How to Setup a Vanity URL Shortener for HootSuite

This is a technical post for power users who want to setup a vanity URL shortener for HootSuite. Admittedly, it is off-topic for most of my readers. This is something I wanted to do, and it turned into a bigger project than I anticipated. So I thought I would document my experience and post it for posterity.Hopefully, it will save others some grief.

HootSuite’s Vanity URL Shorteners

As you may know, a URL shortener is a way to take long Web site addresses and shorten it to a fraction of its size. This makes it much easier to share links via Twitter and other social media services where you have a limited number of characters to work with.

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Bit.ly is perhaps the most popular of these services. You can take a long URL like this:

And shorten it to this:

HootSuite—the Twitter software program I use to manage my Twitter account—has it’s own built-in URL shortener: ow.ly. The same link above becomes this:

The cool thing is that the HootSuite Pro now offers the ability to create your own “vanity” URL shortener. This makes it possible to use your name, your company’s name, or a brand name as your URL.

For example, I bought the domain mhyatt.us. This gives me the ability to transform the long link above to this:

I really had hoped to secure the domain hya.tt, which was only six characters long (counting the period). However, it would cost at least $1,000. (The region of Trinidad and Tobago sets the price.) I may be vain, but I am also cheap!

Here are the steps you need to take to setup your own vanity URL with HootSuite:

  1. Secure a short, custom domain. The shorter the better. I use GoDaddy.com for all my domain registrations. Frankly, I am not that crazy about it, but, as the largest domain registration service available, I want a service that won’t suddenly disappear—along with my domains.
  2. Sign-up for a HootSuite Pro account. This will cost you a minimum of $5.99 a month. It has a number of features not available with a free account.
  3. Buy the optional Vanity URL support. This will cost you $49.99 a month, Frankly, I think this is way too high for such a simple service, but I was willing to sign-up in order to see if a vanity URL would drive more traffic to my blog.
  4. Map HootSuite to your custom domain. This was the most difficult part. When I signed up for HootSuite’s vanity URL, I got a really obscure email that said:

    Please ask your network administrator to point your vanity domain’s DNS record to the following address: lb1.ow.ly

    Maybe it’s because I am technologically challenged, but I could not figure out what to do with this. I appealed to @HootSuite_Help via Twitter, asking for help. Sadly, it took them several hours to respond. They sent me two links, neither of which were helpful. However, I eventually figured it out on my own.

    With the help of Brooks Bayne (via Twitter), I converted the lb1.ow.ly address to a numeric IP address. This gave me an IP address of 75.101.155.42. I then went into GoDaddy and created a new “A record” that pointed to this address:

    GoDaddy Domain Management

  5. Set up your vanity URL in HootSuite. Click on the Owl graphic (in the upper-left hand corner), then select Settings | Preferences | URL shorteners. Then click on “Add Vanity URL.” Add your vanity domain name.
  6. Wait for the DNS change to resolve itself. When you make a change to your DNS service, it takes 24–48 hours to propagate across the Web. Be patient. If it doesn’t work immediately, this is normal.

Once you have done this, you should be able to select your new custom domain in the URL field. As soon as you do this once, it will become your default choice.

HootSuite with Default URL shortener

So far, I am really enjoying this feature of HootSuite. It is too soon to tell if it will cost-justify itself. I am watching it closely.

Questions: Have your tried setting up a vanity URL shortener? How has it worked for you? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • http://www.kevindeshazo.me Kevin

    A) Great info. I was extremely curious when I saw you tweet something with the mhyatt.us link. Figured there was a blog post coming!

    B) While a cool – and probably useful – feature, it’s far too expensive for my needs at this point. I can definitely see the value for others, though.

  • http://www.womenlivingwell-courtney.blogspot.com Courtney(WomenLivingWell)

    Wow! I didn’t even know this existed! Very interesting…thank you for sharing. It’s a bit pricey but amazing to see it exists. I’m gonna watch to see who in my “field” is using this tool – thanks for sharing!
    Courtney

    • http://www.michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      It may make more sense to set up for a company. The key is to come up with something short that people connect with your brand. Thanks.

