It isn’t quite our-long-national-nightmare-is-over level, but one of the significant daily reminders of the early web just disappeared. ESPN’s website, which had been hosted at espn.go.com since 1998, is finally now just at espn.com. Here’s ESPN’s EVP for digital and print John Kosner yesterday:
— John Kosner (@JKosner) August 4, 2016
And ESPN CTO Aaron LaBerge:
— Aaron LaBerge (@aaron) August 3, 2016
“ESPN.com” has been the site’s branding all these years, even at espn.go.com’s launch:
And people have been tweeting complaints about how old-timey the situation seemed for, well, as long as there’s been a Twitter. These are all six years old or older:
Can someone out there please tell me why ESPN.com still resolves to espn.go.com? Didn't Disney shut down 'go.com' 10 years ago?
— M-D November (@critic) March 11, 2008
Isn't it weird that espn.com doesn't truly exist, that you end up on espn.go.com? And weirder still, go.com looks like an abandoned url.
— Josh Hale (@josh_hale) February 3, 2009
Espn.com sucks. Oh excuse me, I meant to say that espn.com is a fine redirect, while espn.go.com sucks.
— jason (@JasonKirkSBN) April 27, 2009
Shouldn't ESPN be using the domain espn.com instead of espn.go.com by now?
— Jeff McFadden (@mcphat) June 24, 2009
wondering why disney-owned domains (like espn.com) still reroute to a go.com subdomain (like espn.go.com). stoopid.
— Aaron Hursman (@hursman) July 22, 2009
I love how ESPN.com still redirects to espn.go.com–a relic of a long dead acquisition & era. How has that never changed back?! #fb
— Tom Loverro (@tomloverro) November 3, 2009
#ThingThatIHate typing in www.espn.com and my browser changing it to www.espn.go.com WHY WHY?!! THAT'S DUMB, ESPN!
— Stephanie K (@StephanieKMusic) March 16, 2010
Why is ESPN.com still redirecting to espn.go.com? Why not just advertise their AOL keyword?
— Rick Pecoraro (@rickpecoraro) September 8, 2010
Seriously, go.com, please do better. espn.com has been redirected to espn.go.com for all these years, yet efforts on go.com are pitiful
— Alex Foley (@alexfoley) September 19, 2010
For those with long memories, Go.com was launched in January 1999 — peak of the portal era — as a portal for Walt Disney Company-owned content, primarily from Disney, ESPN, and ABC News. It looked like this:
Since ESPN was part of that family, its website was at espn.go.com.
Go.com didn’t last long; amid the dot-com bust, Disney announced it was shutting down as an independent site in January 2001. (Since it’s a valuable URL, it’s hosted a variety of search engines and things since then; it’s currently this weird Disney link list.)
But Go.com lived on in the browser address bars of millions of sports fans.
ESPN.com still resolves to espn.go.com. I'd forgotten go.com even existed.
— Markos Moulitsas (@markos) March 31, 2011
I find amazing that ESPN.com still points to ESPN.GO.com. Points to #Disney for sticking to a plan.
— Marv Dorner (@bebizzy) March 29, 2011
Insane that ESPN.com redirects you to espn.go.com. Have you looked at go.com lately? What's with the Disney synergy fantasy in 2011?
— Josh Hannah (@jdh) May 10, 2011
Random thought, I find it annoying that it is espn.go.com not just espn.com. go.com feels like I'm still in the 90's using Netscape.
— Drew Henning (@DrewHenning) January 4, 2012
BRISTOL, CT—In a merger of the two online sports news giants, top executives at ESPN.com announced Thursday that they have fully acquired and subsumed rival website ESPN.go.com. “The audience of ESPN.com and the audience of ESPN.go.com overlapped so much that this move made the most sense,” said ESPN.com vice president Kevin Jackson, explaining that fans will no longer have to check both websites for complete sports news coverage. “Obviously, getting the traffic that was going to ESPN.go.com is huge for us. But there’s also just a lot of mutual respect and admiration between our staff and the ESPN.go.com staff. We’re very excited to start working together.” With the blockbuster acquisition complete, ESPN.com will reportedly now set its sights on picking up one or both of www.espn.com and http://espn.com.
I reached out to ESPN PR to find out why the switch now, and I’ll update if I hear back. (Update: ESPN has gotten back to me and they say my theory is wrong! See their comment below.) But I think this theory could be part of it:
— Jeseph Meyers (@jesephm) August 4, 2016
30x redirects don't lose PageRank anymore.
— Gary Illyes (@methode) July 26, 2016
“30x” here isn’t “30 times” — it’s referring to the 300s class of HTTP status codes, like HTTP 301. (You’ve no doubt heard of HTTP 404.) A 301 is one way to direct one URL to another — like, say, an espn.go.com URL to an espn.com one.
301s have been around forever, but the received wisdom for years had been that using a 301 would get you penalized a bit in Google’s PageRank, the algorithm it uses to determine the search results you see. (The thinking, presumably, is that the new site you’re being redirected to could be something different than the one that earned the PageRank before.) Sites obviously don’t want to be penalized by their No. 1 or No. 2 source of traffic, so some held off.
Turns out that penalties for 30x redirects were eliminated some time ago, but as Search Engine Land notes, “there are many SEOs who simply do not believe Google.” Illyes’ tweet seems to have finally convinced people it was SEO-safe to do a 301 redirect.
And now, as it happens, espn.go.com is now returning a 301 HTTP status code.
Now, of course it’s possible that this has been in the works for a long time, and ESPN’s tech team figured out the penalty had disappeared some time ago. But it’s also possible a random tweet from a Googler played a role, however small, in leading ESPN to finally rid itself of a relic of the 1990s.
[Update from ESPN: A network spokesman tells me that SEO, while a consideration in the switch, wasn’t the primary reason:
We relaunched ESPN.com last year, and have built a global digital platform for our sites and signature app, which we have rolled out multiple editions of them on in various markets (10 in total so far…including UK, India, Australia, Mexico, Argentina…)
One thing that happened as a part of that was that we implemented a new user registration system last year. That meant that aspect of the site was no longer connected into the Go domain anymore. So, as we looked to continue to update and clean up the code base of our sites as part of the continued evolution (following the relaunch) we could make this change.
It is true that SEO (generally) is certainly a consideration in doing something like this, and in the overall operations of our sites (we’ve been applying and evolving best practices for SEO for a long time and were aware of 301s for years). But that wasn’t the reason for this.
ESPN also, very reasonably, points out that this big of a chance was in the works long before a week-old tweet. Mea culpa. But for other publishers who might be in a similar situation, know that that SEO clarity now exists: You won’t be penalized by Google for a redirect.]
— Gary Illyes (@methode) August 4, 2016
@jbenton the old web is dead
— Tim Carmody (@tcarmody) August 4, 2016