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Need to know how to set up a special-use domain name?

Yesterday I discussed why you should set up a new domain name for every promotional campaign, so you can directly track visitors from that campaign. It’s quick and it’s easy, and once you’ve started using this technique, I suspect you’ll never look back. After all, who wouldn’t like to see this in their Google Analytics report?

We create this effect with a combination of two things: firstly, getting people to type in a domain name which we’ve created just for a specific ad in a specific magazine; and secondly, sending people who type in that domain name to a page on your website along with some “tags” that label the traffic nicely, as shown above.

So, let’s suppose we’re running an advert for our new Fast Blue Widget in Widget World magazine. In the past, we’d have signed off the ad with “visit us at for more information”. Now, we’re going to set up a new domain name, which has never been used before, to quote in the advert. It can cost you under £10 for two years’ use (and you can just drop it then if it’s of no further use).

Let’s say we set up – although the choice is completely up to you. There are hundreds of domain name registration companies competing for your business, and with most, it takes just moments to set up an account and register your chosen domain. You’re only going to be using this domain as a throwaway marketing asset, so there’s really no need to involve the IT department or head office. All you need to ensure is that the company you use offers “site forwarding” as standard, for free. To take a random example (and this is not a specific recommendation, although I’m sure they’re fine), does this.

Once you’ve registered your domain (and that was easy, wasn’t it?), you need to set it up so that anyone who types that domain into their browser is redirected to the right page on your website, and “tagged” along the way so that you see the source neatly in your analytics application. The tagging is slightly technical, but not too hard to follow. Here’s how it’s done in Google Analytics.

Suppose you want to send people to Google Analytics allows you to give your visitors three separate classification categories, and although you may only need one, it can be useful to use all three, to group them in the future. The categories are “Source”, “Medium” and “Campaign” (this last one is really a subcategory of the source). So for our ad, we might set the “Source” as “Widget World Magazine”, the “Medium” as “Magazine Advert” and the “Campaign” as “August 2012”. There’s a Google tool to help you set up the tagged link, and that’s the best place for beginners. Obsessives like me might notice that as website addresses can’t have spaces, Google substitutes “%2B” if you include a space in any of your tags (e.g “Widget%2BWorld%2BMagazine”). That comes out as a “+”, so I like to change this to “%20”, which comes out as a space. It doesn’t really matter though. The nice thing is that you can test out the link beforehand, and see the results in your Google Analytics later before you commit to anything. You’ll end up with something like this:

And that’s it! Go back to the place you registered your new domain, and paste that long website address into the “site forwarding” box. Anyone typing your new domain into their browser will be forwarded to the long website address instead, and you get to measure the results. Quote your new domain in printed advertisements, and watch the results come in. Don’t forget that you can re-use the same made-up domain a few weeks later elsewhere if you wish, after any potential response from that magazine issue has finished. Just change the tagging on the redirection appropriately. This way, you can use the domain many times during the two years you get for your £10 investment.

3 thoughts on “Need to know how to set up a special-use domain name?”

  1. Chris, great blog post over the past 2 days. Quick question, what are your thoughts on using QR codes in magazine adverts to circumvent the issue of incorrectly manual entering of url’s? (Of course, that’s assuming suitable mobile friendly landing pages are implemented)

  2. Hi Tim: I’m not a fan. I haven’t been told about a single successful implementation of them in B2B marketing yet, although I would love to hear of one. I just can’t see any circumstances in which it would seem easier to whip out your mobile phone, fire up an app and scan a code than it would be to type in a URL. Who would do this?

  3. I have wondered about this approach. While I love the traceability to prove or test traffic from various print magazines, I wonder if you lose some branding recognition of your main URL over time. If prospects see month after month, year after year, could that be better for branding and awareness in the long run – vs. lots of variations of Just a thought.

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