Typos: Everyone has their hand in the till

Business,Search by on May 23, 2007 at 9:11 am

The Business 2.0 article about the .cm extension has been getting a lot of press recently. From Techcrunch:

Business 2.0’s Paul Sloan has been digging into the .CM domain name scam. A domain name broker managed to convince the government of Cameroon, which controls .cm, to do a deal where any mis-typed domain name, like Google.cm (instead of google.com), takes the visitor to an advertising-filled landing page (the ads are served by Yahoo).

While this is true, articles such as this (and the resulting firestorms), completely overlook the the fact that nearly every major company on the Internet is involved in similar practices:

  • Google & Yahoo: Both of these companies knowingly provide ads to domain parkers. Google offers AdSense for Domains, and in fact built AdSense off of its Applied Semantics acquisition (the original domain advertiser). Yahoo has been supplying ads to domain parkers since YSM was Overture. In fact, Applied Semantics was a top 10 Overture partner when Google bought it. You cannot opt out of showing your ads on domain park pages - Google considers them ‘search pages’.
  • Browsers (Microsoft & Firefox): If you’re running IE, type google.xom into the address bar. You’ll see Google Ads. Some estimates place their income at $600M from this practice. I’ve heard claims that Firefox does the same, but I haven’t been able to verify them.
  • PC Manufacturers (Dell & Gateway): They seize error pages by default and show Google ads by default. More at SearchEngineLand
  • OpenDNS: Perhaps the most disingenuous of the bunch. They are very vocal about all of the other organizations on this page, and are quick to promote their DNS servers as a solution. However, they do the exact same thing. When a nonexistent domain is typed, they show ads. In fact, their entire ‘free’ service is funded this way.
  • ISPs (Earthlink, Charter, AOL, etc.): They work similarly to OpenDNS. They’ve modified their DNS servers to show ads (‘search results’) on mistyped domains that don’t have a URL.
  • Hosting companies (1and1, etc.): I don’t know how widespread the problem is, but I noticed that the 404 pages at my old hosting company now display ads. See an example.
  • Domain parkers: There are plenty of typo domains registered and receiving traffic.
  • Verisign: Well, not at the moment. In 2003, Verisign tried to seize this market, but backed down under threat of lawsuit.
So please, if you’re going to get all huffy about any one of these entities and go write an article, please cover the issue fully. It is far more of a widespread practice than is initially obvious.


  1. David Ulevitch — May 23, 2007 @ 10:40 am

    What you say about OpenDNS isn’t correct. We don’t make any money on things that are typos of domain names. Typing in linux.xom should take you to linux.com right? Well, with OpenDNS it does.

    Why you think that’s disingenuous is beyond me. Look beneath the surface. There’s an entire suite of features that we offer to create a fantastic user experience. And yes, there is a part of our service that shows search results that have related ads. That’s not anything like what Dell and Google have teamed up to do.

  2. davenaff — May 23, 2007 @ 12:03 pm


    Typing this URL into the browser bar of an OpenDNS powered system gives me nothing but sponsored links:


    I don’t see a tremendous difference between what OpenDNS does, Dell does and what Verisign initially proposed.

    I agree that OpenDNS provides other value-added services, but feel that your business model is just too similar to Dell’s in this case for OpenDNS to credibly criticize it.

  3. DeanR — May 23, 2007 @ 9:42 pm

    Pardon my butting in here but I’ve got to say that I don’t think your posted example is a fair test. My gosh, that’s not a typo – that’s bloody illiteracy! That example is so far off the mark that even the typo squatters didn’t snatch it. Heck, it took me a few tries to figure out what the real URL was supposed to be. If a reasonably intelligent human has trouble with it, I can certainly understand a program choking on it.

    Your example, in fact, undermines your argument. It says that you HAD to go pretty far afield to find a URL that OpenDNS couldn’t handle – far beyond what any person is likely to type into an address bar. If you had to stretch that far to find a example to prove your point, then it indicates that OpenDNS properly corrects reasonable errors.

    I personally see a significant difference between Dell, et alia, grasping at the tiniest typing error as an excuse to offend your eyeballs and OpenDNS’s system giving up on a ridiculously out-of-norm URL. If you want to validate your argument, try using an example that a server’s code reasonably should be able to handle.


  4. VanOwen — May 23, 2007 @ 10:08 pm

    To DeanR’s point, if you try something reasonable like http://www.bankofamerika.com on OpenDNS, you get http://guide.opendns.com/?url=www.bankofamerika.com when it doesn’t resolve.

    They do a good job of typo correcting and if you were to click on “Did you mean bankofamerica.com?” it takes you straight to B of A and it’s not a paid click for the bank. (http://blog.opendns.com/2007/05/22/google-turns-the-page/#comment-38528)

    What user experience could you possibly want other than that?

  5. davenaff — May 24, 2007 @ 8:35 am

    Dean and Van,

    The first ad on the page of my example was for “Bank of America”, so I don’t quite buy the argument that the typo was so obscure that ‘reasonably intelligent humans’ and ‘programs’ have problems with it.

    Even in Van’s argument, OpenDNS still shows ads along the right (and it is also a domain that typosquatters haven’t picked up).

    The only way that OpenDNS makes money is when users type in typo domains. Their entire business is predicated on these ads.


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