My Name is URL
To satisfy my URL-petite, I recently started a blog -- GoodURLBadURL.com -- showing pictures of URLs I encountered, with a label of Good or Bad based on the URL that was chosen and the way it was displayed.
You should see the looks I get (again, namely from my wife) when I interrupt TV commercials (interrupting commercials - now there's an oxymoron!) to take pictures of advertiser URLs or when I pull over to the shoulder to zoom in on a billboard and fire off a couple shots.
What Have I Been Smoking?
As Rory Gallagher put it, "don't know where I'm going, don't know where I've been." I can't explain why I'm so affected by URLs or why I feel the need to air my URL grievances to the world.
Who knows? Maybe I'll be able to parlay this URL-addiction into an AdSense machine. For now though, it's enough to simply scratch my URL itch and give me an outlet for URL-venting that does not require my wife feigning interest (I should point out that she's gotten really good at separating the good URLs from the bad and the ugly.)
As for what brought on this case of URL-itis, I'm pretty sure it has to do with my day job in search marketing.
What Do URLs and Search Have in Common?
With traditional search sponsored listings, marketers have a few short lines of text to make an impact so every last character counts. The same goes for URLs.
In a world where we're inundated with thousands of marketing messages each day, it's tough to stand out from the clutter. Marketers need a succinct, impactful message to really resonate. Ditto for URLs. Whether it be on a SERP or at the end of a 30-second spot, marketers have just a few seconds to make an impression.
And we know that offline media drives search activity. Research has shown that print and TV ads drive consumers online to search for more information. Of course, one of the main reasons for this is that people don't know (or don't remember) the URL of the advertiser for the product or service that piqued their interest.
Are Good URLs Bad for Search?
One might say that those of us in search marketing stand to benefit from advertisers using bad URLs. After all, confused consumers create a confluence of queries (say that ten times fast!)
But there are two key reasons I don't think we need to lose any sleep over marketers waking up to the power of a good URL.
The first is that no matter how memorable your URL is, there is still a significant percentage of the online population that can't (or doesn't bother to) differentiate between an address bar and a search box. There's an anecdotal stat I once heard that I love (and repeat often to marketers who don't think they need to "do search") -- two of the top ten queries on Google and Yahoo each month are "Google.com" and "Yahoo.com." Brilliant!
The second is that, quite simply, most of the good URLs are already taken. And, no matter how many great URLs might be available with alternate top-level domains (.biz, .name, etc.) no marketer wants to touch those (and for good reason -- it's hard enough to remember what comes before .com.)
What Makes a Good URL?
On GoodURLBadURL.com I list some best practices for marketing professionals who, like me, take this URL thing seriously. Here are the Dos and Don'ts I've come up with for selecting and promoting URLs. I'd love to hear yours, too -- either in the Search Insider Blog or the comments section on my site.
3. Whenever possible, use YourBrandName.com.
4. If .com is not available, use YourBrandName.net.
5. If .com and .net are taken, find a new brand name. Seriously.
6. Use YourSlogan.com when running an integrated media campaign.
7. Use subdomains when driving people deeper than your homepage -- e.g. Product.YourBrandName.com.
1. Don't include www. We know to go to the World Wide Web to find you.
2. Don't include http://. If your audience isn't Web-savvy enough to know where to type the URL, you shouldn't have a Web site.
3. don'tusealllowercase (canyoureallytellwhereonewordendsandthenextbegins?)
5. No-hyphens/or slashes.
6. Don't use acronyms, abbreviations, or numbers unless your brand is widely known as such.
7. Don't bury your URL at the bottom of a billboard. I'm the only nerd driving around with a 4x zoom lens to find URLs.
Happy URLs to You
Hopefully I've raised your URL-IQ a bit or at least made you URL-aware. What you do with this newfound URL wisdom is up to you. For your sake, though (and the sake of your family) I encourage you not to get too fixated on finding or creating the perfect URL -- it's not healthy.
As for those of you focused solely on search marketing who might be thinking that URLs don't matter since your Web site is always one easy click away (and, thus, people don't need to remember it) -- I wouldn't overlook the importance of getting every last advantage you can on a crowded SERP or in a content/contextual environment. Searchers are finicky, and even the slightest use of CAPS can get eyeballs away from competitor's placements. Not to mention, if you've got a bad URL and want people to skip the SERP next time and return to your site directly, your only hope is that they bookmark it.
And now I'll close with the Dixie Chicks classic -- Goodbye URL.