Did you ever stop to think what the ‘link’ is all about?

Did you ever stop to think what the ‘link’ is all about?

Did you ever stop to think what the ‘link’ is all about?

By Tony Kirsch
Head of Professional Services, Neustar

From as far back as the 1400s, marketing has existed with three simple objectives; 

1. to inform consumers about products and services they may want or need;
2. to brand that experience in order to build loyalty or recall; and
3. to prompt customers to take action.

And despite a myriad of technical innovations over that time, the game remains pretty much the same. But things do change.

Innovations evolve from raw, often simplistic initial forms into something far more elegant as utilization spreads and they benefit from continual refinement and learning. This is the core of progress. To question the existing and follow the potential of finding a better way.

This leads me to the URL shortener, or the ‘link.’ A tool built from necessity in a social digital world. A tool that until recently, no-one stopped to ask ‘what the hell are we doing?’

Saving the character count

Writing content for social media has its own particular requirements due to the audience, typical behavior and general restrictions of the various platforms available. Twitter in particular presents a challenge for marketers to adhere to the 140-character limit. However, even this in itself has evolved with Twitter making changes to the treatment of photos, videos and quotes within the character count over the last few years.

But because of these limitations, a new ‘best practice’ has developed – the use of a URL shortener – where the destination URL of the content (typically on a long URL) is transformed into a short URL.

In addition to keeping the number of characters down so you can share more of your genius, one of the additional benefits of using a URL shortener platform is that it can often provide you with great insights into how your posts are being shared, clicked and are otherwise performing. 

Options aplenty

Sure, there are lots of options to shorten your URLs – from free services through to more advanced and expensive analytical providers. And if you think about it, you’ve seen them everywhere.

Market leader Bitly (who noticeably rebranded themselves away from bit.ly in recent times) shortens upwards of 400 million links a month which is a staggering number in itself.

Others are infused in your daily social feeds – from bit.ly to goo.gl to ow.ly. And we never blink an eyelid.

The game is changing

The first time I really started to think about this was when Bitly reported that shortened links that have some reference to your brand were capable of driving up to a 34% increase in click-through rate. We’re not talking about minor improvements here – 34% is a massive boost in any context.

And so brands took the advice, to varying levels of success:

  • Some did a good job by using a shorter ccTLD or similar – ibm.co etc.
  • Some added a little extra to the domain – on.nfl.com
  • Some threw a dot in a strange place or abbreviated their brand to make it work – bloom.bg, xfin.tv, ora.cl
  • Others just completely hacked something together out of their brand – capitl1.co, at.van.fedex.com, s.gm.com

But despite this clear insight from the organization who really has the data to make such a statement, a large proportion of brands – some of whom really ought to know better – still use generic links in social media. 

Time to get real

The .brand juice flowing through my veins was starting to pulse as this all started to formulate in my head. We’ve been teaching all of our customers to use their .brand to get people to the content they want through simple and powerful URLs.

So what really is the difference between a social media link and a link we may use in a TV campaign? Are we constrained by slightly archaic mindsets and could our .brand approach work across traditional and social media platforms?

Looking at the BrandFinance Global 500 brands, 142 of those applied for their own .brand TLD but a staggering half of those .brand owners are using a generic URL shortener or no shortener at all.

Something’s wrong with this picture. Could this be an opportunity to not only see .brand usage increase, but start the process of meaningful link development?

A new way of branding links

For organizations with a .brand, there now exists a better way to approach social links. The ability to create something short, with your recognizable brand to the right of the dot, means the best of both worlds – custom links, control of data and an accurate representation of your brand in every post.

In fact, this can be one of the simplest ways to get started with a .brand domain as we’ve noticed with organizations such as HSBC, Philips and our good selves at Neustar.

But even then, not all customized links are created equal. It’s all well and good to include your brand in your links, but what about that randomly-generated text after the slash?

Think about it, what looks better:

i.neustar/3nsdD7
or i.neustar/socialblog

This part of your link gives people a preview of what to expect. If your brand comes after the dot, the text after the slash gives you the chance to feature a product, service, promotion, content piece and so on, so people know exactly where they’re going when they click.

Which of the options above is likely to get more clicks?

Highly-available tools allow you to easily set up branded link shorteners with the freedom to also customize the extension – and for many of them it’s a free service. It’s almost too simple, and is out there waiting and available for any brand to take advantage of.

The importance of brand in social

The matter at stake here is bigger than freeing up a few more characters in your Twitter posts.

It’s about building things that people can identify and can trust. It’s about increasing visibility of your brand, and your product. It’s about creating a consistent experience for customers.

With a custom link shortener using a .brand, your company’s identity can be present and strengthened with every post, while creating a more trustworthy experience for audiences that they’re more likely to engage with.

On top of this, customizing to the right hand side not only looks better, but gives people something they can identify and connect with.

Identifying, connecting, tracking, building trust, branding. All of these outcomes are crucial to what marketers try to do every single day.

So why are so many stuck in an old way of thinking?

Mark my words, this is a game changer and in the very near future we’re all going to reflect on this and wonder why it took us so long to come up with this simple and efficient improvement to the ever powerful ‘link.’

