URL typos earn Google $497 million per year, study says

URL typos earn Google $497 million per year, study says

Summary: Google could be earning some $497 million a year from the registered owners of website addresses that mimic typographical errors in existing sites, according to a new study.


Google could be earning some $497 million a year from the registered owners of website addresses that mimic typographical errors in existing sites, according to a new study.

Harvard University researchers Tyler Moore and Benjamin Edelman estimate that Google could be making millions from the practice, known as "typosquatting," because its network of display ads -- from which it receives a cut of the profits -- run on the typo'd sites.

If it's a frequently misspelled site address -- for example, zddnet.com instead of yours truly --the tactic could pay off handsomely.

Moore and Edelman used a list of common spelling mistakes to generate another list of possible typo domains for the 3,264 most popular ".com" websites, as determined by Alexa.com rankings.

With help from software, the researchers crawled 285,000 of some 900,000 "misspelled" sites to estimate what revenue the domains are generating.

Scale those results, and you're looking at some serious coin:

Expanding to the top 100,000 sites, retaining the 0.7% estimated ratio of typosquatting site, we estimate that typo domains collectively receive at least 68.2 million daily visitors. If these typo domains were treated as a single website, that site would be ranked by Alexa as the 10th most popular website in the world. It would be more popular, in unique daily visitors, than twitter.com, myspace.com, or amazon.com!

The researchers estimate that almost 60 percent of these sites have ads supplied by Google. With some back-of-the-envelope math, that amounts to $497 million per year in revenue.

It's Google's policy to remove ads from these "misspelled" domains if the owner of the original site complains.

Edelman is currently co-counsel on a lawsuit by a firm seeking damages from Google after the tech giant's ads appeared on a misspelled domain targeting the firm's website. He says the lawsuit did not influence the study's results.

Their findings were presented last month at the Financial Cryptography and Data Security conference in Tenerife, Spain.

Topics: Browser, Google, Software Development

Andrew Nusca

About Andrew Nusca

Andrew Nusca is a former writer-editor for ZDNet and contributor to CNET. During his tenure, he was the editor of SmartPlanet, ZDNet's sister site about innovation.

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  • Google: I demand a refund!

  • RE: URL typos earn Google $497 million per year, study says

    They should do revenue share with me on this somehow. I'm
    not sure how.
    Andrew Mager
  • Pocket change to Oboma (tax & spend)

    I am sure Oboma could spend that trivial amount in
    • Pocket change to Bush (borrow & spend)

      That's about the same pace the Republicans borrowed that amount from the Chinese and put on your children to pay back.
      none none
      • RE: Pocket Change

        As opposed to Obama, who borrowed $800 billion from the Chinese in just the last year. To put that in these terms, that's $800,000 million borrowed to spend on programs that have not helped the economy. Bottom line is both parties in Washington have long spent money they (really WE) don't have. It needs to stop, and I'm behind the first party that steps up and REALLY cuts spending, not just offers band-aid, BS 'solutions' that paper over the issues. No, I'm not holding my breath...
      • Without being to political.

        Haven't the Democrates been in power in both houses since 2007. Last year the Democrates doubled the debt. Hopefully, those Republicans that helped put us in office, got thrown out, like the current Democrates will this fall.

        Not very tech related, but I hope that people finally stand up and say enough to this Washington Madness. Just throw the whole bunch out of Office.Maybe then we can get people in that are actually there to do their job.
      • Politicians: Rip-off and rob

        Whether or not you borrow from the Chinese or "tax and spend" you always wind up with "tax and spend."

        Let's not kid ourselves. That problem is politicians, not parties.

        No country ever became viable through taxation for the simple reason that governments produce no useful product and people therefore resent the legalized robbery.

        Let "the government" provide useful services for which they charge based on free market and see how long any government stays in business.
    • In the form of...

      Education for the spelling challenged and classes on government, as well as, etiquette in a professional forum.
  • yeah well, not if you have a brain..

    if you're a smart website owner (or webmaster), you buy all typo-related names around your site's name and redirect all traffic coming to your 'mother' site..
    • have a brain

      A bit impractical, don't you think? Besides, legal precedent has been set that typosquatters lose out if the original business challenges it.
  • Apparently I can't read zddnet.com at work.

