Years ago, we had a running joke at Newfangled that some bit of functionality was just a link. The punchline was that something which was assumed to be simple, perhaps linking off-site, was in fact indicative of some unforeseen and complex area of functionality that needed to be built.
We had a lot of really bad running jokes back then.
This morning, driving into work, I was sitting behind a car at a traffic light.
“Financial Opportunities” aside, I was interested in the unique URL listed. Presumably this serves as the franchisee’s ‘homepage’, acting as a mini-site that they can customize and drive clients to. Which begs the question — how can that be effective? It took me 5 minutes to get close enough to just take a picture. If I had been walking by the car, would a link like that encourage me to write it down to visit later? What if it was on a billboard? Even if I had the link on a business card, it does not inspire confidence in What the Pros Use.
The importance of planning
This is a great example of why, when planning a site, thinking critically about seemingly unimportant use cases is so important. I can make some educated guesses as to why this URL ended up the way it did. Perhaps the mini-site functionality was a quickly added feature to an existing system, and the member ID was the easiest unique identifier to use. Perhaps when the system was built, no one planned on these direct links being used for advertising purposes, so the structure wasn’t deemed important.
Whatever the reason, it was clearly deemed acceptable to produce vinyl car decals with this as an advertising solution. How does that manufacturing cost compare to the programmatic changes it would have taken to make the advertising link usable? The existing 9 digit number represents 10^9 possible variations — I doubt that a billion mini-site URLs are needed. Even a random combination of 5 letters would yield 11 million unique URLs, which I’d bet is more than enough.
What about an actually “useful” mini-site URL? Something as simple as the owner’s name and location would be much more meaningful, and might even be memorable enough to recall without writing it down. Any of these solutions are not impossible to implement, no matter what the underlying URL structure is behind the scenes. A simple 301 redirect, in this case, would be more than adequate.
The most likely answer, of course, is that the company in question isn’t really interested in effectively advertising their franchise owners, so much as just selling the franchise in the first place, making this all kind of moot. Even so, this is still a great opportunity to
rant think about how the details of website planning play out in the real world. We spend a lot of time thinking about how a page URL impacts SEO, and to a lesser extent, navigability. A website, however, doesn’t exist in a vacuum (even a Google vacuum). In this case, however, perhaps more important than SEO or performance issues would have been figuring out how to optimize the website for the rear window of a Nissan Rogue.