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  • http://nathanmabry.com Nathan

    I recently presented a proposal to the company I work for to begin using a branded short URL for various social networking outlets (and I proactively set up the solution in advance). So far, I’ve not received buy-in, but I think it is just the typical delay of the corporate world.

    I checked out Hootsuite Pro, and it seems that to have the Vanity URL is $49.99/mo. I think that is a little much. Bitly Pro is free (for a single user); furthermore, you can also do this through Google Apps for your domain (but you must use a 3rd-level domain to activate it).

    This seems to quickly becoming a standard for companies that want to appear relevant, as well as becoming popular for individuals.

    Thank you for bringing attention to this.

  • http://thatguykc.wordpress.com ThatGuyKC

    I’m not a power-user yet, but thank you for the technical walkthrough. It would be pretty cool to have a vanity URL shortener.

    Interesting how they chose to use the word “vanity” instead of “custom” or “personalized”.

    • http://www.michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Yea, I think that was a marketing mis-fire. It has all kinds of negative connotations. I like your choices better.

  • http://www.jeremiahwean.com Jeremiah M. Wean

    I really love Hootsuite, but have decided at the moment to stick with the Free version. I thought the vanity URL was included as part of the Pro/Paid version. $50 a month is definitely pricey for simple URL shortner. StumbleUpon via su.pr offers a free url shortner that works great. It’s a simple install if you are on WordPress.

  • http://www.LaurindaOnLeadership.com Laurinda

    Very cool! But wow what a price for this feature.

    I love that you share your pain with us.

  • http://timemanagementninja.com Craig (@TMNinja)

    Michael,

    Love this piece. Was eager to immediately set up myself. (Even already have a short domain ready!)

    And I am loyal user of Hootsuite… and then I saw the price… $49.95/month?

    Ow… no, thanks for now Hootsuite. Think this is going to prevent a lot of bloggers from using their premium service.

    - Craig

    • http://www.michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I totally agree. I hope that HootSuite comes to their senses. Whoever set the price on this was completely out of touch with the market.

  • http://successbeginstoday.org/wordpress John Richardson

    Interesting post, Michael. The Hootsuite solution at $49/month seems very expensive for the average person. For business it might make sense. I did a little research after reading this and came up with a few things I didn’t know existed…

    If people host their blog on WordPress.com, it has a WP.me shortener that is available with just a click on the get shortlink button.

    Bit.ly pro offers a custom URL shortener like you describe with their own tracking for free. This might be a workable solution for many people.

    Awe.sm offers a custom URL solution with Google analytics for a rather high monthly fee. (I had seen it listed initially for $99/year)

    A new WordPress plugin will allow you to take your custom URL and integrate it with Twitter. http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/tweet-button-with-shortening/ (Pretty cool interface)

    It also seems like you could just redirect mhyatt.us to your regular michaelhyatt.com and use the standard post notation of WordPress to come up with a short URL like http://mhyatt.us/?p=499

    This is almost as short as the Hootsuite URL and would be free.

    Thanks for sharing a very technical topic. I’ll have to see if some version of “success” is available for my blog.

    • http://www.michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      John, these are great solutions if all you want to do is tweet out your new blog posts or if you don’t mind manually creating the link in a service like bit.ly pro and then pasting it into Twitter.

      However, I was looking for a solution I could use from within HootSuite, since I tweet everything from there. I am really hoping they lower the price. in fact, I think they should just bundle it with the HootSuite Pro account. I think it would dramatically increase their conversion of free users to paid.

      Thanks for your comments.

      • http://www.jonathangaby.com/ Jonathan Gaby

         Michael, I agree. If you pay for pro you should get that feature with it.

  • http://www.pastorbrett.com Brett

    http://car.ly/bEaTtYOrjaGgEr

    You’re so vain.
    I bet you think this link is about you.
    You’re so vain (you’re so vain).
    I’ll be you think this link is about you, don’t you? Don’t you?

    Sorry…I couldn’t resist.

    As others have commented. Pretty expensive just for the vanity url
    Way too much for me.

    • http://www.michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Agreed. To me it is a simple math problem. If it pays off on greater traffic, I will keep it. If not, I will boot it. Thanks.

  • http://betterlifecoaching.wordpress.com/ Darren Poke

    I’m not vain enough, or have a blog that’s big enough yet to justify such an expense at this stage, but I have been leaning towards using HootSuite for a while now, so I really should check that out. Even if it’s just the free version.

