Have you ever typed in the address of a Google service and been surprised when that website didn’t exist?
Google uses a sub-domain for some of its products, (e.g. adwords.google.com, earth.google.com, mail.google.com) but uses a path name for others, (e.g. www.google.com/analytics, www.google.com/adsense).
This inconsistency causes confusion amongst Google users who may type in a URL containing the product name, but use the wrong format. The classic example of this is Adwords: Type in www.google.com/adwords/ (with the trailing slash) and you may be astonished to discover:
So, this got us thinking here at First Rate, how many of Google’s products have both the path name and the sub-domain version set up, and how many of them have only one of them set up. And is there any rhyme or reason behind Google’s choice of a sub-domain or a pathname?
First Rate tested the pathname and sub-domain version for 50 of Google’s different services and products. The names tested were:
First Rate tested the following six URL formats:
The results confirmed First Rate’s suspicions: Many of Google’s products do not have the alternative URL set up:
- 64% of the products had both the sub-domain and path name versions set up (e.g. earth.google.com and www.google.com/earth or wave.google.com and www.google.com/wave).
- 14% had the path name set up but not the sub-domain (e.g. www.google.com/postini/ but not postini.google.com).
- 12% had the sub-domain set up but not the path name – some of the services had the path name set up for the version without a trailing slash, but not the version with the trailing slash.
- 10% had neither the path name nor the sub-domain version set up (e.g. android.google.com and www.google.com/android or insights.google.com and www.google.com/insights).
Sometimes, this was because the product exists on its own domain, (e.g. www.android.com or www.orkut.com) and sometimes it was because the product in question has a longer URL than that tested, (e.g. insights is actually found at www.google.com/insights/search).
First of all, let’s ignore some of the tests – almost 100% of the tested URLs with no www. redirected to the www. version.
This is true both for URLs that exist at the redirected location (e.g. google.com/analytics redirects to www.google.com/analytics) and for the URLs that do not exist,(e.g. google.com/android redirects to www.google.com/android). Therefore, we haven’t considered the non www. versions of the URLs any further.
62% of the products did not have the www.subdomain.google.com version set up.
Perhaps we can let Google off the hook, as many websites with sub-domains setup fail to allow the www.subdomain version.
However, it is inconsistent and perhaps careless nonetheless, that half of the of the Google products that do have a subdomain have a www.subdomain version – and half don’t!
Finally, here are the full details for all the tests. (Note that the link checking software that we used failed to report on all the 302 redirects, it reported all of these as 200 ok – so the status code for the test may be incorrect.)
Some other notable broken URLs include:
www.google.com/feedburner – you’d have thought that feedburner was a big enough product that there must be plenty of people who type in google.com/feedburner
websiteoptimizer.google.com is another important Google product with a path name but no sub-domain. First Rate loves this product, it is excellent for improving a client’s website conversion rate.
Well, really the conclusion is obvious: Google as a “multi-armed hydra” has a variety of different business units and divisions, and perhaps this is the reason that there are no consistent website standards enforced?
And on top of that, Google don’t really need to care – because as a search company, Google knows that if someone fails to find a website they can always do a Google search to find it (and that’s why SEO is so important..!)
Sometimes, the search results for Google’s own products are less than good, e.g. they may lead to an older version of the page which has no obvious link to the newer version, or the phrase used may not match the product name and so the official page is pushed down the search results. Or sometimes even the link may be broken! – But that is a story for another blog post.
UPDATE: 10th September 2009
Matt Cutts has just pointed out to us that some of the inconsistencies are in fact intentional, on the basis of performance. Thanks Matt!