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Create Your Own Vanity URL Shortener

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Gift

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Whether you run a business or are just active on social media, chances are you share a lot of links. With so many URLs flooding into our timelines, it can be difficult to make yours stand out.

You may have noticed that some people have their own vanity URL for shortened links—something that uniquely identifies content as coming from them. Creating and using a vanity URL shortener can be a valuable asset to your brand, and it’s easier than you may have thought!


1. Obtaining a Good Domain

Keep it Simple

In order to get started, you'll need to make sure you actually own the vanity URL you would like to use. You probably already own businessname.com, but that's not a good domain name choice for this role.

Remember that our goal with vanity URLs is to create short links that are shared on social networks, so having a long domain name will limit the number of free characters you have left over to comment on the link. Let's think of something better.

Domai.nr is Your Friend

Instead of businessname.com, you will want to use an alternative that's shorter but still recognizably belongs to your brand. There are many places on the internet you can go to search for a domain name, but Domai.nr is designed to help you find clever alternatives, short versions, and variations, which makes it perfect for our uses.

Domai.nr's clean interface makes it easy to hunt down a perfect short domain.
Domai.nr's clean interface makes it easy to hunt down a perfect short domain.

Using the primary businessname.com domain as our example, there are a couple of tricks you can try to get a shortened domain:

  1. Remove unnecessary vowels
    • ‘businessname’ could become ‘bsnsname’
  2. Try to use vanity TLDs (Top-Level Domains) to save some extra characters
    • Instead of wasting 3 characters using ‘bsnsname.com’, we could use ‘bsnsna.me’. On MacTuts and across our network, we use 'enva.to' for consistency
  3. Get it under 15 characters
    • Do whatever it takes to get the domain to have fewer than 15 characters, dot included

Now that we’ve come up with a usable short version of our domain, we need to actually purchase it. You can find a reseller from Domai.nr if you like, or if your domain purchases are consolidated elsewhere already (at GoDaddy, for instance) then it’s probably beneficial to buy it from the same place so you can keep everything together.

Domai.nr offers helpful suggestions and several options for purchasing a domain.
Domai.nr offers helpful suggestions and several options for purchasing a domain.

2. Setting Up the Shortener

Meet Bit.ly

While there are many different link shortening services available, most of them either don’t let you configure your own vanity URL, or they have a limited network of compatible apps.

To ensure the best experience, you’re going to use the great grand-daddy of link shortening: Bit.ly. You’ve seen their links all over the internet, so I don’t need to tell you that they’re ubiquitous, but what you may not have realized is just how powerful their service is.

Their enterprise-grade features are going to power your vanity URL shortener.

Bitly is the largest link shortening service on the internet, launched in 2008.
Bitly is the largest link shortening service on the internet, launched in 2008.

Before you can get started, you need to make sure you have an account: go ahead and create one so that you get access to the full range of features, including the custom URL capability you’ll need. You also need to verify your email address before you can proceed.

Enable Your Custom Vanity URL

Since Bit.ly will be handling all the actual shortening, all that’s left to do is make sure that instead of creating short URLs using their domain, they use the shiny new one that you’ve just purchased.

  1. Access Account Settings
    • While you’re logged into your account, click the account menu in the top right of the interface and navigate to Settings. Once you’re there, flip over to the Advanced tab and look for the Custom Short Domain heading.
  2. Pick Your Use Case
    • At this point, Bit.ly will ask you whether you’ll be using the custom domain for personal or business use—you’ll have to fill out a survey if you choose business, so stick with personal.
  3. Do Some DNS Wrangling
    • After you put your new short domain in, you’ll have to flip back to your domain registrar—the company you just bought the new domain from—and access their DNS settings for the domain. This step varies from registrar to registrar, but all of them have extensive documentation to help you.
    • Once you’ve found your way to the DNS settings page, look for the domain’s existing A Record. It should have either @ or bsnsna.me as the Hostname and an IP address as the Value. What we need to do is modify the record so that the Value field points to this IP address: 69.58.188.49.
    • you’re nearly done! If people accidentally add the “www” before your short domain name, you need to make sure the shortener will still direct them correctly. To cover this eventuality, you'll need to create a new DNS entry called a “CNAME” record. For this one, enter www as the Hostname and cname.bitly.com as the Value.
    • Save your changes! Don’t worry about the TTL values; just leave the defaults.
Your DNS settings should look something like this once you're done.
Your DNS settings should look something like this once you're done.

Patience is a Virtue

It can take up to 48 hours (in rare cases) for your new DNS information to propagate around the whole internet, so don’t expect everything to start working immediately. Normally, you should be up and running within a few hours, but this can vary depending on your registrar.

