediately pop up.

#1 – This is where I entered the target Url.

#2 – Short.io created a random keyword (slug) and shows it at the end of the base URL and in an editable field.

#3 – Click on CUSTOMIZE to edit all the fields that are part of this link.  That will bring up the next screen.

Step 2 - Create Vanity URLs - Edit the Slug, title and other fields

#1 – This is the domain we are working on.

#2 – This is where you paste the Target URL,

#3 – This is the keyword (slug).  We need to change this.

#4 – This title was automatically taken from the Target URL’s page. You can edit it, if something would remind you better about what you are using this page for.

#5 –  This is the Target URL that you entered into #1

#6 –  I do have a folder because I think I may be changing things. You should not worry about that field.

THE EDITED VANITY URL SCREEN.

More on Step 2 - create Vanity URLs - Which fields were changed

#3 – I replaced the keyword (slug) with Overview.  Now if I give someone the link ERTCMax.us/Overview, they will be sent to this Overview YouTube video.  If I create or find a better overview, I can change the Target URL here and people will be sent to that file.  I don’t have to keep a careful record of every place I sent people to an overview file so that I can edit each one if I make a change.

#4 – Change the TITLE if the one the system filled in if it doesn’t remind you what this link is for.

#5 – I used the dropdown to select my folder.

#6 – If the SAVE button is green, you can save and this link will be done.  If the SAVE button is not green, you probably did not set the cloaking button to off in a previous step.   You can fix it now by clicking on the CLOACKING menu option to the left, but it is clunky and you will probably have to re-enter some of the data.

A small screen will pop up. Turn the Link Cloaking slide button off and SAVE.

That will take you back to the previous screen. Check it to make sure nothing changed and click the SAVE button.

You now have a VANITY URL that is related to your brand that you can give to people and when they use it, they will end up on the URL of your choice. You can even change the destination if you want to do split testing or change suppliers.

BE SURE TO TEST IT!

 We Have Our Domain, It Is Linked, We Created Our Vanity URLs.  Are We Done?

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I hope you said NO!!!

TEST EVERY LINK!

One of the things I learned the hard way (over and over) was that you TEST everything.  It doesn’t matter how small a change looks or how right a new entry look, you are not done until you test it.

Check every one of your links.   When you use one of the links somewhere, test that.  here are some common errors;

  • Zeros and Os look about the same.
  • Making something plural when the actual link is singular is easy to do and the link will fail.  (Of course you can fail doing the opposite – using a singular when the actual link is plural.)

TEACHING NOTE:  It is not that hard to create a second very similar  Vanity URL when you create the first one.  Whenyou find a common error, why not add a seond Vanity URL that responds correctlywhen the human gets it wrong.  Whenever you see a certain error happening often, see if you can make it so that the bad entry gives the potential client what they wanted. It saves the potential customer or uor staff time and frustration.

  • Test and test again.

Watching Vanity URLs Click Counts.

As I noted earlier, the Dashboard has a column where Short.io tell you how often the link was clicked on.

If you plan things out, you can use this feature to do A/B split tests.

Again, you need to plan this out, but you can determine where your leads are coming from by using different links that go to the same signup page.  For example, you could use one link to record how many click you got from people on YouTube, and using a different Keyword (slug), you could see how many people were coming from your email broadcasts or from Facebook.

Creating eMail Addresses Using the Domain Your Purchaed From GoDaddy For Your Vanity URLs.

We did not go over this, but you can create email addresses using your branded domain and forward them to your usual email.  This does not cost anything.  You can also pay a monthly fee to GoDaddy and create real email addresses hosted at GoDaddy.

Do Your Vanity URLs Pass Parameters?

The short answer is yes/  This is an important feature that many of you have never heaerd bout since it is geek stuff/

Many systems need to add information like your affiliate ID to the end of the URL you are given to use.   This information is at the end of the URL and starts with a question mark.  If this information got lost in the process I have described, you would not get credit for the client or sale.  I tested it and they do get passed to the Target URL.

SUMMARY – Creating Vanity URLs Without a Website.

We created a URL where we could use the URL name and a keyword to send potential clients to different sites.  The objective was to spend a small amount of money to make your online presence look professional.  We went through the following steps:

  1.  We bought a domain that was congruent with our business from GoDaddy.com  Links created with this URL are called Branked links.
  2. We created an account with Short.io.  They have a free service that lets us have unlimited links using one domain name as the base.
  3. We learned a little about the vocabulary used by professionals who specialize in links.
  4. We edited the DNS fields associated with our domain name on GoDaddy.  This connected our Domain Name with Short.io.
  5. We took care of the situation where people add WWW to our link.
  6. We created a special link for cases where people typed our domain URL without including a /keyword.  We talked about reserving this version of the domain name for a website we may create in the future.  The link we created will also take care of instances where people try to go to our domain URL with a misspelled keyword.
  7. We set up our accounts with an image and other personal information on Short.io.
  8. We learned some about cloaking.
  9. We added links to our domain name.  That was the original reason for this exercise.
  10. I talked briefly about using the click counts you can see in the Dashboard screen and in creating emails for your branded domain name.
  11. I ranted some about testing your work.

All of this was done for about $4.

Have a Great Day!  Oh Hale Yes!

P.S. If you own a small business with w-2 employees and were in operationin20220 and 2021, the government probably owes you a significant amount of money.  You can contact me at HalePringle2gmai.com or watch the Youtube Video we used as an example earlier  ERTCMax.us/Overview

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