Please Do Not Tip The Domain Parking Attendants!

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 10:03 am

We’ve all been there at least once or twice.

You’ve got yourself a hankerin’ to check out the selection and prices, oh, say, Eyebrow Tweezer Warehouse. You figure you can save yourself both a trip in the car and a Google search by simply typing “www.eyebrowtweezerwarehouse.com” into your Web browser’s address bar.

Only instead of the Web site for Eyebrow Tweezer Warehouse, you get something that looks like this:

Domain Parking

Not the site you were looking for, but a page of links to sites whose names or content seem peripherally related to your intended destination. Heck, the real Web page for Eyebrow Tweezer Warehouse might be listed among the links, along with the sites of half a dozen of their closest competitors.

For God’s sake, don’t click on any of the links. Close the window, open a new one, and start over, this time from your favorite search engine.

The page you have reached is an example of what is called “domain parking”, one of a group of related practices of varying helpfulness and legitimate function on the Web.

At its core, domain parking simply means setting up a basic, placeholder Web site at a given domain name. Many individuals and organizations park a domain to stake out a Web presence for future development. For instance: although I already have a lovely little piece of virtual real estate picked out for my blog, I might also choose to reserve the domain name andrewlenzer.com—I haven’t, but I could—and instead of going to the trouble of building another Web site or pointing andrewlenzer.com at my blog, I might just put up a single, rudimentary Web page to indicate that the domain is active and that it belongs to me. Lots of Internet Service Providers and domain hosting companies automatically put up domain-parking pages for their clients who do not wish to build a full Web site, at least for the moment.

The basic and largely innocuous practice of domain parking long ago spawned a number of varied, often less savory business endeavors, as soon as some enterprising souls figured out that they could make a farthing or two off of them. The primordial form of this new parasite of the information economy was cybersquatting, the act of reserving a domain name for the purpose of misrepresenting one’s relationship to the perceived person or organization represented. (The classic peta.org versus peta.com tussle is a prominent example of this sort of thing, though there are many who argue that, in that particular case, the squatter—an organization calling itself People Eating Tasty Animals—was doing so as a form of parody of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and should therefore have not been forced to relinquish the domain name.)

Many early cybersquatters attempted to use their parked domains as a tool of ransom or blackmail against the “proper” holder of a trademark or other distinctive word or phrase. Federal legislation regulating this sort of behavior has since discouraged the bulk of these attempts. Other forms of largely commercial domain parking include typosquatting (parking a domain with a common misspelling of a prominent domain name, such as oficemax.com instead of officemax.com). There’s even an amazing form of typosquatting that revolves solely around the accidental omission of the “o” from “.com”. A Canadian physician-turned-Net-mogul named Kevin Ham struck a deal with the country of Cameroon (legitimate holder of the “.cm” TLD, or top-level domain) to take control of it, and now owns a .cm equivalent to just about any prominent .com domain you can think of.

The most lucrative expression of cybersquatting is without a doubt the practice of using parked domains to capture “type-in traffic“—Web surfers entering domains blindly into their browser’s address bar. The owners then use the parked domain(s) to host Web pages stuffed with hyperlinks to other sites—as per my example above—and reap pay-per-click fees for every visitor who clicks on any of the links.

All of this is, by all accounts, extremely profitable. Kevin Ham’s interests alone are said to net about $70 million per year in ad revenue, though he doesn’t release those numbers to the public. Solid numbers are hard to pin down, but with even rinky-dink civilian domain parkers earning thousands of dollars click-through fees per year, the total worldwide yield from this sort of advertising has to be in the billions.

All for a totally unnecessary “service” that exists solely to save the average surfer from having to type additional characters in the address bar.

I am absolutely stymied by the behavior exhibited by a plurality of my fellow Netizens when presented with such a scenario. There’s a strange sort of credulity that seems to afflict many consumers of Internet culture when coming across stuff online, from emailed Net rumors to Web pages (Bonsai Kitten, anyone?), that they would never display out in the meat world. I’ve waxed pedantic about this before.

