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The Value of a Domain Name: What if Google Removed URLs from Chrome?

Google Chrome Domain Names No URLReal estate media is all about traffic right now.  Broker sites, agent sites, and the national portal websites are battling for SEO, ad placement, and brand recognition.

Those of us in the SEO-centric crowd focus a lot on domain names, and how much value they create for an online venture.  There’s clearly still value in an “exact match domain” (though it’s shrinking), in a shorter domain name (too long and it’s spammy), and a memorable domain name that aligns with your brand (you don’t need SEO if everyone just types your domain name in the URL bar).

Good domains are increasingly harder to find, though, and the scarcity of quality .com domains makes new, traffic-worthy companies pick obscure or inefficient domain names for their websites.  Misspelled versions of common werdz, sales pitches like widgetsin90days, and hyphenated domains that look-like-black-hat-seos-built-them are becoming more often the domain name that accompanies a reputable new business’s website.

Too Many New Ventures, Too Few .coms

What if, at some point, Google decides that the domain name itself has become obsolete?  It may be a signpost, a digital latitude/longitude to get traffic to the right servers, but it might become a factor that’s not even necessary to be consumer-visible in the future.  Google might just remove the URL bar in its Chrome browser, and replace it with a search-only field.

If a consumer typed “Amazon”, or “Amazon.com” in the search bar, Amazon.com would likely be the first search result.  It would require the user who knows the domain name to make one extra click to arrive at the website they had intended to visit. It wouldn’t hurt Google that paid ads were also displayed adjacent to the results, and other alternatives would also be offered to the consumer.

From a larger perspective, new companies could be found more quickly if search was the only starting point.  If forced to search, the user who types in “Tesla” or “Tesla.com” would be served the Tesla website as option #1, but they might realize there are two other electric car companies just below that are viable options.

Copying and pasting a link from an email or other source into your browser window would give you search results page that tell you if there’s any malicious content on that website before you view it.  You’d also receive other options for similar content, including potentially newer versions of it.

Small Change, Big Behavioral Shift Inevitable?

Being forced to search might be a slight annoyance to the current consumer, but it’s not a stretch to imagine the URL bar becoming an afterthought for a generation that Googles and YouTubes everything they need to know.  New, innovative companies wouldn’t focus massive amounts of time and money on defining and buying the best domain name/place marker for their websites.  They would just develop a website and Google would point users to it when the content appropriately matched the search.  The company name, and the products they market appropriately, would define their traffic, not a battle for a 20-year old .com.

This is obviously the overall trend of search–point users not just to one piece of content, but give them relevant options that actually enhance their potential outcomes.  It shouldn’t be a surprise, then, if the domain name eventually becomes nothing more than a nearly-anonymous identifier hanging out in the I.P. address lounge.  That would be good for some companies, and bad for others.  It would be great for Google, if they redefined the entire web browsing experience as one that begins at search, and only search.

For companies like ours that have spent a lot of time and money acquiring and seasoning great domain names, it’s a scary thought.  It would give even greater control of the internet discovery process to Google and remove one direct access point that companies currently have with potential customers, but it’s worth keeping an eye on long-term.  Young mobile users simply speak to their phones to find out where to eat/drive/shop.  It might not be too far into the future when search fully replaces the overcrowded naming model that requires consumers to remember internet domains.

Google could send that trend into hyperdrive by removing the direct-to-URL functionality from its browser bar and merely displaying search results no matter what was typed.  Its search traffic and ad impressions would skyrocket.  Crazier things have happened.  Rupert Murdoch bought ListHub and shut off its feed to Zillow and Trulia.  Competition and money make a whole lot of naysayers eat crow.

About Sam DeBord

Sam DeBord is a former management consultant and web developer who writes for for Inman News and REALTOR® Magazine. He is Managing Broker for Seattle Homes Group with Coldwell Banker Danforth, and 2016 President-Elect of Seattle King County REALTORS®. His team sells Seattle homes, condos, and Bellevue homes.

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  • Sam, if this is done right, I think it has some benefits to the user experience.

    They would have a button that would let you see the full URL and copy it as needed. You could also still put in Amazon.com and go directly there, or put in Ama and Amazon.com would come up as an option, knowing you like to go there.

    The fact is that no one can remember those long URLs, and most you can’t make sense out of, so they take up a lot of a valuable space without much benefit. Replacing that space with a search bar is a nice addition in my opinion because the search is used a lot and worth having at the top.

    Off hand the only time I need the long URL is if I am going to send the link to someone, and if they have a button that allows you to see it and copy it at the same time when needed, then there is no reason to show me the long URL.

    I hope they do it, or at least make it an option.

    However, if they do it the way you mention above then that would not be good. If I put in Amazon.com I want to be on their website, not looking at search results that force me to click a link to get to the site. That would be bad, as they just turned what used to take one step into 2.

    Also, if I get a link from a trusted source, I want to be able to click on it and view the webpage, not search results.

    • Interesting point about copying the current URL, that’s probably still a necessity. You couldn’t type in amazon.com and go directly there, though, that’s the current functionality. If you typed in a URL like that, you’d land on a search results page, which would include Amazon.com, but also competitors and similar offerings.

  • Maybe more people would use Bing?

    • Not Bing, but Firefox, IE, Safari, Opera, etc. It would have to be timed at a point when Chrome was even further out ahead.

  • wouldn’t people switch browsers?

    • Of course some would, but the browser war is a slow-moving battle. We techies think everyone would just switch, but there’s a big portion of the population that only uses the one browser that came with their computer. Why would IE still have decent market share otherwise? If Chrome gets to the point of being almost ubiquitous, they might not lose much with the change.

  • Very interesting thought. Hadn’t realized it, but it seems to me we are already halfway there. I rarely type in URLs directly. Many people (such as my wife) never do.

    • That’s a good point, Max. Techies probably go directly to URLs more often than the average consumer. Search is taking over for most people, especially younger users.

      • I love the way it functions now. I type a and amazon.com comes up because Chrome knows I go there a lot.

        So for all my favorite websites I just type the first letter and hit enter and I am there. They should keep that, it is extremely convenient.

        • I agree that it’s convenient. The question is whether there’s big enough business boost and shift toward more search that would benefit Google to the point that removing the convenience of the URL functionality would be worth the risk (at some point).

    • That’s a good point, Max. Techies probably go directly to URLs more often than the average consumer. Search is taking over for most people, especially younger users.

  • Very interesting thought. Hadn’t realized it, but it seems to me we are already halfway there. I rarely type in URLs directly. Many people (such as my wife) never do.

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