MovableBlog: In the Future, Domains and URLs Won't Matter
November 4, 2004
Darren Barefoot writes some excellent advice on choosing a domain name. (I work for Bryght, a company he mentions as an example of having a bad domain name.) A common joke amongst geeks when a new phrase invented—sometimes by the leader of a certain very powerful, English-speaking country, the current example being Rumors on the Internets—the first thought is to register the domain. That way, when the appropriate time comes, you can put up a website mocking said new phrase (in the case of "Rumors on the Internets", by simply looping video of the aforementioned leader saying the phrase—which used to be the case, at least), and hey, maybe you might even register the domain first before realizing that you can somehow profit from it, or at least start a company around it.
Registering a domain, though, will become less important a) when that domain has already been registered (somebody beat me to fakebutaccurate.com by a couple of days) and b) when all that matters is not what people type in the address box but what people type in a search box for the search engine du jour, that title held currently by Google. With Firefox for all platforms and Safari for the Mac coming with a Google text box as the default web search text box, Google because the default search engine, just as Netscape, being the home page of the Netscape Navigator browser, became the default starting point for the web for most people. The default search engine for many is MSN now that Internet Explorer is deployed on the vast majority of computers.
As Darren pointed out earlier, the home page will no longer be the most important page on a person or company's website, though the manifesto he links to does not adequately state why this is the case. The reason the home page is not the most important page is because most visitors will be coming into your site via search engine requests, and as is the nature of users on the Internet, expect unexpected search terms for people landing on your site. (That is, if Disturbing Search Requests—a site that is text-based but is not necessarily safe for a sex-free environment—is any guide.) Because most visitors will be seeking you out rather than be led to your site by any clever advertising you have devised, high search engine ranking (i.e. on the first page of results on the default setting for the number of results a search engine gives, either because what they're looking for is on the first page or they are too impatient to click "next") for the key words of your core business—or even a business that you would like to expand into—is priority #1, and not purchasing that thousand-dollar domain name that some kid is squatting on.
I say that this is the future and not the present, because short, descriptive URLs are important now for the following reasons:
- they will appear on your printed materials, and by printed materials, I mean anything that contains text, like the tagline of your TV commercial or the bottom of your business card.
- URLs are still the most common way, over the phone, to communicate what your website is. This is increasingly unimportant because with Voice Over IP, or even just a regular phone line and an IM client, rather than have to give them the unusual spelling of, say, the word "Bright", you can say to the person "I'm sending you the link now" and they will get it within seconds of when you said that.
- like the above, linkslapping—responding to something in a conversation simply with a URL to something on the web—is still easy and fast.
- there is a consensus that the text inside URLs matter when it comes to search engine voodoo, but more important is what text appears in your link text, title attribute text, and the title element in your HTML.
When users—if you are reading this weblog, the odds are that you are a techie and while I salute you, you are not in the majority—look for something, they either type the text that they are searching for in the address box or go to Google and type in what they are looking for. People are much less likely to remember what URL they found something than the search terms they used to find it.