March 31, 2009 in Branding, Commercials

Have you seen the new commercials? I was giddy with excitement at the thought of hackable URLs on a site as large as ESPN’s, but much like prom night, I was left disappointed. What could have been a great campaign that would encourage users to use the URL as a navigation device, ended up being a classic demonstration of the divide between Marketing and IT departments.

So where did they go wrong? It’s a long answer that starts with some simple Google stats. Let’s run a Takedown, breaking down stats for the official URL used in commercials and marketing for three big brands: ESPN, JCPenney, and BestBuy.

Site Pages in Google Index 1,530,000 73,500 4

The number of pages that Google sees for a site is a good number to keep an occasional eye on for any site that you manage. You can peek at it by using the “site:” argument in Google as in ““. Taking a look at these stats, ESPN’s numbers are woefully low, and JCPenney’s are just plain egregious.

Come on, Mark, be real. JCPenney has way more than 4 pages.

They most definitely do. Although you see and in every commercial and every piece of marketing, those aren’t their actual URLs. Have a look for yourself. Click on and you arrive at Click on any link from the home page, and suddenly you’re on

I don’t want you to think I’m trying to pull the wool over your eyes, so let’s try this again with their real URLs.

Site Pages in Google Index 1,530,000 5,900,000 30,100

Well that fixes ESPN’s numbers; 5.9 million pages seems more believable. JCPenney’s numbers are still broken, but how they caught a bad case of the Endeca is a story for another time.

So what does the 5 million page discrepancy between and have to do with the commercial? Everything. Here was my thought process the first time I tried one of these URLs.

– Hm, that’s enough Facebook stalking for the 11a hour.
– Let’s go waste time on ESPN.
– Wow, the Knicks are embarrassing.
– Oh, let me try that “slash” thing from the commercial!
– Okay, delete everything after the “.com”
– Type in “/fantasybaseball”. Hm, page not found.
– Okay, delete everything after the “.com”
– Type in “/rumors”. Hm, page not found.
– Okay, delete everything after the “.com”
– Type in “/trades”. Hm, page not found.
– This blows!
– I should check my Wall—it’s been a while.

If I open up a blank browser and type, I’m whisked straight to the topic. The problem is, once I arrive at the site, the URL is changed to Try removing everything after the slash and typing “trades” or “rumors”? A big fat 404. – Works – Fails – Works – Fails – Works – Fails

See a pattern here? The redirect to a URL reflecting the now dead-in-the-water Go Network introduces a fatal weakness in the campaign.

I chose ESPN, BestBuy, and JCPenney to examine because they’re all utterly crippled by their abounding content. Most notable on BestBuy and JCPenney, you can sense the weight of the content in their overloaded site navigation and ghoulish page URLs. Even clever campaigns like this (I’m an unabashed W+K fanboi) are handcuffed by kludgy redirects and a lack of communication between departments.

It’s a shame, because for every successful use of a “slash” URL this campaign triggers, I’d bet they’re creating twice as many Page Not Founds and just as many frustrated fans.

5 Comments to

  1. Interesting stuff Mark; I think I will read this instead of AdAge.

  2. Jessie on 31 March 2009
  3. Well that would make you my new best friend. Drop me a line if there’s anything you’d like to see covered…

  4. Mark Phillip on 31 March 2009
  5. since we’re talking numbers, i’d like to know how many people _actually_ type in their address bar while web browsing. i’ve worked with “normal” people, and they sometimes have problems just clicking on links, let alone typing in URLs, not to mention altering just part of a URL.

    while they’re clearly not doing it right, i think this is only a significant problem if enough people in the world are smart. either way, i come out sounding like a jerk.

    also, the campaign has Alyssa Milano in it. that’s enough for me to give it at least a B+.

  6. eric on 31 March 2009
  7. I have a long, long list of “little things to pay attention to when organizing a web campaign”… Paying attention to having the right redirects has recently appeared on this list. In SEO, we all know you should permanently redirect to to avoid divided traffic. But its so easy to overlook this little things. should have redirected their vanity slash URLs to the right destinations. But they overlooked it.

    I will agree with the last commenter – actual volume is likely pretty low. But no matter actual traffic, you still don’t want to be the agency or consultant that overlooked the details. Especially just in case ESPN is monitoring social media mentions of their latest campaign and forwarding Mark’s blog post around the office. :-)

    Good thinking.

  8. Erin Lynn Youn on 31 March 2009
  9. You guys are spot on. There are definitely very few people using the URL as a navigation device. The growing reliance on search engines and browser innovations like Firefox 3’s “Awesome Bar” are major parts of the equation, but has any site ever made it worthwhile for the average user?

    This is the first campaign I’ve seen that encouraged people to play with the URL, but it won’t be the last.

    I just got an idea for a new post. :)

  10. Mark Phillip on 31 March 2009

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