Removing full urls from search engines is a stupid thing to do

Martin Brinkmann
Oct 19, 2013

The general consensus among browser developers seems to be that urls confuse the average user. While the removal of http:// in some browsers is not really hurting the visibility that much, other implementations do. Google Chrome displays for instance the search term that you have entered in the browser's address bar and not the url that was opened as a result on Google.

A recent experiment on Google Search goes a step further than that, as it replaces url information with names of websites or domains only.

So, instead of displaying the url that users will open when they click on a result,the page is only displaying the domain name or brand name that has created the page.

While results may not be displayed for all websites and brands in this way, it is in my opinion a stupid thing to do. Why? Take a look at the following example:

search results without url
search results without url

If you want to log in to Facebook, which of the displayed pages would you load?  Most experienced users will reject the second result outright, but there is no clear distinction between the first and third result. While the first is more likely the homepage of the service, there is no guarantee that this is really the case.

Side Note: There is a way around this, should Google ever launch the change for all users of its search engine. It is still possible to hover over a link to display its target in the status bar area of the browser that you are using.

And that is just a basic example, but one that will occur numerous times on the web. As long as multiple results from a single domain are displayed, users may have issues selecting the correct page from the selection that Google provides, as there is no clear distinction anymore between different results.

The url is the only parameter that enables you to identify a website with 100% certainty, as it is the only unique parameter that identifies web pages on the Internet.

Often, urls not only provide you with information about the page you are about to open, say the homepage, a blog on a subdomain or a page on the site, but also with other information such as the date an article has been posted or a general categorization of the topic it covers.

If you just display Facebook, Wikipedia or IMDb in the results instead of the url of the linked page, then you have no clue where the link will take you. While you may be able to use clues posted in the title, it is important to note that titles are selected by the site so that they do not necessarily reflect where you will land when you click on the link (unless Google manipulates them, which the company does at times, but that too does not have to mean that you will know where the link will take you).

What's your take on a url-less Google?


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  1. p3t3r said on October 25, 2013 at 6:32 am

    It’s a sad fact: todays computers are degenerated to remote controls which have more intelligence than the average user. This kind of “computing” is nothing more than watching homeshopping-pay-tv.

  2. dblevins said on October 20, 2013 at 7:21 pm

    They’re taken a page from Micro$oft and letting the inexperienced new hires make changes for change’s sake. “Ease of use” is in the eye of the individual user, e.g. Win 8 is “easier” than Win 7, right? Why won’t they embrace the fact of several levels of users and document the values and let us change the defaults to our preference? Even, heaven forbid, “document” = NEVER – “learn” our prefs thru use = gee we know what the user wants. Next they’ll take away the ability to customize thru add-ins or extensions in the name of security or reliability.

    Ever wonder why, in Excel, the default for “paste special” is “paste”; if I’d wanted “paste” I’d have chosen “paste” or ctrl+v.
    Seems simple to me

  3. Teiji said on October 20, 2013 at 5:46 pm

    If they really implement this, I guess I’ll stop using Google for my search since the url is VERY important for me to identify if it’s a fake site I’m visiting.

  4. kalmly said on October 20, 2013 at 1:15 pm

    I copy loads of urls so I can go back to the site later. What’s going to happen to that? For research purposes, I also use an application that downloads webpages so I can access them easily. It also copies urls.

    1. Martin Brinkmann said on October 20, 2013 at 1:26 pm

      You can still right-click and copy the links.

  5. Dante said on October 20, 2013 at 4:09 am

    Answer: DuckDuckGo

  6. KK said on October 20, 2013 at 3:23 am

    “For some reason people at Google and just the web in general love extra clicks and extra mouse movement.”

    Yes. Google “interfaces” are a total mess. Barely functional and getting worse.
    Ever use YouTube connected to Google + ? Amazingly bad UI design.
    It’s like these programmers forgot all the progress they made so far.

    A note on that from the Nag Hammadi texts:
    “Jesus said, “The pharisees and the scribes have taken the keys of knowledge and hidden them. They themselves have not entered, nor have they allowed to enter those who wish to. You, however, be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves.”

    Jesus would have used Firefox with addons ;)

  7. webDev01 said on October 20, 2013 at 2:34 am

    These “trends” are a long time coming, at least is how I and other webdevs I know feel. HTML written pages are clearly one of the horrific results of an unregulated and misdirected Internet. Thankfully we are finally rectifying this situation. Thru JavaScript and webApps, we are finally able to provide a safer, more convenient, and excellently designed end user experience.

    End users tend to not understand whats going on with their browsers, most don’t know URL stands for let alone why it might ” change colors” or “not work right”. I can’t tell you how many machines we see that the user tried to “hack it” and find out they tried to shut off their JavaScript, thru NotScript or by previously selecting to disable JS.

