More and more companies are directing customers to type short phrases in search engines instead of promoting URLs. People as varied as the BBC and Norwich Union are directing prospect customers to fire up their browsers, go to a search engine and type a catchy phrase. Is this the end of the URL?
My own perception is a resounding no. While some large organizations will have the clout to pull this off, many are at risk. A commited keywordsquatter, to coin a word, could use SEO and Phishing techniques to place their site above the genuine advertiser’s, stealing all their traffic with disastrous consequences for the gullible marketeer.
Keywords cannot be bought in natural results, relevance is attributed by a third party based mainly on elements (incoming links) beyond the control of any single advertiser. These qualities, which applied to natural search have served Google well to gain near-monopoly control of the search market are in direct oppostition to the premise of keyword advertising. Precisely because of the floating nature that makes keywords such a powerful paradigm for natural search, risks seem to so fully surpass benefit that one would think no eMarketing professional would ever consider trialling it.
But they are, and some swear by it. I did a little exercise this week on Twitter, asking my contacts whether they’d do it or sit it out. While the sit it out position won, the volume and calibre of people emphatically supporting doing it is undeniable. these are the thought leaders in the online space. May they all be wrong?
In this case I believe they are. I’ve been wrong before (not often) and I could be this time, but I am going to sit it out until the matter gets resolved by braver and richer marketers than me. I hope to be vindicated when the results are out. I have an axe to grind here: I like the democratic nature of URLs, available to anyone for a few quid a year. Keyword advertising requires massive investment to try and ensure consistent natural search placement and fend off keywordsquatters, requiring resources beyond the means of many.
The end of the URL would further solidify Google’s grasp on the Net and could be the last nail in the coffin of Web innovation. As Web entrepeneurs and aficionados would have to pay for access to the Googlewranlgers at SEO organisation, the barriers to entry rise, the number of new entrants shrinks and diversity diminishes. 200 years after Darwin’s birth we could see the end of evolution by natural selection in the Web-based ecosystem. All on the back of an innocent Marketing play.