A Shift From the Address Bar to the Search Box
Before my days at Media Dog, I spent a few years working in Japan, and during my time there I noticed an interesting trend among subway print ads and tv commercials. In a space normally reserved for the companies url, the ads would instead have a mock up of a search box with some keywords. An interesting approach to promote the website and one which I feel speaks much more naturally to a web users browsing habits.
This method would also allow for easier access to, for example, a company's subproduct. Say Honda was promoting a new car, there's no way someone would be eager to type out http://www.honda.co.jp/cars/newcarline, but by entering just the new car into a search engine, they're allowed quick and easy access to the information, so why not advertise it that way?
Blogger Cabel over at Cabel.name has put together a nice collection of pictures of print ads he took while riding the subways of Japan to illustrate this very point. I'm also finding with our own website analytics, more and more people are putting our company name or even full url into Google before landing on our site.
In the mid 90's, AOL desperately tried to start a trend were you would enter an official Keyword to access a site. An idea ahead of its time? Perhaps. You see, today the average web user goes through their browsers search box to get where they want to go. No need to remember long urls which over time have become more complicated due to squatters snatching up 'the good ones'. Plus there's less typing involved, you get more information relating to your search and typos don't matter.
This method of advertising your company/product as a set of search terms could also do very well for your overall search ranking. If people are plugging in a certain query and clicking on your site, won't that help pull your url to the top based on organic clicks? Assuming you've advertised the right keywords, sure. There's always the risk that another site will steal your thunder and you won't have control of their message, but that's an unlikely scenario. Overall, I think it would be much more effective to ask someone to remember keywords than a url.
I believe the reason why this method has taken off in Japan and not North America is partly due to the fact that urls require Latin characters and countries that rely on a different character set have struggled with having to flip-flop their language input when dealing with urls and everything else they're doing. Why go through the trouble when you can just hit up the search box?
It was recently announced that ICANN (The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) will soon allow for non-Latin character urls. Ultimately this adaption will help in the future with new users, but for now people have come to rely on the search box method of browsing.
So what are your thoughts on the subject? Are you fine with how things have been or do you think Japan's way of promoting a site by keyword searches is the way to go?