How Friendly Will a URL Ever Be?

I’m an address bar guy; I don’t use bookmarks and barely use a link toolbar. And somedays, my typing could be better – if/when the new gTLDs come in, the owners of ‘facebook.comk’ and ‘google.comk’ will get a good 50% of my surfing time and a catch-all on ’setfiremedia.comk’ would receive all of my internal emails. I’m just as bad with .co.uk – the amount of traffic I send to ‘news.bbc.co.il’ and ‘news.bbc.co.yj’ is shocking.

For Many, Search Engines Are The Web

Most people, of course, don’t use URLs this way. This isn’t because they are more or less error-prone in their typing, but rather because their primary experience of web navigation is different – search engines are the front door to the web to many; they are the web to even more. This even holds true for when users do know the URL – we’ve all watched, head in hands, people type fully-qualified URLs into Google.

Organisations have caught on to this, and it interests me that we are witnessing a shift in how they direct you to their online presence from offline sources – adverts, brochures etc. It seems especially prevalent in government ads – the Royal Navy’s current TV advertising campaign, for example, simply tells the viewer to “search for ‘navy jobs’” for further details. The assumption, of course, is that they will rank #1 in whatever search engine the user choices. The risk, of course, is that somebody finds a way to hijack the listings for this term. It’s an old joke, but anyone who’s ever searched for ‘french military victories‘ knows what I’m talking about. Even ensuring you’ve got the top PPC hit won’t compensate for that level of negative PR.

What’s interesting is that, for the sake of usability, organisations are choosing to add an additional stage to the process of finding their website. By directing people to search for a term and then click on the result, they’re actually lengthening the process in order to make it easier. Risk factors aside, it’s a pretty good idea, and a pretty major development.

What Does The Future Hold For URLs?

So is natural language taking over, and are all attempts to improve URLs futile? Has the slow progress of the regulating bodies meant that we’ve had to find a better solution? Of course, some URLs are clever slogans themselves and add value to a product, but it seems that most are arbitrary identifiers, obfuscated by acronyms, abbreviations and dots, dashes and other de-humanised elements.

What do you reckon? Are the unbelievable sums of money spent on domain names wasted? Should Google Search stop using the URL of a site as an indicator of relevance? Or will their omnibar, or Mozilla’s ubiquity, be the final nail in URL coffin?

18 comments ↓

#1 Nes on 09.26.08 at 12:20 pm

At least we don’t have to type in I.P addresses.

#2 Dazed on 09.26.08 at 12:24 pm

Not a bad article over all, but several grammatical errors kinda erked me.

“people type fully-qualified URLs being typed into Google.”

“Or will their omnibar, or Mozilla’s ubiquity will be the final nail”

#3 Peter on 09.26.08 at 1:04 pm

I only use the address bar too, I love Firefox’s ‘awesome bar’ and search keywords; both reduce the chance of me making typos without clogging up my browser window.

#4 Keck on 09.26.08 at 1:43 pm

See http://kindurl.com/ — a coworker of mine set it up and it seems to do a pretty good job. It makes a more human-readable url.

#5 Sam Phillips on 09.26.08 at 2:05 pm

@Nes – quite. I just wish that more of our internal hardware had hostnames as well!

@Dazed – Good spot on those. I have corrected, and made a couple more changes for readability. Thank God for in-browser spell check helping us out, at least!

@Peter – Address bar is for winners.

#6 Tim McCormack on 09.26.08 at 2:26 pm

Those aren’t “friendly URLs”, as indicated in your post title. You’re talking about domain names.

#7 grammarrrrgghh on 09.26.08 at 3:05 pm

@Dazed

>several grammatical errors kinda erked me.

hmm. pot calls the kettle.

(even this comment window underlined your error!)

#8 Jim Jones on 09.26.08 at 3:18 pm

LOL, Probably not very!

Jiff

#9 thomas on 09.26.08 at 3:22 pm

I bought the domain offered.in and i am working on a framework so i can have everything.offered.in/everywhere

What is your opinion about that?

#10 Jesse on 09.26.08 at 3:33 pm

As you mentioned, I think that Google’s Chrome has already begun the path of conversion to natural language by merging the ’search bar’ and the ‘address bar.’ As search results get smarter, people will less and less use exact URLs, and instead just type in keywords for the content they want to see.

#11 David Lindop on 09.26.08 at 4:18 pm

Tim, is that relevant?

Here’s my two-pence worth… I personally use the FireFox address bar and bookmarks more than any other navigation aid, although my job means I can’t completely lose track of URLs, and even direct IP addresses to some degree. I used to use Launchy, but the FireFox 3 made this pretty redundant.

I’ve started to use Ubiquity more and more, especially with the MAP command. However, it just isn’t reliable enough on its EMAIL command, which is a shame because it promises so much. I’ve noticed too that browser address bars now seem to cater for many different navigational personalities; Google Chrome is pretty darn good too in this way.

#12 markus on 09.26.08 at 5:00 pm

I actually saw this mostly with old people.

The younger people learn about 10000x faster and rarely do this. And I believe if you give the old people more time, sooner or later they will discover their ways too.

#13 Mister.de on 09.26.08 at 5:39 pm

interesting post :)

#14 Sam’s World Of No by Sam Phillips » Staying out of trouble… on 09.26.08 at 8:10 pm

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#17 Graeme on 10.22.08 at 9:32 pm

“I just wish that more of our internal hardware had hostnames as well”… I’m sure they did once upon a time ;)

#18 Ric Roberts on 02.12.09 at 10:01 pm

Great article, Sam. Urls are becoming part of the language of the web (and popular culture). I think they’re here to stay.

We wrote an article on our company-blog on the importance of good urls a while back, which you might find interesting. http://blog.swirrl.com/articles/2008/07/14/the-importance-of-good-urls

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