Paul Boutin on Typo Traffic

Paul Boutin discusses the problem of searchers making typos when typing domain names into the address bar. He runs through the typical litany of gripes about product efforts to solve this problem—Microsoft’s “blatant ploy” to promote MSN search when IE users look for non-existent pages, Network Solutions’ attempt to capitalize on its “monopoly” with its SiteFinder product, and the new “mutating germ,” Paxfire, that allows IAPs to redirect typo traffic to an ad page.

But what, exactly, is the problem? In other words, what’s worse: getting a useless 404 page, or getting potentially helpful ads or content that match your interests? Perhaps these repeated and ongoing efforts to deliver ads to typo pages are not the result of a sinister plot but instead reflect efforts to improve the search experience.

Boutin offers a typical engineering-oriented solution: A software program that lets him customize the response he gets when he makes a typo. I suspect the demand for this is not great—most people will not invest the time to train the software when the fix (hit the back button) for making a typo is so minimal. Meanwhile, I’ve got a MUCH easier solution for him. Don’t use the browser address bar at all. Instead, start every search effort at a search engine. Looking for Slate? Search for Slate at Google. That way, you’re much less likely to run into unexpected ads (or worse) if, in fact, you make a typo.

(Thanks to Marty Schwimmer for calling attention to the article).