Internet

Spelling Test

UPDATE: Yahoo! had filed a lawsuit over the domain name, and in early June, the dispute was settled and flicker.com was transferred to Yahoo!.  Flicker.com now points to the Flickr homepage.

Most people are familiar with Flickr, the photo sharing Web site owned by Yahoo!  But given its pronunciation, I would be willing to bet that most people’s first instinct if they are not familiar with the brand’s creative spelling would be to type in “Flicker,” following the standard spelling of a fairly common English word.  So I decided to visit flicker.com, curious to see what content it held.

As it turns out, Yahoo! does not own the domain name flicker.com.  The owner keeps the site very austere – the only content is a simple graphic and a sidebar of statistics.  These statistics reveal that the site receives 3.6 million unique visitors per year, and that over 95% of those come from direct navigation.

The overwhelming traffic that flicker.com receives is direct proof that direct navigation is a very real practice.  When the term “flicker” is searched in Google, Yahoo! and Bing, the very first result is the official Flickr page, so there is no reason to think that search engines are driving visitors to flicker.com.  And “flicker” as a generic term is not really used commonly enough to attract such high levels of unique visitors a year.  It is clear that flicker.com receives a vast portion of its traffic from Internet users who are trying to access Flickr and simply misspelling the term in the address bar of their browsers.

For those who are convinced that direct navigation is irrelevant and that Internet users always turn to search engines to access content online, flicker.com should serve as irrefutable evidence to the contrary.

Enforcement

The New PPC

After reading a recent announcement that Verizon will be collaborating with Google to offer Android mobile phones of Verizon’s 3G service network, I checked out the domain verizonandroid.com. What I found when I visited verizonandroid.com was an example of what I have observed as a growing trend – a site hosting pay-per-click ads, but also attempting to insert, through an automated process, minimal and unoriginal content designed to make the site look more like a fair use opinion page than a cybersquatted PPC site.  To be clear, this ad is designed purely to produce ad revenue and nothing else. Because this site does not look like the typical PPC site, Internet users (and attorneys tasked with tracking domain name abuse) may think at first glance that the site is somehow legitimate.  In the case of verizonandroid.com, however, the infringer used an automated tool to insert a two paragraph July 2009 blog post written by Sean Fallon, an active blogger who writes about technology developments for Gizmodo.  Gizmodo’s webpage grants third parties a copyright license to reproduce its material with attribution but only for noncommercial purposes.  These kinds of PPC sites, however, are created purely for commercial purposes and are designed to incorporate the minimal content solely as a hook to attract revenue.

Some other examples of this new kind of deceptive PPC site are directv-zone.com, jackdaniels.com.ua, and guitarhero4.com.

By inserting minimal third party content with the advertisements on the landing page, the cybersquatter ensures that Google and other search engines will index the page and pull it up in natural search results.  Some additional Internet users will therefore be misdirected to their PPC site through Google’s natural search results in addition to capturing consumers who type the domain name directly into their browser. Cybersquatters may hope that by achieving search engine ranking, they can evade detection by trademark attorneys.

I have seen this trend becoming more popular—perhaps, in addition to trying to avoid detection, cybersquatters are realizing that simply obtaining a domain and filling it with parked PPC ads is not the best way to monetize their sites. Like businesses, they are aware of the value added by generating search engine traffic to a Web site. Web sites dedicated to providing advice and solutions for domainers emphasize the benefit of hosting content in addition to PPC links in order to achieve natural search rankings and drive traffic to the site. In the discussion boards of DNForum.com, experienced domain name owners constantly advise new owners to add more content and develop their sites as a means of more effectively monetizing them, especially when merely parking the site is not generating enough revenue.

Despite the placeholder content, these sites are basically just glorified PPC sites that are merely monetizing and infringing on brand names just like traditional cybersquatted sites. Brand owners need to be aware of the risks they pose: even more so than a landing page filled only with ads, the deceptive use of third party content can easily deceive the average Internet user into believing that the site is somehow legitimate.  Brand owners and their attorneys should be vigilant to pursue these deceptive sites and protect consumers from what appears to be the latest scheme in the cybersquatter’s arsenal of deceptive practices.