GoDaddy acquired Neustar's registry business as of August 3, 2020.

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Part 2: How vanity URLs & a .brand TLD could supercharge your SEO

Part 2: How vanity URLs & a .brand TLD could supercharge your SEO

How vanity URLs & a .brand TLD could supercharge your SEO
(Part 2)

In this exclusive MakeWay.World guest series, Major League Baseball’s Matt Dorville shares his perspective on how to use vanity URLs within your .brand TLD to really drive your SEO ranking.

Matt is Major League Baseball Advanced Media’s Content and SEO Strategist. He is widely regarded as a leading global SEO expert and develops SEO strategies for MLB.com, NHL.com, and all 61 ball clubs within MLB as well as for Major League Baseball Advanced Media’s partners both domestic and internationally.

 

In the first part of my blog, we discussed vanity URLs – how they benefit brands and how Google has adapted its treatment of them in recent months to remove the penalty for redirecting domains. You can read part one of this series here and part three here.

It’s all about amplification 

In addition to the ease of use for customers trying to access the exact landing page or part of a site that they’re looking for, vanity URLs are also an excellent way of establishing a social connection with the customer and generating links.

With Twitter feeds now showing up in SERPs and social now an excellent and widely understood method of amplifying content and links, vanity URLs provide a wonderful opportunity to spur social involvement, amplify and extend reach for links, and build traffic and discoverability around a marketing campaign.

Whilst it is true that social links don’t affect ranking in the same way as traditional links, the diversity and power of social media does increase the amplification of those links, allowing customers to know about the campaign and post in ways that do affect ranking (on their own sites for example).

vanity urls seo brand TLDs

Broadcasting links on social media leads to serious amplification of campaigns, which then turns into backlinks as those links either hit a news source or possibly blogs that write content about the campaign. These backlinks in turn help SEO and strengthen the landing page as well as the site itself through the quality links generated by the campaign. 

For example, the domain bigmac.com is owned by McDonald’s, and while they currently don’t utilize this as a vanity URL, a redirect from bigmac.com to their recent promotion of the Big Mac, located at https://www.mcdonalds.com/us/en-us/new-big-mac.html seems like an easy marketing win to create online attention as well as links to the page. The URL bigmac.com is both direct and easy to remember. The reader simply assumes that bigmac.com ‘must be’ a McDonald’s property – thus engendering trust.

In using this type of vanity URL, McDonald’s should ensure that bigmac.com takes the user to content about the Big Mac, not about McDonald’s in general or a McDonald’s homepage. By not utilizing the vanity in this type of campaign, McDonald’s are missing out on both an SEO and direct traffic opportunity.

“Whenever an organization does a marketing campaign, it really should pair itself with a great SEO campaign. You want them to work together.”

vanity urls seo brand TLDs

What does this all mean? 

The number of microsites utilizing .brand URLs in the last year or so has been steadily growing. But for some, the ability to move the existing home page content is a really significant process.

Vanity URLs using .brands are a simple and highly effective method of getting your customers to where they want to go, as well as giving your SEO a boost that won’t be easily replicated by your competitors.

Of course, it’s possible to do a subdomain or subfolder, for example bigmac.mcdonalds.com or mcdonalds.com/bigmac, but that doesn’t have the simplicity that bigmac.com or bigmac.mcdonalds has and most likely when broadcasting it, a lack of simplicity will lead to a lack of amplification.

Whenever an organization does a marketing campaign, it really should pair itself with a great SEO campaign. You want them to work together. But it’s often difficult to achieve your goals from a marketing standpoint as well as a SEO standpoint.

That’s where vanity URLs open doors.

Using vanity URLs with your .brand allows: 

– the marketing team to get the URL with the product name they want,
– the development team to avoid a lot of work getting the consumers there, and
– SEO to gain strength both on the landing page for the campaign as well as use the link building to strengthen the entire site.

The recent change in 301 redirection is significant news and a vanity URL within a .brand domain should provide excellent benefits in broadcasting on social as well as generating links to the domain through amplification.  The simplicity of the vanity domain, most times pairing up the product, action, or campaign with .brand should be able to tie in with marketing to increase SEO strength on both the landing page and the entire site, and generate traffic through organic and social channels.

Looking further ahead, as the biggest brands in the world fight to re-establish direct relationships with their customers wherever possible, the ability to use a vanity URL strategy to allow customers to type in <anything>.brand vanity URLs to find the content they’re seeking is a very interesting one.

Consumers will still rely on search to navigate the ever expanding amount of content on the web. However, the use of vanity URLs within .brand TLDs in the coming years is going to be a significant opportunity to garner excellent growth in both long term and short term SEO as well as increasing highly valuable direct type-in traffic in the future.

Part 3 of Matt’s guest post series looks at ways .brand TLD owners can use their exclusive branded namespaces to take advantage of vanity URLs. Read it here.

GoDaddy acquired Neustar's registry business as of August 3, 2020.

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MakeWay.World is the online hub for news, resources, tips and inspiration on .brands from global dotbrand experts.

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