I have been reading about the lawsuit recently filed against Google that alleges traffic received from parked domain sites was low quality. What is most interesting about this topic are the sharply conflicting viewpoints online marketers have concerning the value of traffic from these sites.
The first perspective is that of savvy search marketers, who have analyzed referring URL traffic and know that the majority of traffic from these sites is unqualified. What they have found is that the only instances of qualified traffic from parked domain sites occurs on domains that are typos of their own domain, their brand terms.
Have you ever accidentally typed your search query into the domain address bar instead of the search box? I am pretty sure everyone has done this before and often, simply out of habit, even followed the misplaced word with a ".com". In a presentation I gave at a conference a few months ago, I used the examples www.homesecurity.com and www.bookkeepping.com as visuals of sites that contain no original content, just ads. These are the types of sites that deliver the majority of parked domain traffic. How often are people actually making this mistake? According to Google's keyword tool, the keyword home security drove approximately 1 million searches on Google and its search network in June 2008.
Let's move on to the much smaller segment of parked domain sites that actually will drive qualified traffic: the domain typos. Unfortunately, many companies have not protected themselves by registering common misspellings of their domain -- so when returning customers mistype the URL in the address bar, they are delivered to parked domain sites. An example of this is www.lininsandthings.com: Notice that linen is misspelled in the URL. In this instance, the searcher was already going to Linens-N-Things, and in this way they would be a highly qualified click. However, Linens-N-Things would now have to pay for a click to get their customer, rather than connecting to them directly.
The second perspective is that of the domainers themselves. They claim that address-bar-driven traffic is highly qualified; however, the click revenue generated from these types of sites is the sole source of revenue available from them. Again, they contain no original content, no products and no value. The backbone of their argument lies in statistics that show direct navigation traffic is the most qualified traffic to a site; however, what they fail to interpret is that this statistic does not pertain to an indirect or unintentional visit.
As the industry has matured, the engines have provided marketers with better tools to exclude distribution of ads on these types of sites. Google allows advertisers to block parked domain sites altogether from their campaigns, and Yahoo allows advertisere to exclude sites individually. The most perplexing part of the recent lawsuit filing is that it only challenges Google, yet Yahoo's search network distribution is much more riddled with these types of sites than Google's. The www.homesecurity.com and www.bookkeepping.com examples I used above both serve Yahoo ads. If this is truly going to be a class action suit and it gains any traction, I anticipate it just may involve both companies.