Extended URLS

Jared Spool

September 26th, 2005

Our friend Sarah recently inquired:

I’m wondering if you’ve ever done a study on behavior from users who see URLs in print ads. For example, if a print or TV ad uses an extended (but still short) URL, such as www.companyname.com/special/ do users remember it or do they just remember www.companyname.com? Does it matter if the companyname is a well know brand?

I’m not sure you have done any research like this, but perhaps you know who has?

This is an excellent question for which we have absolutely no data (but would like to get some).

If I were to guess at what our research might find, I’d say it’s a pretty safe bet that some people would remember a memorable phrase. For example, Apple has probably been very successful with http://www.apple.com/ipod.

But even Apple has hedged their bets in two ways:

  1. They’ve also secured http://www.ipod.com, which, last time I checked, brought you to http://www.apple.com/ipod and
  2. They’ve made sure that their iPods are prominently featured at the Apple home page (http://www.apple.com).

In other words, I’m betting our research would discover what Apple has probably already learned. You can only count on some folks remembering the extended URL, so you need to provide other paths to the same content.

Taking the three-prong approach that Apple has, you increase the chances you will win, no matter what a user remembers. At least, that’s my guess.

9 Responses to “Extended URLS”

  1. DeWayne Purdy Says:

    Our approach has been to direct them to the university home page, and make sure there’s a clear path from there. We’re doing that this fall with homecoming and family weekend links, it allows us to promote them via radio using uni.edu instead of a longer url. The other benefit to sending them to the home page rather than the specific page is they may be exposed to other information on the home page they’re interested in. Of course, someone could make the argument that we’re driving them through unnecessary links by not giving the full url, but this system works for us. I also agree with Jared, if you use a longer url, use multiple channels to get them to their destination.

  2. Joe Clark Says:

    I am relieved to read that UIE resisted the temptation to decry “extended” URLs because some maroon with an AOL account somewhere might not understand them. We have to assume that Web sophistication *increases* and does not stay stagnant.

    Also, your comment preview is unusably slow.

  3. Scott Sipiora Says:

    These URL’s are used for two purposes. First, they’re used to get the user closer to the content they’re actually interested in. Second, they’re used for campaign tracking purposes. In this second example a company may put out a series of URL’s which are used to determine which ad (TV, Radio, Direct Mail, e-mail) is delivering which response. By looking at the date/time of visits, they can easily correlate which ads were likely to have caused the traffic on the Web site.

  4. Ferry den Dopper Says:

    I’m sure some people do and many people don’t remember these url’s, but they make excellent guessable urls, like http://www.apple.com/quicktime or http://www.microsoft.com/office (ofcourse this works better with strong brands). Besides, extended url’s are more recognizable than, say, page ID’s and search engines seem to attach some value to them.

  5. Ketan Vakil Says:

    Alternatively, what are your thoughts on using a custom URL in an ad – so people do not chop off the extended URL portion?

    This method would help for tracking. I also see the negative side to doing this – that the brand name may not appear by itself in the domain name. This may be damaging for lesser known brands…?

  6. Jared Spool Says:


    When Apple secured http://www.ipod.com, that’s exactly what they were doing.

    From a brand perspective, it will probably help to strengthen the sub-brand mark (in this case, “iPod”) but won’t help to connect it to it’s parent (“Apple”).

  7. Christian Watson Says:

    I agree with the comments above that extended or “guessable” URLs are a worthwhile addition to a web site. I use both the Apple and Microsoft sites and find it very helpful to be able to guess a URL and get to where I want to go.

    Extended URLs are also useful for print purposes – for example, in a brochure or journal article where someone is going to have to type out the URL to get to the page. We use them for our brochures and flyers – the only trouble is keeping track of them all!

  8. Patrick Moss Says:

    http://ipod.apple.com works as well.

    Kudos to Apple. I may be in the minority, but I guess URLs frequently and it’s nice to have all these URLs available.

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