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A big buzz word in the printing industry now is PURLS or personalized urls and their impact in direct response advertising. Many companies are offering PURLS as a service now and exposing printers to a tough choice, to implement PURLS or not.

What are PURLS? The idea is simple, too simple in fact. Create a way to handle a personalized domain so to track the response of the direct form of advertising, print / email / telemarketing, etc.

Here is an example of a non-working PURL:

and another

Each returns the same page, but personalized for John Doe or Jane Doe and when John or Jane types it in, a response is tracked as well. Usually the personalized page asks you to update your contact information, possibly disquised as an offer or coupon, etc.
This is supposed to create the illusion that the company (ie, advertiser) actually created a customize page just for you. This form of cross media advertising is creating new opportunities for digital print variable data printing and “should” be good for the industry.

But what are the downsides to PURLS?

First, and foremost is security of data. How is your customer data being protected? What stops anyone (including that 13 year old script kiddie) from typing in any name and getting YOUR personal information? Worst yet, what is stopping someone from farming the PURLS site for all the possible names and selling that to some neferious list broker?

Easy fix, don’t put more information up there then required by the application…

Or don’t pre-populate those form fields and force them to fill out the fields…

Or, don’t do the typical first/last combo most PURLS do, but instead do some sort of code, alphanumeric and of some length, 5+ characters…

Also, make sure you lock out codes so you don’t track duplicates, or filter duplicates

Most importantly, is the tracking information. Make sure you are tracking Source IP, Browser string, Referer string, and create a Unique ID for each visitor to track returns.

Another downside is tracking response rate… What happens if you have 2 duplicate first/last names, or what happens if someone else puts in your PURL? You didn’t respond, but someone else did. Is this a problem? In some cases, yes, especially if there is a special offer or coupon, and now you are locked out because of that dreaded script kiddie…

Personalized URLS are nothing new, they have been around since the early inception of the web. The idea was simple, create a method to permanently create a URL to a file or site that even if the file name or site changed, the URL could remain the same. With data driven content, PURLS are just a simple extension of this, creating virtual pages that resemble a dedicated page for YOU, the consumer.

At the end of the day, don’t forget about security of your data, PURLs are great, and can be a great way to drive responses to your website, but if some 13 year old can steal all your customer data, is it really worth it? Take some precautions, ask the tough questions of the vendor supplying you the PURLS solution and how they protect your data. Just because we CAN do something, doesn’t always mean we SHOULD do something.

By the way, every link on this site is an example of personalized URLs, except in the blogging world these are referred to as permalinks. Take a look at the URL above and believe me, no actual HTML page exists on my server, this entire article was returned from the URL and pulled from a database, just like PURLS 🙂

(in case you are reading this on the front page, is the actual URL to this article)