Imagine if you will walking into, say, your local Best Buy, only to discover once inside that the store you had entered was actually called “Bist Buy”. Their store facade is identical to a Best Buy’s, the interior layout is quite similar to a Best Buy, and the employees all wear similar blue-polo-shirt-and-tan-pants uniforms as the employees at a Best Buy. But it’s clearly not the store it had initially—and intentionally—misrepresented itself as.

At this point, would you say to yourself, “I know this store isn’t what it purports to be, and I’ve never heard of this outfit in my life. But heck, as long as I’m here I might as well look around, check out the merchandise, sign up for their monthly newsletter, maybe even plonk down a big ol’ wad of cash for a plasma TV”? Or would you instead backpedal out of that store as fast as your highly alarmed little legs would carry you?

Even if the prospect of bankrolling these spurious middlemen doesn’t bother you, the potential threat to your privacy ought to. Clicking on a link in one of these sites will usually place any number of tracking cookies on your computer, so that they can follow your movement through the infosphere and sell that data to marketers. Even worse, many parked sites are created and run by what amounts to criminal organizations, existing solely to disseminate trojans, adware and other poison to unsuspecting, unprotected computer users.

So if you happen to mistakenly blunder across one of these handy-dandy billboards whilst jaunting on the Infobahn, please do not tarry, and for the love of Deus ex Machina do not stop to sample their humble wares. These sites are erected by people who are at best avaricious and opportunistic, and at worst Information Superhighwaymen.

Instead, tip your hat, bid them good day, and hightail it out of there as if all the keystroke loggers in hell were after you.

2 Responses to “Please Do Not Tip The Domain Parking Attendants!”

  1. Wally Says:

    A good blog post for the most part, but you seen to think parking pages are a bad thing since you tell people not to click if they find one. You are entitled to your opinion, but tell me what the difference is from you typing in a domain name and doing business with the site you find there, and clicking on a link you find on a parking page and going to a site you want to visit? Sure, the site owner pays the person with the parking page for the referral, but would you rather they registered all the domains that are on their topic? That of course is not realistic. So what we have is another marketing option for site owners to get traffic to their site, and for people to find what they are looking for.

    I have over 1,000 domains and when people click I get paid anywhere from 1 cent to as much as $7. The yearly cost for my 1,000 domains is about $7,000 and after doing this for a year I am starting to make a little money. I admit I used to not care much about parking pages, but now I like them quite a bit. But unlike many domainers I spend a lot of time on my domains to get them to look nice and show the proper ads for the topic of the domains. I hate finding a domain about books that has ads for cars and a photo of a TV set…! Anyway, there is more to our industry than squating on domains and annoying other people. Spend a little time at fourms where professionals hang out like Namepros.com and you can learn more about it and get a good deal on a slightly used (lady registered) domain.

  2. Uncle Andrew Says:

    Hey, thank you very much for weighing in! Sorry it took a while for your comment to appear, BTW: it got caught in my moderation queue and I just got home….

    I am fully willing to stipulate that there are responsible and “ethical” (if that’s the term for something as relatively trivial as this) domain parkers, just as there are responsible members of any profession. However, the industry as a whole seems completely unnecessary. My answer to your question:

    tell me what the difference is from you typing in a domain name and doing business with the site you find there, and clicking on a link you find on a parking page and going to a site you want to visit?

    would be no, there is no particular difference between clicking on a link in a parked site and entering one directly into a browser’s address bar. Both are kind of weird ways to decide with whom you want to do business, at least from a cold start. My feeling is that the best way to set up a relationship with an online purveyor of, say, hats, would be to do a search for the kind of hats you are looking for, check out a few sites, maybe check their records with their local Better Business Bureau or at a consumer feedback site or two before choosing a merchant. Just about the last thing I would do would be to just type “hats.com” into a browser and let ‘er rip.

    It seems to me that the reason domain parking exists as an industry at all (feel free to correct me if I am wrong) is that many Web surfers are either lazy, or just ignorant of the process by which domain names are assigned or purchased. That’s too bad, because indolent and/or ignorant consumers are more likely to get the short end of the stick. But unnecessary middlemen are a fact of life in a free market, and short of instituting a whole massive layer of nearly impossible-to-enforce legislation there is little that can be done to change this. Just about the only “cure” is education, which was the basic purpose of my post.

    Again, thanks for offering up your take on this subject!

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