Friday, September 29, 2006

SideStep finds UK domain game a bit of a problem

UPDATES at the bottom

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

10 comments:

Darren Cronian said...

Interesting that the owner of the domain has opted to not show his Whois contact details.

I'm sure this is just a tactic in their game to increase the price of the domain.

One would assume that this does not fit into any trademark law since the content of the co.uk domain is simply pointing to another competitors website.

One lesson to learn for ANYONE looking to create a business, make sure that all of the versions of the domain name are available, and buy them straight away!

I hope they have bought sidestep.eu!

Travolution blogger said...

i suspect you're absolutely right.

pointing the domain to a rival site also raises the stakes a little bit more but it is interesting that the owner has decided to keep the uk2.net branding on the top of the page.

uk2.net MD Ditlev Bredahl told us that it only costs £9 per year when bought for two years.

Darren Cronian said...

Something else I'd like to add, with my search engine optimisation head on.

Travelsupermarket won't be bothered in the slightest about the direct - but have they thought about the potential SEO aspect this website direct could bring?

I've not checked yet, and I'll try and not get too technical, but when you direct a website to another, you have to make sure you do this correctly.

They are a number of ways to do a redirect to another website;

Through JavaScript
Through a 301 redirect
Through a 302 redirect

If they have done this with a 302 redirect routine (sorry I'm getting technial now) then this could potentially cause problems for TravelSupermarket.

If you do a search on google for 302 redirect, you'll see tons of forum posts from people have found themselves penalised or banned from Google - some people call this page jacking! :)

Travolution blogger said...

.....[from previous entry]...to remove the branding.

Travolution blogger said...

we must reiterate that the owner has no connection to travelsupermarket and therefore the SEO issue you mentioned is, of course, a problem, but perhaps one they are unable to do anything about - unles they are able to contact the owner.

Darren Cronian said...

Sorry, yes that is worth reiterating.

In my opinion pagejacking is unprofessional and I wanted to point out the potential problems Travelsupermarket could face.

Another "potential" (I'm using this word alot) problem could be duplicate content?

Who knows, I'm not a SEO expert, but I am thinking back to case studies I have read.

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xiaonanok said...
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Seo Link Master said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Travolution Blogger said...

SEO Link Master: Irrelevant comment. Link-baiting. Sorry.