Within minutes of riding on the first trains in Japan, I notice a significant change in advertising, from train to television. The trend? No more printed URL's. The replacement?
Search boxes! With recommended search terms!
It makes sense, right? All the good domain names are gone. Getting people to a specific page in a big site is difficult (who's going to write down anything after the first slash?). And, most tellingly, I see increasingly more users already inadvertently put complete domain names like "gmail" and "netflix" into the Search box of their browsers out of habit — and it doesn't even register that Google pops up and they have to click to get to their destination.
This is actually a brilliant marketing strategy. If you're doing your stuff right, and you can actually get people to an exact page with a few select keywords. If you're taking people to your site, rather than a specific page, and expecting them to wander around using navigation you're mostly wasting your time.
I get asked on a far-too-frequent basis about "adjusting" URLs so they are easier for people to remember and type-in. Of course, people aren't doing this much anymore. Take a look at any Web site's analytics, and the number of directs, and you'll see what I'm talking about. Nuff said. Yet is amazing to see the amount of time, energy, and money that people spend trying to serve this increasingly shrinking type of visitor-- the browser.
I find it quite interesting to see the number of people (my father included) who don't even have their navigation box viewable in their toolbar anymore. They're doing everything through search. So the URL basically has reached a point where it doesn't much matter from a user behavior perspective.
I suspect that the Japanese are on to something, and that it won't be long before we see this trend to spread beyond Japan. I'm going to be looking for it.
NOTE: I blogged about this topic last year: The end of URLs?