Real 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.