It's not a waste time though—you can prepare to use our new system while everything sorts itself out in the background!


3. Using Your New Vanity URL

Double-Check Your Settings

Once you’ve done the DNS work, make sure that everything looks good back at Bitly: ensure that the correct domain is listed in your Custom Short Domain field, and pick it from the drop-down menu to select it as the default short domain to be used.

On Your Mac

Now that you’re operational, you can consider the many different ways of creating shortened links.

Naturally, you can simply paste links into the field on Bitly’s homepage to have it automatically create a shortened version using your vanity URL, but you don’t want to have to resort to that every time you need a link shortened.

On your Mac, you’ll find a number of apps designed to help you create and share short URLs easily, including Short Menu and Shrinkr. Both will allow you to log in via Bit.ly and use your new vanity URL, but Short Menu has the added advantage of providing a PopClip extension.

Let’s take a moment to explore Short Menu; they offer a free trial, so you can follow along before deciding whether or not you want to make use of the full version.

Using Short Menu

Having downloaded the app, you’ll be presented with a quick explanation of how Short Menu works, but you have a bit of setup to do before you can start using your vanity URL shortener with it.

  1. Log Into Bit.ly Using the Legacy API Key
    1. Third-party applications make use of an API key to grant access to your account, so you need to retrieve yours in order to log in. Visit your Bit.ly account settings page and go back to the Advanced tab we were on earlier.
    2. Right at the bottom, you’ll find the Legacy API Key section—click the link to show it, and copy the long string of characters.
    3. With Short Menu launched and running, click the menubar icon and use the dropdown gear menu to access the app’s Preferences.
    4. Once you’re in there, flip over to the Accounts tab and use the + button to add the Bit.ly credentials you just copied from the website.
    5. Click Add and you’re done!
  2. Add in as many different service accounts as you use.
    Add in as many different service accounts as you use.
  3. Set Up Quick Short and/or Auto Short
    1. One of Short Menu’s greatest advantages is that it offers multiple ways of shortening. Quick Short allows you to set up a system-wide shortcut to process the link you have copied to your clipboard.
    2. From the app’s Preferences menu, navigate to the Quick Short tab and click the Record Shortcut button to get the app’s attention.
    3. Now press your desired key combination and, assuming it isn’t already in use, Short Menu will assign it and you can start using it immediately! Any link in your clipboard will be shortened, and the result will replace the long version in your clipboard so you can paste it wherever you like.
    4. Auto Short works similarly, but shaves one extra step off the process—it will run a background process that continually checks your clipboard for links, shortening them automatically if it finds one. From Preferences, hop over to the Auto Short tab and click the button to activate the service if you prefer to work this way.
  4. It's best to use only one of these options; pick what works best for you.
    It's best to use only one of these options; pick what works best for you.
  5. Use Short Menu via PopClip
    1. PopClip is a fantastic utility, and its expandable nature makes it one of the most flexible tools available for Mac. Short Menu provides a PopClip extension, and it couldn’t be easier to use.
    2. From Short Menu’s homepage, you’ll find a link to the Short Menu PopClip extension.
    3. Simply double-click the file and PopClip will automatically install and activate it.
    4. Now, whenever you highlight a link, PopClip will appear with a new lightning bolt icon that automatically sends the URL to Short Menu for processing, giving you a perfect shortened vanity URL to use.
  6. vanityURL-shortdemo

Other Usage Options

Besides the native menubar options, you’ve got a wealth of other possible ways to use your new vanity URL shortener. Here are a few to keep in mind:

The Bitmarklet

This handy little tool lives in your bookmark bar and automatically shortens links with one click, without making you leave the page. A Chrome extension is also available that functions similarly.

Desktop Apps

Many desktop Twitter clients allow you to set up Bit.ly shortening from their settings, including Tweetbot, Seesmic, and Tweetdeck.

Buffer

If you like to schedule your posts, or simply distribute them to multiple networks simultaneously, then a tool like Buffer comes in very handy. Set up Bitly integration once and have it work with new links no matter where you Buffer them from!

WordPress

You can integrate the Bitly plugin to automatically shorten new post links, and even share them to your networks if you like.

iPhone

There’s an app for that. Create, manage, and track stats for your bitmarks using the dedicated app.

Email

You can email any link to save@bitmark.me from your account email address to have it automatically shortened for you. Likewise, you can share directly by sending the email to share@bitmark.me.


Conclusion

Now that you have your very own custom link shortener up and running, you can share those links without fear of them looking generic.

Don’t forget to log in to your Bit.ly account every now and then to keep an eye on the statistics so you know which of your shares is performing best!

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