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Vanity (URLs) Gets You Nowhere Locally: Implications of Google's URL Policy Change

If an award were presented for the most significant event of 2008 in local search, Google's AdWords ban of vanity URLs would win hands down. The policy change took effect April 1 and specifies that any URL used in a paid search ad on Google must match the domain of the destination URL.

The change eliminates the use of vanity URLs to redirect ads and poses major challenges to dealerships, coffee shops or other retail outlets that are located near each other geographically and share the same root URL, www.example.com/mainstreet and www.example.com/secondstreet for example. In light of the recent policy change, Google will only serve one ad per root URL in each of its geographic areas.

Previously, vanity URLs provided an effective workaround to this problem, allowing advertisers to funnel more traffic to a single site or to multiple sub-pages of a specific site and helping local businesses ensure their ad would serve even if another area business shared the same root URL. Google's impedance for the change was to improve user experience and deliver more relevant traffic to paid search advertisers.

Viewed more as an evolution than a revolution, the change does have profound cost and performance implications for national advertisers that share a root URL with local retail outlets and multiple retail outlets in the same area that leverage the same root URL. This affects chain coffee shops, franchise businesses, and dealerships and other establishments that use lead aggregators.

Paid Search

Google's requirement that display and destination URLs match means that an advertiser can no longer use a vanity URL as a workaround to the root URL limitation. To ensure the highest chance that ads will serve on Google AdWords, local businesses that share their root URL with other local businesses will need to create separate Web pages, incurring additional behind the scenes costs to clean up now useless vanity URLs.

Local Business Listings

This change also affects local business listings. Businesses with more than one location within a concentrated area will find creating Local Business Ads in Google a challenge. Many of these businesses may only have one Web site or domain for all of their locations. In these cases, Google would only associate one location for the root domain.

This makes Local Business Ads difficult to create for the locations that are not registered. When created, the address will sometimes automatically change to the only address that is registered, or even a completely different business listing in general.

Options for National-Local Advertisers

Does Google's policy change automatically mean national-local advertisers need a different domain for each operating unit? The answer depends on factors including vertical, product and service category, number of locations, geography, retail strategy, brand development index, category development index and competitive forces.

Best practices for local retailers to consider:

• Make sure the business' address appears in plain HTML text on your front page.

• Proactively manage local business ads and directory listings on a systematic and ongoing basis.

• Align national-local advertising strategies with an auction media buying partner that can produce better ads for less while meeting the individual needs of all stakeholders in the organization.

Tags: online, search
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5 comments about "Vanity (URLs) Gets You Nowhere Locally: Implications of Google's URL Policy Change ".
  1. Stevie Black from McDougall Interactive , January 21, 2009 at 9:29 a.m.

    Kudos to Craig Greenfield for assembling all of this knowledge in one point of contact - I sent it out to the rest of the team.

    Keep digging - we need all you can find !!!

    Stevie B

  2. Cam Turner from We-Create Inc. , January 21, 2009 at 10:20 a.m.

    If you're looking for another place to list your stores that has great Google exposure and indexing check out ConnectorLocal.com. Highly localized and aligned with the media industry and their goals. Listings are automatically posted to Google Local, are available via a mobile portal and also via an iPhone/BB application to end users.

  3. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , January 21, 2009 at 12:04 p.m.

    If I were a local business and read what you just wrote, I would be even more confused than I was before, regardless of important it is. Most small businesses cannot comprehend or have the time to learn all of this mass confused of investing in on line ads. They can't even get up to a minimum snuff because too many people really don't know either, charge too much and can't explain anything simply. If a business can get it down in a 3 page with a VERY EASY, SIMPLE and AFFORDABLE plan, then there are gold in them thar' lands. WIth all of the newspapers killing themselves, there's money to steal.

  4. Erin Martin from School Family Media , January 22, 2009 at 11:50 a.m.

    I wonder if that goes for subdomains too. Like you could have cambridge.starbucks.com and alston.starbucks.com? And not get booted?

  5. Dan Malachowski from Performics , January 26, 2009 at 10:04 a.m.

    The combination of Google vanity url policy rolled out in 2008 and their display url policy (aka Affiliate Advertising Policy) is what made this change so powerful. Since they de-dup on the root domain, folders and subdomains are still treated the same. Using your example, Google will group starbucks.com, cambridge.starbucks,com and starbucks.com/cambridge.

    https://adwords.google.com/select/news/sa_jan05.html

    Local Advertisers were able to advertise using a vanity url like cambridgestarbucks.com which redirected to cambridge.starbucks.com. That all changed with the vanity url policy.