Next Generation Web Browsers Signal the Death of the URL as We Know It

Posted / 15 October, 2014

Author / Enginess

iPhone Safari web browser

Next generation web browsers, like new versions of Chrome and Safari, may be planning to change how users interact with URLs and domain names.

The URL, or web address, has been around since the very first web pages have existed.

In laymen’s terms, it’s what you type into the address bar to go to your desired website, and it’s been a staple of the internet since browsers were introduced.

However, next generation web browsers, like new versions of Chrome and Safari, may be planning to change that.

Version 36 of Chrome introduced the idea of visibly killing off the URL with a feature called an Origin Chip, which removed the URL entirely, replacing it with a gray box simply displaying the domain name, freeing up the rest of the address bar for searches.

Specific websites would be navigated via links and searches instead.

Chrome UI new search bar

Although this effectively eliminates the URL from the user’s view, users could still click on the gray box for an animated reveal of the full URL, and they could toggle the Origin Chip on or off under their Settings.

Apple, with its launch of OS X Yosemite and Safari 8, followed a similar route with the browser’s newly implemented Smart Search.

The desktop version of Safari now mimics the mobile version, displaying only the domain name and hiding the URL until clicked on, instead vying to populate a browser-curated results/recommendation dropdown of often visited websites.

OS X Yosemite Safari search bar

Many people are of the opinion that URLs are ugly, and long, and a bad user experience because they’re difficult to remember, and many people now are foregoing them altogether.

How many people do you know that simply type their desired website destination into Google and then click the first result instead of typing the URL themselves?

Back around 2008, when Chrome’s “omnibox” functionality launched, the address bar also became a search bar, allowing users to easily query Google for whatever key words they wanted and returning the results, thereby bypassing remembering and typing out whole web addresses.

This was great for usability, and Chrome’s Origin Chip experiment is their proposed next step.

One important factor in this is the primary root domain still being shown in both cases. URLs are long, tedious and ugly, but the primary ‘.com’ domain is a good marker of where users are on the web, with no confusion or ambiguity.

With it as the only thing highlighted in the address bar, it would also help alleviate phishing, as users will easily be able to tell whether or not the domain is malicious, as it will be the only thing highlighted.

Although URLs will probably always serve their technical function as webpage addresses on the backend, it is quite possible, depending on how the public responds to experimental changes like the ones above, that in a few years, the URL may be, at least from the browser user perspective, visibly faded out and replaced with a web that’s instead primarily navigated via context and user searches.

Currently, however, the URL is still alive and well, and there is remaining SEO value in having good URL structure.

URL slugs help in that keywords and titles within your URLs can assist a search engine in indexing your webpage properly. As opposed to a random string of numbers and letters, keywords and phrases in simple English help webcrawlers easily identify what your website is.

Static URLs (‘www.mysite.com/my-site’) have much better SEO than dynamic ones (‘www.mysite.com/?p=89765’) for this reason.  

Fewer folders (resulting in fewer URL slashes) is also much better, as this ensures the search engines will have an easier time figuring out what your webpage’s content is about with well-structured URLs.

Many content management systems have features that can help a great deal in customizing URLs with keywords and phrases with simple point-and-click tools. The trends, even when dealing with current URLs, seem to point to shorter, more semantic, keyword containing ones as the most functional.

As time goes on, maybe the natural conclusion is their removal altogether.

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