Study Takes Aim at Mistyped Domain Names and Typosquatters

A new study by a major internet security company is taking aim at typosquatting, the practice of buying a misspelled domain name in the hopes that someone will mistype the name and land on that site. If someone then clicks on an text ad on the site the domain owner and the parking company will make money.

While the internet security company is trying to point out the problem of typosquatting, a problem that I do not necessarily agree with, they seem to be implying that the domain parking companies are part of the problem.

This new study, done by McAfee, an internet security company that gives you, the PC user, tools to combat viruses and protect your PC from malicious stuff on the internet, has done a study on domain names.

McAfee, in their study, highlights the iPhone example with this sample ad:

free iphone

McAfee claims that one of the most valuable domain is iphone.com, and when they announced the new iPhone Apple didn’t own the domain name. They also say that a bunch of typos came up right after the announcement.

The most valuable – iphone.com – is owned by Apple itself, but when Steve Jobs announced the product early in 2007, Apple didn’t own the iphone domain yet. One expert estimates that Apple paid at least $1 million to buy that piece of valuable Web real estate.

McAfee collected a list of domains based on the most popular and common sites visited by “typical consumers”. They don’t define what they call a “typical consumer”, but I would bet that you and I don’t fall into that category. Anyhow, a total of 2,771 target websites were collected from “a variety of different sources”, including:
– Hitwise
– Yahoo! Buzz
– Nielsen
– Billboard
– Google Zeitgeist
– McAfee’s own site popularity data
– Suggestions from McAfee’s world wide staff

They then generated many permutations (different misspellings) of those 2771 domain names. They used eight methods to generate the permutations:
– Swapped Characters – Swap characters one at a time. Example: yuotube.com.
– Replaced Characters – Replace characters one at a time. Example: wschovia.com.
– Inserted Characters – Insert one character. Example: Newgroounds.com.
– Deleted Character – Remove one character at a time. Example: cartonnetwork.com.
– Missing dot – Remove the dot between the “www” and the domain. Example: wwwmicrosoft.com.

They then “surfed” to each of these 1,920,256 permutations. How is it that I think that they surfed these sites but most likely did it in an automated fashion? If the permutation resolved to a live site they marked the site as “live” and then tested the site’s content for the presence of a parking company.

McAfee Takes Aim at the TrafficZ Domain Parking Company
TrafficZ.com is what is called a “domain parking company”. If you own an internet domain name you can “park” the domain name temporarily (or permanently if you wish) and make money. TrafficZ is a popular domain name parking company that will pay you for the traffic (website visitors) that visit your domain name and click on an ad related to the domain name. Domain parking companies take a cut of the revenue generated by clicks on the website. In this latest study and subsequent report, McAfee takes aim specifically at a typo-squatter that’s making money from people who mistype the McAfee domain name:

Mcafie

In the example screen capture above, McAfee shows what you get to if you were to mistype and misspell their name. They point to www.mcafie.com and, while highlighting that particular domain name, they seem to drag the TrafficZ domain parking program into the mix, almost even implying that TrafficZ is part of the problem.

Parking companies are another vital link in the typo-squatter value chain. Parking companies act as middle men between site owners and advertising publishing platforms (who are themselves middle men between the advertiser and the parking company). By providing a turnkey service, parking companies enable the owners of large domain portfolios to reduce the cost of generating advertising and servings those ads. Without these automated services, the small profit generated by a single typo-squatter site would be eaten up by infrastructure costs.

The domain name parking companies are providing a service. Whether or not you agree with the domain name owner’s decision to buy a certain domain name, it is not the parking company’s responsibility to police the internet and protect a company’s brand. That remains the responsibility of the brand itself. The brand or trademark owner should go after the domain owner, and not publicly lynch the domain parking companies:

But our research shows that even these top players continue to profit from typo-squatting. In our tests, the top five parking companies, ranked by the percentage of squatters parked by them, were Information (28.5%), Hitfarm (11.3%), Domainsponsor (2.9%), Sedo (2.5%) and GoDaddy (2.3%).

Interesting findings are being reported by McAfee:

– A typical consumer who misspells a popular URL has a 1 in-14 chance of landing at a typo-squatter site
– Children’s sites are heavily targeted: More than 60 of the most squatted sites are designed to appeal to the 18-and-under demographic, with squatters targeting domains like webkinz.com, clubpenquin.com and neopets.com
– Some typo-squatters take advantage of typing errors to expose children to pornography. In fact, 2.4 percent, or more than 46,000 of the typo-squatter sites tested, include some adult content, and some of those sites are squatters of children’s properties.
– The five most highly squatted categories are:
— Game sites (14% likelihood of being squatted) such as miniclip.com, runescape.com and minijuegos.com
— Airline sites (11.4% likelihood) such as ryanair.com, united.com, and lufthansa.com
— Mainstream media sites (10.8%) such as vh1.com, globo.com and qvc.com
— Dating sites (10.2%) such as plentyoffish.com, true.com and singlesnet.com
— Technology and Web 2.0-related sites (9.6%)
– Automated ad syndication services enable many typo-squatter sites to make money; in fact one search engine’s ads show up on 19.3% of all suspected typo-squatter sites in this study
– The five non-U.S. countries most likely to have popular sites squatted are: the United Kingdom (7.7%), Portugal (6.5%), Spain (5.9%), France (5.4%), and Italy (4.1%)
– The five non-U.S. countries least likely are: the Netherlands (1.5%), Israel (1.1%), Denmark (1.0%), Brazil (0.9%) and Finland (0.1%)

The study notes that typosquatting is not new. They say that the number of cybersquatting cases filed with the World Intellectual Property Organization’s arbitration system increased 20 percent in 2005 and another 25 percent in 2006.

To check out the entire list of findings of this study go here:
www.mcafee.com/typosquatters

Comments

  1. Conrad says

    Bill,

    As you indicated typosquatting is nothing new, but few people understand its power. I have seen a number of companies utilize PPC and SEM to benefit for incorrectly typed URL’s. I wonder if soon the major SE’s will begin to help users from landing on the wrong page via ‘Did you mean …” just like they do with misspelled words or phrases. We operate a number of industrial supply directories and have noticed several MFA sites are piggybacking on some of our portals by creating landing pages based on similar names to ours but of course, misspelled by a letter or so. I have seen software that identifies commonly misspelled words by Web users and its always just a letter or so off associated with either the keypad or language itself, if that makes sense.

  2. google assassin says

    I’m a live example of mispelled domain names success. I have a mispelled domain name that has to do with a very popular internet marketing product and i’m managing to maintain a very high ctr at my adwords ads due to the fact that my domain name looks similar to the official one.

  3. Online Dating Dude says

    That’s a great post Bill. It’s interesting to see quantitative metrics for a change. Google Assassin – cool idea using name recognition in typos to improve CTR – I’ve already thought of a great variation and it was available!

  4. free dating says

    thanks much for great info. but you really have to own thousands of domains if you want to earn by misspelled urls