A study in New Scientist by Tyler Moore and Benjamin Edelman at Harvard University estimates that advertisements placed by Google on typo domains – domain names that are misspelled versions of popular websites – could potentially be producing as much as $500 million per year. And that’s only Google’s cut.
The question of Google’s profiting from typo domains aside, a recent serendipitous experience gave me the opportunity to further explore the profitability of typo domains. As we will see with real data from a typographical domain variant of coupons.com, not all typo domains are created equal.
What Typosquatting Is
A form of cybersquatting, typosquatting is a dubious practice that counts on Internet users’ making typographical errors when entering a web address into their browser. For example, a typosquatter might register the domain name “domainshirpa.com” with the hopes of attracting website traffic intended for “domainsherpa.com.”
The practice is controversial (illegal when the typo domain name infringes on a trademark), as a typosquatter can divert visitors from the actual site they are seeking and can financially profit from the popularity of another site.
Typo Domain for Coupons.com
In June I interviewed Steven Boal, president and CEO of the hugely successful Coupons.com. Coupons.com recently received $200 million from investors in a deal that values the 13-year-old coupon company at $1 billion.
Coincidentally, shortly before our scheduled interview, I noticed a typo domain variant of Coupons.com that was available at a NameJet auction: couponscom.com. The typo in this case is the missing “dot” between the intended domain name (coupons) and the TLD (com).
When I told Steven about it, he – as an entrepreneur well versed in domain name law – recognized that he had a few basic options. He could:
- Notify the NameJet legal department of a trademark issue and ask that the domain name be pulled from auction,
- File a UDRP case and take their case to a panel, or
- Do nothing.
As a fourth option, I offered to purchase the domain name at auction and transfer it to Steven at cost. He agreed, and after winning the auction for $123 – a sum much lower than the cost of one hour of an attorney’s time or of filing a UDRP case – I transferred couponscom.com to him.
Typosquatting Research Opportunity
The potential to monitor the performance of a typo domain name piqued my curiosity. Would the domain name actually produce traffic? I asked Steven if I could test the effectiveness of couponscom.com as a typo domain, and he graciously agreed. Over the course of three months, I measured the number of type-ins resulting from couponscom.com using a parking service called The Parking Place.
The results may surprise you.
Estimated Results of Couponscom.com
According to Compete.com (figure below), Coupons.com receives about 10 million unique visitors per month. To determine what number of type-ins couponscom.com might command, I looked to flicker.com, a typo variant of the popular social photo-sharing website Flickr.com. Flicker.com (now owned by Flickr’s parent company, Yahoo) used to average about 300,000 unique visitors per month, which is 1.4 percent of the 21 million monthly unique visitors to Flickr.com (figure below). I estimated that if couponscom.com was an effective typo domain for type-in views, it would produce at least 0.1 percent of Coupons.com’s traffic, or 10,000 unique visitors per month.
Actual Typo Traffic to Couponscom.com
Over the course of the three months I measured type-in traffic, couponscom.com averaged 160 monthly unique visitors (figure below). A far cry from the 10,000 visitors I hypothesized.
My guess as to why this domain name was not particularly successful at producing type-in traffic is that “couponscom.com” is simply not a typo people often make. Further, if someone was to type in only “couponscom” into their browser, not all browsers will automatically append the “.com” to the end of the domain name. For example, Safari does, but Firefox does not. Without the TLD in the web address, the domain name will not resolve.
There is an entire industry focused on driving traffic to websites; typo domains are simply one niche of that industry. And as with any domain name, some typo domains are better than others.
My unscientific study suggests couponscom.com is not going to be a gold mine. So was it worth the $123 for Coupons.com to buy couponscom.com? Parking the domain while I measured type-in traffic generated a paltry $7 — enough only to treat Steven to coffee next time we meet — but I suspect it is worth far more to Steven to keep others from infringing on his company’s brand.
Do you have typo data you are willing to share? Please do so in the comments.
[Photo credit: Gregory Szarkiewicz / FreeDigitalPhotos.net]
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