Recently, it seems that more and more users are making some assumptions regarding website name and URLs. A recent review of logs at several different sites show an increasing number of users attempting to bypass website navigation and directly access what they want via the URL they type into their browser.
Certain things are established standards in URLs today, the defined extensions (.com, .edu, .uk, and so on) and the registrars who regulate the assignment of domain names attached to those prefixes, for example. Also, certain characters are allowed or not allowed, which results in certain characters being “escaped” or defined by an allowed set of characters. The dollar sign being replaced by $, for example.
After that, how and where various web addresses are handled within a site is completely in the control of the site owner.
However, there is an emerging sense among savvy Internet users that certain things can “usually” be found in a specific location by entering commonly used keys into manually typed addresses. Entering URLs in this manner can result in significant time savings, particularly on longer website names, or when entering a web address via a non-standard keyboard like on a mobile device or cellphone.
For example, many websites offer the mobile version of their site at m.sitename.com. Others offer the same mobile functionality at www.sitename.com/mobile or www.sitename.com/m. Likewise, most large Internet providers tend to respond well to entering “mail” and then the site name, even if just by redirecting the user to the official address. Consider, mail.google.com, mail.msn.com, mail.yahoo.com, and so on.
While these locations and shortcuts are by no means standard and are not even noticed or anticipated by many users yet, there is an emergence of user interface design that takes advantage of such assumptions. Doing so continues to allow for specific customized user interface and programming standards, while at the same time allowing users to find precisely what they are looking for in case they don’t quite understand the interface presented, or even if they prefer to skip the interface all together.
Internet users looking for investor relations web content are no doubt significantly smaller in number than users looking for email or mobile content, but a significant portion of them are more savvy than the average web surfer. While certainly not as widespread as concepts like m for mobile, or mail for accessing webmail, there are signs of a pseudo-standards movement coming to the Investor Relations arena.
Consider, that in a recent test, half of the 10 largest US companies provided a valid response to investor.companyname.com regardless of where the “real” IR website could be found. For example, typing investor.wallmartstores.com brings the investor the Wal-Mart IR homepage, despite the fact that the IR page URL is actually walmartstores.com/Investors/
Such response is easily configured via a redirect. A redirect is simply an instruction to a visitor to redirect, or look to a different location, based on the information within the web address the visitor is trying to reach. For example, most commercial websites today can be reached whether or not the user types www. Users trying to reach the New York Times will get there via either www.nytimes.com or nytimes.com, with the webserver either adding or removing the www automatically depending upon the site configuration.
There are multiple types of redirects, but one preferred method is called the 301 Redirect which provides a behind the scenes error code electronically informing the visitor that the page in question has been permanently moved to another location, and then provides that location. This all happens without any interaction or display appearing to the user. Indeed, if the user were to bookmark the page upon arrival, they would actually bookmark the correct link because the redirect not only displays the proper page, but re-states the URL in the browser itself.
The great thing about this method is that it allows the user to continue to access important information in a manner that makes sense to them, while preventing any sort of implicit approval of the visitor’s entryway. Thus, search engines like Google will not provide investor.company.com as a search result no matter how many websites link to it in that manner, and will instead provide the official authorized link as the search result instead. While users who bookmark the IR site after reaching it via redirect will still bookmark the official location.
Best Practices For IR
How should an Investor Relations department handle the rise of pseudo-standard URLs?
Examine your website logs and see if your users are starting to try this technique. Are there multiple 404 File Not Found errors for addresses like investor.name.com or www.name.com/investor?
If so, there is little harm in configuring redirects for those addresses that point to your official address instead. Doing so causes no downtime, does not increase the load on the server, and does not cause any broken links or exceptions to the various standards that may be in place at your corporation. In other words, its a guaranteed win at no expense!
A forward thinking IR group might even consider taking it to the next level. What other ways might people try and access IR information that you are enthusiastic about returning? Is anyone trying to access mobile formatted investor relations content via m.company.com/investor or how about investor.company.com/mobile?
Would it be worthwhile to provide access to the current stock price via something like quote.company.com?
Obviously, such redirects could spin out of control, so trying to anticipate every possible request has little value. Focus instead on what the majority of your users are trying to do.
Such redirects not only provide an easy way for users to access your site, they also provide an easy way for company representatives and executives to reference the IR site as well. Is it easier for the V.P. of Research to stand before a large crowd and say that investor information is available at investor.bighype.com or to expect them to say it is available at www.bighype.com/corporate/investor-relations. (Don’t forget to mention the hyphen!)
Judicious use of such redirects are a great tool to provide an even better user experience to investors and potential investors.
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