    Thanks for the great information and for sharing your experiences.

  • http://www.validleadership.com James Castellano

    I use the default with hoot-suite and at this point don’t have the need to buy a vanity shortener. I can see the advantages and hope to build a platform large enough to validate the cost.

    • http://www.jonathangaby.com/ Jonathan Gaby

       my two cents is that if you have a lengthy domain, or even long post titles, paying 5.99 a year for a shorter domain that custom to your brand is well work the payment of a subway sammich and a little bit of tech work.

  • http://www.defineddesign.com Lisa – Defined Design

    Thanks for sharing!

    Look forward to the day I will put to this to use. I think it is too pricey for my purposes at the moment. A blogger with lots of followers will benefit from the investment though. Look forward to reading your follow up review on this.

  • http://www.coachradio.tv Justin Lukasavige

    Thanks for sharing this, Michael. Hootsuite ought to feature this on their website. I put a video together showing how Hootsuite works a while ago and they highlighted it in their Vimeo video channel. I’ll certainly be coming back here when I set this up.

  • http://www.raitheoshow.com Matt Raithel

    Helpful post Michael – thanks for sharing.

    ThatGuyKC Makes a good point that the term ‘vanity’ spreads a negative tone… all domains are little vain aren’t they :)

    • http://www.michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Great point!

  • http://bradhuss.com Brad

    I have used the BIT.LY PRO service for my own personal domain – http://bradh.us … it fairs pretty good; however, it would be my desire to spell out my entire name (bradhuss = bradh.us/s) and not be forced to have to use the root of the domain. At this time, BIT.LY does not offer a subfolder option .. For me to have this option, I would have to go commercial, and it is simply not a financial investment that I can make at this time.

    So, I developed a custom option and so far it has been a great success with http://elevat.io/n .. It is not using HootSuite nor BIT.LY PRO .. It is custom and allows the use of bookmarklets from the backend and you can create custom shorten keywords – example … http://elevat.io/n/resources ; which directs to “http://resources.elevationchurch.org/”. You can clearly see the advantages. It includes the entire church name, in this case the brand = ELEVATION. It also includes click stats, click locations .. I have hacked at the code quite a bit, as to make any misspelled link or non-existent link route back to the church’s full domain http://www.elevationchurch.org

    I would implore you (and others to your blog) to strongly consider this option as it would be far less of an expense of $50.00/month.

    • http://www.michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Can you use your custom solution inside of HootSuite? If so, I would definitely be interested.

    • http://dustn.ws/p05t Dustin W. Stout

      I went the bit.ly Pro route as well. Just set it all up last week, and I am loving it! It’s pretty simple to use, especially since your vanity url integrates fully into the bit.ly sidebar.

  • http://www.christopherscottblog.typepad.com/ Christopher Scott

    Michael,
    This is a very detailed posted on a complicated project.

    To answer your blog question prompt, I have not tried to set any of these up. Maybe I am making a mistake by not attempting, but for my number of followers (3,999), I am not sure if the ROI will really be worth it for me–in time–or money.

  • http://www.villageous.com Heather

    GOD BLESS YOU. I have been fighting Hootsuite over this configuration for the last week – you rock!

  • http://www.stormyfrog.com/ Andrew Buckman

    An unfortunate limitation of GoDaddy’s DNS is the inability to set a CNAME record for your primary @ domain, probably what was giving you issues. While setting the A record works, beware that if they update their IP, your implementation will break until you realize and update the IP yourself as well.

  • http://www.exponential.org Todd

    There is a way to avoid the $49.99 per month with Hootsuite via bit.ly and Firefox browser. Yes Michael… you can use it in Hootsuite as long as you use Firefox.

    Download the detailed instructions here:

    http://www.exponential.org/files/CustomURLvia_bitly.pdf

  • http://blog.hootsuite.com Dave from HootSuite

    Just FYI, last night we released a fix for the Hootlet problem you described and added a Help Desk article with the IP address information. Thanks for your feedback and patronage. We’ll keep adding useful social media tool to our beloved dashboard for you to enjoy.