    That's the only reason I read -this- site. :-)
    Robert Carnegie 2009
  • Yeah, right

    "Edelman is currently co-counsel on a lawsuit by a firm seeking damages from Google after the tech giant?s ads appeared on a misspelled domain targeting the firm?s website. He says the lawsuit did not influence the study?s results." That and the sun doesn't set in the west either.

    While the balance of the story may be true though that quote throws that into some doubt I'd have to point out to Googlephobes that such things are likely to happen any time the display of an ad is based on a search result when someone mistypes the search key.

    Then again, I guess Andrew and Benjamin Edelman think that Google should be global babysitter.

    Oh yeah, and contrary to the inflammatory headline the study says that Google could be making that much as in maybe, might and "oh boy let's toss this number at a wall and see if it sticks" for the blogger/reporter community. It's sticking to Andrew's wall quite nicely.

    There is a story here but it isn't what Andrew and Benjamin Edelman are spinning.


  • web appendix, methodology & alternatives


    We've published the raw data underlying our findings. See for yourself: Our web appendix has numerous key details (biggest typosquatters, most-typosquatting nameservers, screenshots, etc.).

    Your analogy to ordinary search results is inapt. No law prohibits Google from showing ads when users misspell search terms. But when users misspell domain names, the federal ACPA is squarely on point -- prohibiting "us[ing]" the domains, and making no exception for "use" that consists of showing advertisements.

    As to the methodology of our estimate: Google knows the true numbers. Google could tell us how much money is at issue if Google were so inclined. But they've been silent. Estimation is an appropriate response. We've posted the details of our estimation methodology; there's nothing secret about how we reached our bottom line, and anyone who wants to suggest another estimation procedure or result is certainly free to do so. Perhaps you can do better. I look forward to your contribution!

    Ben Edelman
  • So?

    I guess I don't see the problem...

    If I typo an URL and get a bunch of ads instead of the page I expected, I'm most likely going to double-check my typing, not assume that the ads are the correct site.

    Even if I do click on an ad, so what?

    While I think it's kind of slimy to take advantage of a user who can't type (or just doesn't know the correct url), I can't for the life of me see what should be illegal about it, or on what basis the owner of the correct spelling has the right to sue.

    Imagine vending machines in a bus station where lots of people drop coins that roll under the machines. You may think it's money grubbing to do so, but should it be [i]illegal[/i] to sweep under the machines?

    I can't even see calling it Trademark Infringement unless there's something on the found page that purports it to be the intended page.
    • Self-advertising is common on typo sites

      @Jeff_D_Programmer RE: "I can't even see calling it Trademark Infringement unless there's something on the found page that purports it to be the intended page."

      Many typosquatting domains display pay-per-click links promoting the same merchants that are targeted by typosquatting, a practice we call "self-advertising typosquatting." See this page for examples:

      • Wow, some SMART cybersquatters for a change!

        Oddly enough, the cybersquatters I accidentally
        land upon never have any relevant advertising. I'm
        surprised that some actually put some thinking
        into their websites. I always just re-check my
        spelling or switch out the .com with a .net or
        just Google it(and not from that site).
        I'm sure those Saks Fifth Avenue cybersquatters
        actually do make some good money, considering most
        people would just click the link.
        Garrett Williams
  • This is complete...

    MADNESS !!!!

    At least give me $10 millions Google!
  • Click fraud on Google's content network is a big problem

    In my experience the amount of Click-fraud on Google's
    content network is enormous and Google is profiting from

    Read my detailed findings at
  • RE: URL typos earn Google $497 million per year, study says

    Amazing, Its things like that that make Google what it is today. Amazing.

  • I wouldn't blame Google

    I wouldn't blame Google, since it's like
    blaming a credit card company because robbers
    can use a card to break into a house(it's a
    piece of plastic that can fit into crevices,
    cut & bent if needed).
    While Google COULD do more to discourage this
    usage(I hate cybersquatters too), it wouldn't
    be worth their time to actually track down
    offenders. They can accept complaints, but
    ultimately it's up to the trademark owner to
    find offenders, in any form of trademark
    Garrett Williams