URLs: Who Needs 'Em?

January 20, 2017

With a ridiculous click-baiting title that made me laugh out loud ("Is Social Sexier Than Sex?"), Fast Company uses the auctioning of the domain Social.com as a jumping-off point for a really interesting question: Is the URL on its way out?

Sex.com sold for $13 million in 2010. Now Social.com is up for sale and the bids open at $5 million, so it could easily surpass the cost of Sex, hence Fast Company's clever title. Writer Kit Eaton, however, thinks hubbub over domains may soon be a thing of the past:

A huge fuss erupted online last week because Google finally made good on its promise to adjust the Chrome browser so that the URL address bar could be removed. It's a style thing for now, freeing up more real-estate on the screen for the actual web content you're trying to access rather than controls for browsing itself. But Mozilla, the guys behind Firefox, also released a plug-in for their browser that does the same trick, and you've been able to do the same trick in Apple's Safari for a while. All these moves de-emphasize the URL bar as a tool for navigating to websites, hinting at a future where you barely notice the address of the page you're looking at, and instead are more concerned with its actual content and ongoing links.

I use Chrome, and while I haven't hidden the address bar, I've always thought the move to combine the address bar and search box was a really telling development (you can search via the address bar in Firefox as well). It's an acknowledgement that most people don't navigate around the web by typing a URL into the address bar – they go to Google and search for what they want, or they use bookmarks. The only time I use the address bar to type in a URL is when I know I have been to the website recently and that it will come up as a suggestion from my history after typing a few characters. If my history got wiped, I'd go to Google to find the page rather than typing in the address.

Address Bar

I had never thought much about it before, but I think Kit Eaton is right – I think URLs will be all but invisible probably within a few years. (They won't cease to exist, but users won't think about them, the same way they don't think about the code behind a web page now, though they could view the source code if they wanted to.) There are other, usually better ways to achieve everything you can achieve through manipulating the address bar. Here are some of the ways we use it:

  • To navigate directly to a website: Most people already Google, use a bookmark or rely on their history to visit commonly used websites and applications like Twitter, Facebook and Google itself. I always set Google as my homepage, and I usually save my Gmail and Google Reader tabs in my browser so they're always there when I load it up.
  • To copy and paste a link for sharing: A lot of people have already stopped doing this, preferring to just click a button to share the content on Facebook, Twitter or another social site. You can also often click a button to email a story. These types of embedded buttons will become totally standard eventually. I also copy links from the address bar when I want to paste them into my own blog posts, but this could be accomplished through a right-click operation.
  • To navigate to a similar page: Sometimes you can strip part of a URL away, or add something to it, to find another part of the website. For example, if you want to see all our blog posts from 2011, you could delete everything after the year in the URL of any post on our blog. But better on-page navigation, breadcrumbs, etc. could make this kind of navigation unnecessary.

So what will it mean if there are no URLs anymore?

  • We won't have to worry about "pretty" or user-friendly URLs: If people rarely or never see these, it won't necessarily matter if they are human-readable or how long they are.
  • Keywords in URLs may become less of a signal for SEO: If people don't see the URL, the keywords will have less weight.
  • Canonicalization could be handled automatically: When the content of a page trumps the URL, we may not have to worry so much about duplicate URLs. It would be nice if search engines could just do all the redirecting (preserving link juice in the process) behind the scenes – those URLs could be consolidated, as it were, if they always manifest as the same page.

Do you think the URL is here to stay? Will you miss it when it's gone?

More Online Marketing Highlights

Lisa Barone had an interesting take on the new Google +1 button: "Everyone was talking about Google’s new content partners, what this means for publishers and how we could all get those hideous buttons cluttering up our site. No one was mentioning that by pushing users and publishers toward +1, Google had essentially corralled everyone into that social network they’ve long been vying for. Not only were the news outlets NOT mentioning it, they were denying its existence." Lisa points out that you have to create a public Google profile to use +1, so essentially you're required to start using Google socially for it to work. All part of their master plan, no doubt!

Joost de Valk has a quick tutorial on how to track +1 activity in Google Analytics.

Google, Bing and Yahoo have formed a joint alliance called Schema.org to standardize on microdata types. According to Vanessa Fox, "It appears as though the three search engines will be using this meta data solely to enhance the search results display for now ... But Google and Microsoft could use the data in many other ways, such as metadata about what queries a page is relevant for and to obtain more accurate and detailed information about business listings for Google Places.

Danny Sullivan reports the top 10 things Eric Schmidt revealed at the D9 conference, including:

  • Schmidt sees Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon the four dominant platforms that will be difficult to challenge. Notice Microsoft is not among them.
  • Google "has ways" of getting your social information without acquiring another social platform. Good ol' Eric, always keeping it creepy.

David Harry is back with a post on classifying queries to understand user intent, going beyond simple breakdowns like informational, navigational and transactional.

What metrics should you be tracking in your link building dashboard? Distilled's Geoff Kenyon offers a downloadable template and some key KPI's.

Geordie at PPC Blog did some testing around the new display URLs in AdWords headlines, and he's finding that CTRs are going down, contrary to Google's claims. So why did they make the change? Could it have to do with the FTC?

A Bank Of America Merrill Lynch survey reveals that the first step for most people interested in making an online purchase is Google, with almost 40% of consumers going there first. Only 1% of respondents said they ask friends on Facebook as a first step in the process. This doesn't mean that friends aren't influential, but it's also means that search results have the opportunity to make a big first impression.

Chris Brogan prefers to drink from a water bottle that says "made from plants" (Yay Green!) vs. "petroleum-free" (who wants to think about petroleum while they're drinking water?). There's a copywriting lesson here: When is it important to focus on the positive over the negative?

In a letter to potential shareholders, Groupon CEO Andrew Mason shared the operating principles he thinks allowed the company to succeed and grow so quickly.

Have a great weekend.

Elisa Gabbert

Elisa Gabbert

Elisa Gabbert is WordStream's Director of Content and SEO. Likes include wine, karaoke, poker, ping-pong, perfume, and poetry.

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