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There has been a fair bit of talk recently about brand hijacking of pay-per-click advertising campaigns in the travel sector – but there also appears to be an equal amount of commercial mischief regarding domain names.
SideStep, the US meta search website, has been operating for around six years and has officially launched in the UK and Ireland this week.
Branding is clearly important for an operation in new region and no more so than that for the web address of a company.
The company has used the URL Sidestep.com, obviously, since Day One, but expansion into the UK using its name has been fraught with difficulties.
The California-based site has been trying to acquire the domain name Sidestep.co.uk for quite a while, but it is understood that the domain’s owner, Alan Ward-Collins, has been rather reluctant to sell.
This isn’t a huge problem in one respect, as users that type in Sidestep.com into a browser are automatically switched to the new Sidestep homepage for the UK & Ireland.
The problem arises when UK-based consumers, perhaps unsure of the correct URL, type in Sidestep.co.uk.
Rather than the usual practice of displaying a holding page, the domain's owner has been automatically throwing up the homepage of other websites.
Last week users looking for Sidestep.co.uk were apparently greeted with a UK football-related website.
But this week it came as a huge surprise to a number of people when users were actually re-directed to another leading meta search site, Travelsupermarket.com!!!
In some respects this is just a neat piece of commercial tomfoolery on the part of the owner: draw attention to the fact that domain names are available and then re-direct users to the site of a rival, perhaps raising the commercial profile – in other words, the price – of the URL.
Interestingly Travelsupermarket was completely in the dark that mistyping Sidestep fans or curious meta search searchers were being handily being given access to their own site. It would be fair to say they are not exactly unhappy with the situation!
Unlike SideStep, who say they are working to resolve the issue but appear to be quite frustrated…
UPDATE: UK2.net, which has its branding at the top of Sidestep.co.uk and currently hosts the site, has got in touch.
Ward-Collins last updated the registration in July 2006 and does not have to renew ownership until March 2008.
UK2.net does not control what is shown on the homepage but keeps its branding on the homepage in return for allowing Ward-Collins to have free reign over whatever site he chooses to re-direct to.
If Ward-Collins wants to get in touch, email here. We'd been fascinated to learn more about how something like this develops. What is in it, bar the obvious, for the owner? Is it quite a lucrative business?
Kevin May, editor, Travolution
Friday, September 29, 2006
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