While vanity is one of the seven deadly sins, utilizing vanity addresses is a great tool for your church web strategy. When used in moderation and wisely, they be an effective method of driving traffic to your various web properties. In this article I will describe what they are and some great ways to use them to boost the presence of your church online.
Note that in this article I will interchangeably use the word "address" and "URL". Your church's Uniform Resource Locator (URL), or its address (i.e. ChurchName.org) really points to a numeric address (i.e. 127.0.0.1). We as humans cannot easily remember those long numeric addresses, so the architects of the Internet made a translation service that looks up that word-based address and finds the numeric address.
Now that I briefly explained this, you should realize that the name and extension you pick are part of your brand. Amazon.com is as synonymous with commerce as Walmart. It is because they went to great lengths to build up their brand over the years. Outlined below are some of the very same techniques Amazon used; ready to be applied to your church's web properties:
While you cannot point a URL to multiple numeric addresses, you can do the opposite (multiple numbers pointing to one URL). So while you have one primary address ChurchName.org, you may want to also buy ChurchName.com and ChurchName.net and point the latter two to your primary location. Try typing in "amazon.org" and see what happens. An automatic redirection to the .com space. Additionally, you may want to watch out for URLs that are out to deface your web properties, such as ChurchNameStinks.org or something to that effect. There are companies that provide brand protection, however I think their services are geared toward larger companies.
If your church is hosting a large event or pushing a specific campaign, a vanity address that points to a landing page or microsite might be the trick. An example might be EventName.com redirects to ChurchName.org/EventName/. This way you can advertise an easier to remember address, and create its own branding; while still keeping its primary identity with that of your church. This makes it easier to share, remember, and point online ads to. These campaigns may not stick around forever, but they allow you to build up a following for the duration of that event.
A similar strategy applies to missions and ministries. This allows you to host the pages that pertain to the mission or ministry on your church's site, but still create some unique branding around that separate entity. For example, to showcase some of your church's outreach ministries you create a long-term campaign called "Church Name Cares". To support this push, you can buy ChurchNameCares.org and have it currently point to a section of your website. However, if that ministry or mission grows larger, you can easily migrate the content to its own unique website; all while keeping the same URL. This decision should carry more weight as you are most likely going to buy the rights to these addresses for a longer period of time.
When considering purchasing a vanity address, remember that the standard time frame for purchasing a URL or address is in yearly increments. Most registrars offer bulk rates for multi-year purchases, and do a good job reminding you of pending expirations.
Now that you know how vanity URLs work, examine where they might help you get more traffic, create better brand identities for your events and ministries, and help secure the branding of your primary church website. Be wary of budget, as although address are typically fairly cheap ($8-$15 per year), getting multiple addresses over multiple years can become costly. Lastly, be sure to consider any print material that might have to change if you add or remove these vanity URLs. That hidden cost alone may make you want to wait a year or two before fully integrating this useful marketing tool!
Photo courtesy of Anja Winkler