Google announced recently that it has updated the way it displays URLs (website addresses such as www.google.com) in mobile search results.  While this sounds at first blush like a technical matter, it may prove to be of substantial interest to trademark owners.

Google says the intent of the change is to better reflect the names of websites and website structure.  To do this, it will use what it calls a "breadcrumbs-like" format.  (The term refers to Hansel and Gretel leaving a trail of breadcrumbs so they could retrace their steps.)  To demonstrate the change, Google shows side-by-side results for a search on "history of google."  In the old format, the URL for the Wikipedia hit is "en.m.wikipedia.org/.../History_of_Google."  In the new format, it's "Wikipedia > wiki > History_of_Google."

Google says the changes are "rolling out gradually," and at least for now only affect mobile results and will be implemented in the US only.  Presumably they could be expanded later if Google likes how the market receives these changes.

There are a couple of issues of interest to trademark owners.  First, there seems to be a benefit to getting on board quickly so that you can get your preferred name.  Website owners can choose the website name they want displayed in search results, to a degree.  Google has provided criteria for the name – it should be:

  • Reasonably similar to your domain name;
  • A natural name used to refer to the site, such as "Google," rather than "Google, Inc.";
  • Unique to your site—not used by some other site; and
  • Not a misleading description of your site.

It’s that third criterion that suggests that if you want your website to be shown using your main mark, you should get on this quickly.  It is not clear what happens in the (likely) event that different website owners choose the same name for their website, but it’s probably best to get there first.

The second issue is how your customers can best know that the website listed using your name is your website.  With results showing the full URLs, careful users can watch to make sure that the website has the right top-level domain (.com, .org, etc.).  With the new system (at least on my mobile device), you can see the URL once you are navigating to that site, but not in the list of search results.  So users should be vigilant.  This may also affect your choice of how your name is to be shown.  Particularly if your mark is a common word, you may want to pair it with a descriptive term to avoid potential confusion, such as “Delta Airlines” rather than just “Delta.”

Google’s post about these changes is at http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.co.uk/2015/04/better-presentation-of-urls-in-search.html, with additional information at https://developers.google.com/structured-data/site-name

FAQs about Google’s broader “mobile-friendly” update by which websites deemed mobile-friendly will be promoted in search results on mobile devices are at http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/2015/04/faqs-april-21st-mobile-friendly.htm