Creating Custom Vanity Tracking Links

Create Shorter Vanity Tracking Links With A Custom Domain

A vanity URL or tracking link is a shortened redirect we use for better branding and aesthetics. In this post I’m going to show you how to use a dedicated or custom vanity domain for creating fast and easy tracking links that are shorter and look better than most bloggers use.

Why bother with short vanity links?

Back in the day, marketers used link shorteners, ad trackers, and even link cloakers to prevent what was termed “affiliate theft“. I don’t know how much of a problem there is with affiliate theft these days but that issue years ago created a ton of tools and resources that are being used today by bloggers everywhere.

Vanity links look better

Vanity links look better and are easier to share. Those two benefits, along with the ability to track how many people are clicking your links, are the main reasons to put these tools to good use.

Let’s take a quick look at a couple of links, a before and after view, if you will. I’ll use my NameCheap affiliate link$ for this example:

Original –

Custom –

You can see that the custom vanity URL I created using the WordPress plugin Pretty Link looks a lot better even though, in this particular case, it’s not that much shorter. Now, if we used a shorter domain to create these vanity URL’s, we can get really ninja on short links but more on that in a minute.

Social share tracking

I recently wrote about separating my Instagram account into two separate accounts, business and personal. Since doing that, I’ve been playing around with driving a little traffic back to this blog from my Instagram account.

Anyone on Instagram understands what a challenge that can be because the only clickable link (hotlink) you can have on that site is in your user profile. Image posts can have a link in text format but they are not clickable.

So I’ve been including a vanity URL within the image and the image description. Let’s look at an image I posted about Personalization for Content Creation.

I created a custom link for that blog post in Pretty Link That link and image inspired over forty people (48 Hits/44 Uniq.) to actually type the URL into their browsers.

Forty visits isn’t a ton of traffic but that’s just one image and it is 40+ visits I wouldn’t have otherwise enjoyed. And, don’t forget, those are visits from people that wanted to see the post bad enough to type the address into their web browser.

The shorter and easier link helps influence this type of action.

Tracking inbound traffic

“What gets measured gets improved.” ~ Robin S. Sharma (And Chase Reeves w/ Fizzle just last week)

I’m going to stick with the Instagram example here but any site will do. Instagram is especially bad for referral traffic and usually shows WAY at the bottom of the page on my Google Analytics. The tracking ability of Pretty Link lets me see the progress for little campaigns without that “no-linking” roadblock.

While I’ve had my doubts about the accuracy of any link tracking site, it’s really all we have. The redirect process alone makes it a little less reliable than direct linking but I still think it’s worth the very low risk of losing a click or slightly inaccurate metrics.

Going even shorter with a Custom Vanity Domain

So here we go, this is where we get a little ninja without getting too complicated. I’m going to keep everything very simple so we’re going to stick with the Pretty Link plugin. Pretty Link will take care of the extension for us, now we need a really short domain that makes sense.

Pretty Link is free so with the low cost of a domain we can look and act like the large websites when it comes to link tracking with vanity links.

I registered for my vanity links. So rather than:

Original – looking like

Old Custom –, not it looks like:

New Custom  –

Pretty Cool, right?

One more example so you can see that this is what the larger sites are doing.The link to the video embedded here is:

YouTube has it’s own domain for tracking links so here’s the short URL for the same video:

More on Pretty Link tracking:

Watch – Video tutorial for setting up your vanity domain

Choosing a short URL for your link shorteners and tracking links

Finding a great URL for your vanity links is much easier, and even more fun, with the new gTLDs (Generic Top Level Domains) that have been rolling out. I use and recommend NameCheap$  and I have secured a couple of domains for things like link and ad tracking. One, as I already mentioned, is and the other is I’ll use for ad campaigns but more on that another day.

I’m sure you can see the “hbt” is short for Hot Blog Tips. The Generic Top Level Domains .link and .buzz are a couple of the shorter options right now. One of the more recent additions is .click, which is PERFECT for what we’re doing here. Other 4 character or less domain options include:

  • .surf
  • .desi
  • .tips
  • .zone
  • .xyz
  • .wiki
  • .best
  • .cool
  • .onl
  • .pics
  • .gift

There are many other potential domain options but I’m sure you get the idea. Head on over to NameCheap$ and look at the “NEW” section and let your creativity flow.

Vanity domain setup suggestions

A few recommendations worth mentioning are:

  • You will need to install WordPress and the Pretty Link plugin but that’s about it.
  • You can either create a special landing page for random visitors explaining the purpose of the site or simply redirect it to your main website or blog.
  • For the fastest redirects, keep this domain clean of extra themes, plugins, categories, links, and posts. Delete all of the extras and keep it as clean as possible.
  • Turn off all comments, trackbacks, and site notifier.
  • No-follow and “hide” the domain from the search engines (Watch embedded video).

More on domains:

Creating Custom Campaign Links

As a little bonus, I thought I’d mention Google’s URL builder. This is another free tool that easily allows you to add advanced tracking parameters into your links and even shows up in Google Analytics. This is great for separating ad campaigns and tracking individual platform results. It’s pretty self explanatory so I won’t go into detail here but it’s a great tool to create an advanced tracking link to then plug into your custom vanity domain (Pretty Link). Now you have the best of all worlds – tracking, short URL, and a branded vanity link.

Over to you

Have you been using a plugin like Pretty Link? Are you using a vanity URL for your link tracking? Can you see the value of creating very short custom links? Do you have any other advice or comments? Feel free, that’s what I’m here for.

About Brian Hawkins

Blogging superhero by day and internet super villain by night. Blogger, future online millionaire and an all around great guy.


  1. Elizabeth Hall says

    Great turtorial. I actually use Pretty Link for redirects on Youtube & Pinterst where shorten url links are not allowed. I don’t really use them for affiliate links much. I like using them because they give your links branding so to speak. Thanks for the share.

  2. That’s a good point Elizabeth, about sites that don’t allow link shorteners. I don’t know if they will eventually see Pretty Link as the same thing but it’s a nice workaround for now. I love the branding aspect too, that’s a big one.

  3. awesome. I love the way you cut things down further by using a short domain. Back in the old days I did this using some Ninja affiliate tool of which I cannot remember the name. Today I am using Ghost links and I am very pleased with it.

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