    At some point we will finally move everyone to accessing pages thru specific apps which help provide the user with the best experience as well as end certain things like piracy and malicious websites.

  8. Patrick said on October 19, 2013 at 11:17 pm

    What’s your take on a url-less Google?

    A Google-less web browser and search engine

    Firefox or Palemoon 24 + Duck Duck Go or Startpage, search engine, have not been using Chrome or searching directly through Google search engine or webpages for quite sometime now.

  9. Leigh said on October 19, 2013 at 8:42 pm

    They just want you to click-through so they can track it vs you cutting and pasting. It is just more ways to track our movements on the web. I also think the security implications mentioned above are also a reason not to do this.

  10. g1smd said on October 19, 2013 at 8:11 pm

    Hovering over the URL and looking at the status bar only works when you first hover.

    If you come back later (without refreshing the page) and hover again (especially if you have right-clicked that link and selected “open in a new tab” to view the page), you can only see the long Google search URL in the status bar. This is the one where the real destination is buried in the parameters.

    Where a search results points to a PDF document and clicking the link results in a browser pop-up inviting you to download or view the document, once you have done that, the browser address bar shows only the long Google search URL and not the real URL of the file that was viewed. You have no choice but to email a link to someone showing the long Google URL and, of course, Google can then track all future clicks.

    This functionality sucks. Modifying the users UI is bad.

    1. insanelyapple said on October 21, 2013 at 1:23 am

      In Firefox, you can use search link fix extension to avoid hiding urls by Google.

  11. RG said on October 19, 2013 at 7:59 pm

    For some reason people at Google and just the web in general love extra clicks and extra mouse movement. 1)Hover to see full URL 2)Extra click to see link to Google services (the recent Chrome/Google change) 3)Hover and click for the drop down to log out, access account settings (in gmail, yahoo, etc. etc.)
    Pretty pointless, all of it.

  12. InterestedBystander said on October 19, 2013 at 7:32 pm

    Redgrave alludes to a good point: user behavior is a large part of safe browsing, and having the ability to see URLs contributes to safe web behavior. For those users who can at least partially parse web addresses, the information in an URL is very useful. And for those who have not yet figured it out…well, how can they learn to distinguish addresses if the information is hidden by default?

    1. Redgrave said on October 19, 2013 at 7:45 pm

      Thanks, you got my point. It’s a ‘trend’ in the past few years for software companies to make their products way too easy to use. Of course, this is how you get more customers, but this isn’t a generally good idea.

      The customer needs to be taught, not helped with lowering the standards, which leads to fooling the customer eventually, one way or another.

      A lot of us around here, as I noticed, come from an era where we had to learn our ways around. And this way, we had a few important lessons which help us in today’s online world, still.

  13. Vishal said on October 19, 2013 at 7:18 pm

    It’s a sad trend of dumbing down with which Apple got success and Google and Microsoft are copying it. People need to put their foot down and refuse to use services or refuse “new & improved” version.

    1. Tim said on October 19, 2013 at 11:09 pm

      Spot on, that’s what I’ve been thinking for a while as well and am getting fed up with it.

  14. Redgrave said on October 19, 2013 at 7:04 pm

    I think the average Joe who might be confused by long URLs SHOULD learn which is which and whatever. This is why a lot of us can make a difference between a ‘real’ URL and a phishing one without even opening the website in question.
    The average Joe will just be more clueless than ever.

    But, back on topic about the article, good point.

  15. yoav said on October 19, 2013 at 7:03 pm

    They’re just dumbing down the web as much as possible. I’m surprised they’re still using actual letters as a url and not a video pop-out…but I guess they’ll add that in later…

  16. fokka said on October 19, 2013 at 6:51 pm

    i understand that URLs aren’t really pleasing to the eye and can look confusing to the average joe. i just have to think of my father and in his case the fewer elements on a page the easier it is for him to navigate through this newfangled internet-thing.

    but dumbing down the web (and google is a quite large part of the web) for everyone, obscuring sometimes vital information to more savvy users, may not be the best solution for the problem and so i hope this stays an experiment.

    on the other hand, using firefox, even with recent development, i’m quite confident that there will always be a boatload of tweaks and addons for “power users” like me to make the browsing experience a more professional and pleasing one. i just love this piece of software.

  17. jimbo said on October 19, 2013 at 6:42 pm

    What is it with them ? (in particular Yahoo) they seem incapable of leaving anything alone for more than an eyeblink … is it a disease ? brain stormin’ melees ? The very antithesis of “If it aint broke …”
    It’s the Dumbing Down rEvolution.

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