    • http://www.michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Dave. I did note that and removed the paragraph I had, stating that it was a problem. I appreciate your responsiveness!

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  • http://daddybydefault.com Craig Grella

    Just wondering, michael, has this paid off, from a numbers and stats standpoint?

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      In the end, I didn’t feel it was worth paying Hootsuite for this. However, I am able to use my custom domain for free with Buffer for Twitter. That is how I manage 90% of my tweets now.

  • Kersten Kloss

    Issues with the default hoot.ly and Facebook.  I kept getting blocked.  Apparently a worm uses that shortener. This caused me to look at the vanity option.  I registered fres.sh to direct to refreshedit.com as my own custom bit.ly.  I like the professional look of the option.  We;ll see how it works… What I do not like is that hootsuite will control all my fres.sh traffic.  I’d like to use it with other services as my default bit.ly.  Any suggestions?

  • http://www.methodvsmadness.com Method vs Madness

    I’ve set these up with Bit.ly and it’s easy and free.
    With the Chrome browser extension it’s also easy to use regularly even though I use Hootsuite for most activity.It’s a shame Hootsuite charges $50/month because I’d rather use their short-URL service, but it’s not worth it.I would have considered buying the $1000 domain (provided it was a one off) and using Bit.ly for free instead.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I agree. I think the HootSuite price is ridiculous. I use Buffer now to load all my tweets. It uses my custom domain name for free!

      • waynestiles

          Michael, how do you use your custom domain for free with Buffer for Twitter? I use both Buffer and Twitter but I’m not sure how you connect them.

        • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

          You have to set up a custom domain on bit.ly. Thanks.

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  • http://twitter.com/justinbraden Justin Braden

    I like your vanity url!  I think it looks snazzy! Have you found that the 49.99 monthly has been worth it? 

    • Kersten

      I find $50 for something so simple to be a ripoff. I cancelled this upgrade. I do the same on bit.ly for free.

  • http://christopherbattles.net/ Christopher Battles

    I enjoy vanity url’s and this let me know that it is not for me now, budget wise.  Thank you for this.  

    K, bye

  • http://www.jonathangaby.com/ Jonathan Gaby

    Hey Michael, great tutorial on custom url for tweeting. I agree that 50 bucks is crazy as an add-on from Hootsuite. I would make Hootsuite my default social media dashboard if they incorporated real time refreshes of twitter.

    That being said I’m very happy for this tutorial and am even working on my own short url (jdgaby.us). I think I thought, “If it’s good enough for Michael, it’s good enough for me!”

    Thanks again!

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  • http://bhepp.us/ Brad Hepp

    I’m putting Michael’s helpful ideas into practice, but had to devise a cheaper URL shortening method for myself. I describe it here: http://bhepp.us/r/r10

  • Anonymous

    If you don’t wanna spend the money, just point your short domain to bit.ly, and go to bit.ly to shorten it and just copy/paste it.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      This is what I use now. I actually use bit.ly custom domain mapping.

      • http://twitter.com/PTheWyse Praverb.net

        I have been trying to set up my vanity url via Blogger (for bit.ly) and it is not working. 

        Technical support it is haha.

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  • Carole Scott

    I was all set to do this and then saw the price tag. I’ll stick to using ow.ly because the main thing for me is the statistics and tracking rather than the marketing potential of the name itself…I think!

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      I wrote this several years ago. I have changed up things too. I just use the bit.ly custom link option. Zero cost, other than the domain registration.

  • http://leadershipvacuum.com/ Andrew Ralon

    I was hoping you wrote a post on this, and I’m very grateful! Thank you for being a great maven!

    (I am referring to the definition from The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell.)

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Thanks! I will take that as a compliment!

  • http://www.atmostfear-entertainment.com/ Alex de Borba

    I would like to know if, when it generates a link using your domain, does it keep the link saved and uses it each time you share the same page, or does it generates a new one each time you share the same page all over again?

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      It uses the same link.

      • http://www.atmostfear-entertainment.com/ Alex de Borba

        I reached them because I have a short url, aefav.me, however mine is tied to Bitly and as far as they told me, adding it to HootSuite would revert in broken links from the previous provider, therefore I dropped the option until they don’t manage to come up with an import solution worthy of such fee.