Search engines want to eliminate domain names.
There, I said it (again). Anyone have any thoughts on this?
Years ago I said it out loud to several people at a meeting, repeated it in conversation many times at domain industry meetings and SEO conferences, and in a few venture capital/startup private meetings. I believe I slipped it in one of my search talks in 2008. To date, I have not enjoyed any good, serious debate about that inflammatory suggestion. A few people have disagreed. One scoffed at the thought with blithesome disregard. No good counter arguments or convincing support yet.
Search engines would love to see URLs come under their complete control, so they could eliminate them altogether.
Domain names have value right now. The traditional value is in direct navigation: the tendency of a fraction of the Internet using population to type into their browsers the URL of exactly where they want to go. Some people actually choose to go to Candy.com to look for an online candy store. Candy.com has a high value not because it is famous as an online candy store, but because of the value of direct navigation. One could easily sell candy on candy.com, goes the thought.
But domain names are also a depository for Internet market value. We call developed domain names “assets” because we have difficulty accounting for that stored value. Accounting methods allow for “intangible assets” such as “intellectual property” and “good will”. If you build a successful site, you do it on a domain. When the site is no longer active, the domain retains a significant amount of “stored value” from the previous market success.
Search engines want to take back that stored value, or perhaps keep it for themselves. On many fronts, the domain name is in the way.
I won’t go into much detail here, but if you look at the way search engines have been evolving, and some of the actions they have taken or tried to encourage, you see very little support for domain names. You see search engines creating mashups, extracting unique content from domains and serving it in a new context, associated topically or in some other channel separate from the domain name. You see search engines like Google stepping into the domain industry late (Google parking programs) but with power, forging “contract” relationships which took control of parked page profits. You see browsers built without “location bars”, forcing every user request through a search engine (Google’s Chrome eliminated direct navigation altogether). Every time I engage in futures research on the search marketplace, I am reminded of the problem the domain name presents to search engines. And that makes me think.
- It reminds me that when traffic is the currency, Google and domain owners are competitors, not friends.
- It reminds me that while branding is most easily accomplished with a good domain name, there are other ways to brand, and those other ways can be encouraged and supported by those who control traffic flow. Are search engines working on those more attractive alternatives? Consider Google Knoll, Google Profiles, Facebook, etc etc etc. Rather than brand the destination, why not brand the content or content creator, or better, the “authority”? People can find them through search engines.
- It reminds me of how we as a society have (so far) neglected assigning the label “civil right” to Internet access.
Like everything else of value in our society, until we protect it with some basic tenets, it will be co-opted by commercial concerns (like search engines). Google censors the Internet now. So does Yahoo! and every other search engine, whether via algorithmic bias or intention.
We are still early in the evolution of this Internet thing, and there are still many reasons why domains are essential for the operation of the web and the success of search engines. Short term thinking shouts out reason after reason why it is ludicrous to think search engines want to eliminate domains from the web. They need them… domains are the fundamental basis for the Internet. The URL is *everything* — one could not even index content without URLs, which by the way have a canonical root that is the very definition of “domain”.
But it won’t always be that way, and there are many great reasons for eliminating domains. There is a lot of money tied up in the domain name, not only due to the nature of navigation (which we see can be co-opted), but that pesky stored asset value. If only that could also be controlled or eliminated…