Using a custom domain that redirects to your main site (a vanity domain or vanity URL) is a great way to measure offline initiatives and specific campaigns aside from your main website visits.
This important step of tracking your conversions from other (forwarded) domains is a common missed-step in campaign setup. These steps will allow you to more accurately report on the success of your campaigns in Google Analytics.
When to Use a Vanity URL?
Using a simple, easy to remember domain that is not your main domain and is forwarded to your main domain is common in offline campaigns or micro-campaigns. It's helpful to show this easy-to-remember vanity URL to your audience instead of asking them to remember a longer URL on your main domain.
When your potential visitor types in this vanity URL they are redirected from that vanity URL to the specific landing page URL on your main site.
How to Set up Your Vanity URL so You Can Track it
Generally speaking, when someone clicks a link that redirects from one website to another, that visit will sometimes show in Google Analytics as being a "referral" with the referring domain attributed to it, but it doesn't always show as a referrer. Often, the referring URL will get stripped out in the redirect and you're left with just another (direct / none) visitor in Google Analytics.
To increase the chances of having your referral data get passed through to Google Analytics all you need to do is add URL tracking parameters the destination page URL.
For example, instead of just redirecting your vanity URL to domain.com/custom-campaign-page you would redirect them to domain.com/custom-campaign-page?utm_source=vanity-url&utm_medium=billboard&utm_campaign=custom-campaignYou can use Google’s tracking URL builder, Raven’s tracking URL builder, a spreadsheet, or if you have Marketing Pro you can use HubSpot's Tracking URL Builder found in the Analytics & Reporting tools. It really doesn't matter what tool you use as long as you get the parameters correct.
Reporting on URL Parameters in Google Analytics
In Google Analytics, head over to your Campaigns report, Source report, or Medium report and you'll be able to identify and filter by the parameters that you've used. You can create a custom segment so that you're looking only at that traffic and see their site engagement metrics or you can compare two or more different segments to see how the behavior of those visitors compares with those from other sources.
Visit the vanity URL and double check that it's redirecting as expected. Did it trigger the URL parameters? Are those parameters showing up in Google Analytics?
If you look at the "Real Time" reports in Google Analytics you'll be able to see right away if it's tracking or not.
If they're not showing up, go back to square one and double check:
- are you looking at a date range that includes when the redirecting vanity URL was in place with the tracking code?
- is there any reasons it wouldn't have garnered any clicks during that period?
- have you set up the parameters as directed by the URL builder (proper naming convention, all required utms included, etc.)?
- are those parameters being stripped out in the redirect (talk to dev about this one)?
- have you tried removing the parameters and then re-adding them back in (equivalent to tech support 'turn it off and turn it on again' which is surprisingly effective)?
And that’s it! You should now see the data from your forwarded domains in Google Analytics.
Want more advanced Google Analytics help? We're here to help 🤓