Who owns those "misspelled URL" pages?
May 3, 2012 8:54 PM   Subscribe

Who owns those "misspelled URL" pages?

I don't know what you actually call them, which is partly why I'm asking. But really, I'm just curious.

Sometimes when you misspell a URL, you get one of those "that webpage doesn't exist" messages. But other times, there's an actual website for your URL. Example: I wanted to go to mlbtraderumors.com, but I typed in mlbraderumors.com and this site popped up.

What are these sites and what are they called? Who's behind them? Is it the sites themselves? Internet squatters or sleazy business types who know they'll get a certain amount of pageviews b/c of misspellings? My web browser? Who?
posted by world b free to Technology (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Anecdotally: sleazy business types. I know someone who used to work at a company who did this.
posted by drjimmy11 at 8:59 PM on May 3, 2012

If you don't see it consistently for lots of bad URLs, then it's typosquatting, where some dubious character has registered the name. If you pretty much always get some sort of page for bad URLs, it's your dubious ISP hijacking your failed DNS lookups, in which case you might consider using something like Google's DNS servers. I believe there have at times been lesser-known browsers that would do something like that too.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 9:03 PM on May 3, 2012

I have worked for three large technology companies who primarily do business on the web, and what I describe is fairly common. It is also not nearly as evil as certain other things that goes on, but I won't digress.

Here's how it works on a huge scale:

1. Someone with a lot of cash and a lot of time buys domains, typically representing common typos of popular internet domains (meatfilter.com, anyone?) but also common terms and names that, for whatever reason, have not yet been purchased or have been purchased and abandoned.

2. That person points all of those domain names to a company like one I have worked for, and that company provides a service. The service itself may be the company's main reason for existing, or it may just be a small but profitable sideline; either way, the service is "take the traffic on these domain names and show legitimate-looking pages populated with paid search links." The legitimacy of it is increased these days by pulling legitimate content from other sites for these legitimate-looking pages, and sometimes that content comes from the company's main business (if it happens to be generating legitimate content.)

3. You typo a domain name, or type "commonname.com" in hopes of getting a legitimate web page, and you get something that isn't what you wanted, quite, but looks legitimate. You're not sure whether this page will be useful or not, so you click a paid search link (which isn't labeled as such.)

4. The person who paid for that paid search link, they just got billed $x by the company providing the service, because you clicked that paid search link.

5. The company that provides the service, they take a fraction of $x, and pay the rest to the guy who bought the domain name in the first place. So, those are the two making money on this, while the person who paid for the link is happy to get the traffic (provided it occasionally results in a sale.)

6. When a domain is up for renewal, the owner determines if they've made enough money to justify re-upping the domain, and if so, they do. Otherwise, they don't, and they use that money to buy yet another domain to try and profit from.

That's the whole thing, and if you don't think a lot of money is made, well...let's just say that the group doing this at the company I worked for was very, very small, and they were regularly going on expensive paid trips far beyond what the rest of the company departments were getting, because they were just raking it in. And they still are.

Oh, and if you keep going to sites like this, and you notice they tend to have similar templates for the content, this is why. Not proud of it, and it was only a one-week project between other projects, but I've written eight of those templates you still see floating around today.
posted by davejay at 9:20 PM on May 3, 2012 [7 favorites]

I remember reading an article years ago that profiled one particular guy, in Hong Kong or Macau (I think), who was at the time the king of typosquatters. His typosquatting pages all had the same look, which was distinctive at the time: On the left were link-farm links vaguely related to the intended domain, and on the right was an inoffensive clip-art photo of a happy-looking female college student carrying a backpack. It's a shame I can't find the article now, but I probably found the link originally on Slashdot and it may have been from Wired.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 10:12 PM on May 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Another classic approach to this is to pick a common URL name and register it under a different final domain. E.g. I haven't looked recently, but it used to be that "whitehouse.com" was a porn site. (The real URL for the White House is "whitehouse.gov".)
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:14 PM on May 3, 2012

inoffensive clip-art photo of a happy-looking female college student carrying a backpack

Heh. I just ran into her an hour ago clicking a link to a (now apparently defunct) Metafilter project.
posted by Cortes at 10:35 PM on May 3, 2012 [5 favorites]

I'm partial to the "What you need, when you need it" variety.
posted by modernserf at 10:46 PM on May 3, 2012

clip-art photo of a happy-looking female college student carrying a backpack
There's a story behind that girl, too.
posted by dg at 11:56 PM on May 3, 2012

Here she is on iStockphoto.
posted by Rhomboid at 12:00 AM on May 4, 2012

qxntpqbbbqxl - you're probably thinking about Kevin Ham. There was also the portfolio of Yun Ye, which was bought by Marchex in... 2006? I think.

Further to what davejay describes - there is a distinction to be made between people/companies who register typos and TMs versus people who had the forethought to grab an unregistered generic term.

While many individuals do this, the larger holding companies are actually subsidiaries of registrars and hosting companies. There are very few registrars who don't do this today.

davejay - Oversee?
posted by FlamingBore at 1:02 AM on May 4, 2012

I'm partial to the "What you need, when you need it" variety.
Heh. When I clicked on your link, I was expecting to be taken to one of the fake websites, so when I got there I was startled and impressed by how much it looked like a real website.

Maybe because it is a real website. Whoops.
posted by mekily at 1:28 AM on May 4, 2012

qxntpqbbbqxl - you're probably thinking about Kevin Ham.

That's him! Hong Kong, Vancouver... basically the same, right?
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 7:01 AM on May 4, 2012

It's not just domain squatters, it's also DNS registrar companies who sometime in the late nineties got the bright idea to serve up paid ad pages for mispelled urls, as well as for expired domains they owned.
posted by MartinWisse at 7:36 AM on May 4, 2012

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