Best Practices for Vanity URLs for Colleges and Universities

Consumers are now used to interfacing with things in bits, bytes and and bite-sized chunks. When it comes to reeling in a broad audience, marketers are using vanity URLs to do exactly this by shortening lengthy, confusing URLs into readable and accessible links.

What are Vanity URLs?

Vanity URLs:

  • Are short and clean, easy to remember and easy to read website URLs
  • Are seen as more trustworthy than long links and perform better in terms of clicks
  • Can increase rankings on search engines if keywords are embedded in them
  • Can be monitored so that you can track where traffic is coming from, and which advertisements or platforms are performing best

What are The Two Types of Vanity URLs?

Vanity URLs are very useful for a variety of purposes, but depending on the need they can be utilized in two places within a URL. A subdomain (prefix) occurs at the beginning of a URL (e.g. xyz.college.edu) while a subfolder (suffix) occurs after a slash (e.g. www.college.edu/xyz).

  1. Subdomains are used for
    • securing rankings on search engines
    • marketing of departments and schools within a larger institution
  2. Subfolders are used for
    • promotional campaigns
    • directing people from printed materials, radio ads, tv ads, etc.

Few Words of Caution When Using Vanity URLs


  • Overusing them for every page on a website. This is unnecessary, can hurt rankings, and defeats the purpose of using them in the first place: simplicity.
  • Using keywords that are too similar to one another or you will have to compete with your own rankings, ultimately hurting yourself.
  • Creating a new URL because you will have to start from scratch. Instead, vanity URLs will serve the same function while still being within the existing domain.
  • Using too many slashes for subfolders. Vanity URLs are supposed to be simple, and too many subfolders can clog the URL unnecessarily

Guidelines for Managing Vanity URLs

  • Designate a vanity URL administrator who’s authorized to approve/disapprove
  • Describe guidelines for when vanity URLs should be used so that people can determine whether or not to submit a request
  • Create a form that includes: name, email, vanity URL, internal destination URL, start date, expiration date, how it’ll be used, and legitimate need/rationale
  • Define rules such as the length limits, use of lower case alpha-numeric characters only with hyphen for spaces, must end with alpha, ease of typing, ease of communication over phone or conversation, avoiding acronyms, right to refuse, etc.
  • Provide a list of vanity URLs that are currently in use.

Guidelines for Awarding Vanity URLs

  • Who needs them:
    • Schools within an institution
    • Marketing campaigns
    • Enrollment campaigns
    • Capital campaigns
  • Who could or could not have them:
    • Centers of Excellence, depending on how much money they’re bringing in
    • Academic departments and other key departments such as communications and the registrar’s office
  • Who does not need them:
    • Academic programs
    • Clubs and organizations
    • Individual athletic teams
    • Faculty and student profiles
    • Suppliers such as dining services, housing services, etc.

Remember, for every rule there is an exception. So make judgments based on a case-by-case basis.