I remember reading, in the early days of the Web, how large companies were paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to purchase meaningful URLs. For instance, McDonald’s wasn’t the first owner of www.mcdonalds.com.
About 9 years, ago, I tried to sell a URL that I was abandoning. I found a broker who promised to auction it off, estimating that it might be worth $15-20 thousand. The bubble burst, the auction never happened, and the URL simply expired — sitting unused until sometime in the past year when another company started using it.
The URL remains a most important locator for online information. But the importance of branding a URL — or of obtaining a URL that perfectly matches your brand — is declining.
Search engines: The power of search is well-known. More people find websites through search than by typing in the URL;
Browsers: New-generation browsers like Google Chrome and Firefox skip the need for going to a search engine; just type a search term in the address box and they deliver search results;
URL shortening: Sites like Twitter, with strict limitations on size, force URLs to be shortened dramatically. Tools like TinyURL and Bit.ly exist to do this. Which means the URL for this page, as an example goes from http://www.themarketfarm.com/wordpress/2009/09/08/why-the-url-is-less-important-every-day/ to http://tinyurl.com/nq6d2y — which is pretty efficient, except any unique branding disappears.
The QR code: Popular in Asia and Europe, you take a picture of the QR code on your smart phone, and it will take you directly to the related website.
Overlooked in Richman’s blog, which is more detailed and well worth reading, is a fifth technology of social networking. More and more businesses are using Facebook, Twitter and other sites to attract audience; these work based on the names of companies and communities — not web addresses. So the brand of the company once again becomes more important than the brand of its URL.
The ultimate point, though, is that if you have a URL you like, don’t spend too much to brand it. And if you have a URL you don’t like, you can work around it.