Each week, our Vice President of Product shares an email with the company that’s filled with the background story on why Brightspot’s features are the way they are. It’s not just how Brightspot works but why its features were engineered the way they were. Not one to keep secrets, we’re sharing her insights with you here, in a weekly column called “The Whys.” From creating vanity URLs to knowing the difference between a document and an attachment, these posts answer the questions anyone who publishes digital content has likely pondered.
If you open the navigation in Brightspot, under Admin, there it is: Vanity Redirects.
What is that?
Let's start by defining what a vanity URL is in the first place. Speaking broadly, a vanity URL is a long URL that has been converted into a shorter, more readable URL pattern. By making the URL more readable, the idea is that we've made it easier to remember, too.
If you watch any kind of late-night infomercials, you're likely to see vanity URLs, such as: http://www.company.com/cool-thing. If that were a real URL and you were to type it into your browser, you'd probably see that URL transform (aka redirect) into a much longer, harder-to-read URL, something like: http://www.company.com/category/product/ID-980-871661-ab (which, no matter how smart you are, you probably aren't going to remember). The magic at work there is a vanity URL.
That’s at the heart of the Vanity Redirect area in Brightspot (there’s another reason, too, but we’ll get to that a bit later).
If you were to create a new vanity URL redirect, you'd fill out a couple fields:
- The Destination: where you want the easy-to-remember URL to go
- The Local URLs: the easy-to-remember URL you want to use
In my fake infomercial example above, the Brightspot setup would look like this:
- The Destination: http://www.company.com/category/product/ID-980-871661-ab
- The Local URLs: /cool-thing
Why did we do this?
For many of our customers, creating a vanity URL is a task that involves calling their IT department, submitting a ticket and then waiting until, one day weeks and weeks later, someone in IT sends a note saying that the vanity redirect has been set. But at that point, the opportunity has passed, and it’s likely they have no need for it. That’s precisely why giving editors and publishers the ability to do that all on their own, right there in Brightspot—in a few clicks—is revolutionary.
There's another solution the Vanity Redirect tool provides. The funny thing is that this solution is probably the primary way we think about it and use it, but it's an evolution of the first, simple use case.
The way we use it now comes up during the migration process, which normally starts with a large spreadsheet of URLs pulled from whatever site we're migrating. Someone normally reviews that spreadsheet of URLs with the client and identifies which URLs should be maintained and migrated to the new site, and which should be “sunset.” When a URL is sunset, it's a bad idea to have it lead to a 404 page. It’s a bad user experience, which could result in a user not wanting to visit your site again. Even worse, Google might negatively score your overall site and impact your SEO ranking if you have too many 404 results. The best thing to do if you are sunsetting a large number of URLs is to send those old URLs somewhere else that makes sense.
To give a real-world example here, let's take a look at the Brightspot website. A few years ago, on Take Our Sons and Daughters to Work Day, we let the kids write blog posts about their experiences in the office that day. They also created their own author pages. Later, when we were relaunching the company site, we realized we needed to take down those author pages. Doing so was as simple as redirecting them to the front page of our blog. If you were to look in the Brightspot Vanity Redirect area now, you’d see the following:
- Destination: https://www.brightspot.com
- Local URLs: /blog/contributor/phillippe-tjahya (and many others; sorry, kids)
Note: You can actually do this as an operations task request with an Operations team: For every URL that used to live on www.company.com/blog/, please redirect to www.company.com/new-blog. This is a better solution if you need to redirect thousands of URLs. That's called a pattern redirect and is handled at the Apache/server level. Vanity Redirects are ideal if you have just a handful you need to publish.