A few months ago, Google bought Youtube. It was a big story, with a $1.5+ BILLION dollar transaction. Millions of people had heard of YouTube, and hundreds of thousands used it often. Now HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS would hear about YouTube. At least tens of thousands would type it into the location bar every day, to check it out. The key take-away is the word “hear”. When they heard the name YouTube, would they expect it to be at YouTube.com, or perhaps utube.com?
Domain name selection is an art and a science. When I am involved in that area of brand development (and it is an area of SEO and brand development) I try and spend considerable time in creative session with the client. I don’t believe that choosing a domain name is an executive privilege. I don’t believe it is a job for marketing. I believe, and I demonstrate in brainstorming sessions, that domain name selection is best done by a group of individuals close to the business. A team of people from marketing, operations, sales, and business operations. They all bring a perspective that mirrors part of the customer base. The cross-fertilization of ideas and perspectives that takes place in a creative session is really, really good for the domain name selection process. The good SEO adds awareness of spelling, local vernacular for the market niche, search engine quirks that come into play (synonyms, hyphenations, semantics), and a rich knowledge of Internet history both past (learn from successes and mistakes) and current (ride the trend wave). The SEO brings tools for expediting the domain discovery process, connections for buying domain names in the after market, and awareness of the various deals that can be made for already existing domains. The SEO knows how a domain will play in contextual advertising and viral marketing. The SEO knows the value of the domain name more than anyone.
It appears that Universal Tube knew none of this, and discovered the hard way what happens when someone really big operates under a similar-sounding name. But the big story here is not that UTube.com got slaughtered by 70,000 visitors per day looking for videos. The big story is that Universal Tube doesn’t know how to operate as a business in the modern Internet world. Even today, months later.
I forgive Ralph Girkins, President of Universal Tube & Rollform Equipment for his knee-jerk reaction to having his servers swamped with irrelevant web traffic. I forgive Mr. Girkins for missing his golden opportunity to bring metal tube and rollforming equipment into the modern Internet vocabulary. I can overlook how Mr. Girkins failed to see any value in branding his old style, heavy industry company as a living, breathing member of the Internet economy in the eyes of millions of “that younger generation” of workers. Those are all classic mistakes we practically expect from today’s “over 40″ business executives in all but the high tech industries. The Clue Train doesn’t stop everywhere; it is a limited access mode of transportation.
But today on ThreadWatch. TheFounder updated the audience on the UTube situation noting that not only was UTube suing YouTube, but that the UTube domain was sporting a brand new, much-improved web site, with a prominant set of text links to things like Poker, Ringtones, People, Games, Xtreme Travel, Schools, Colleges, Skiing/Snowboarding, DVDs, Car Stuff, Dating, Sports, Get Tickets, Concerts, LimeWire, and “MORE…”. Those links are up front and center. They are also off-topic and spammy.
I cannot forgive Mr. Girkins for the bad business move of placing off-topic text links at the top of his corporate web site home page. It’s ugly, it violated best practice for virtually all web mastering, not the least of which is search engine marketing, and it further harms the Universal Tube brand. Someone hired a consultant. Someone listened to a pitch for this approach to marketing. Someone decided to do it. Bad move.
If UTube, by it’s own admission (PDF), is seeing 70,000 “unwanted” visitors per day as a result of the YouTube trademark confusion, then Mr. Girkins is presenting a set of 16 off-topic links to those visitors before offering his own (10,000 per day PDF?) customers the content they seek. For that, Mr. Girkins is earning money. How much money? Only a small fraction of incoming, homepage-landing, typo-traffic visitors click an ad. Only a small number of those click a second ad on a second, interior page. I estimate that he won’t see $300 per day.
Oh, look. I just clicked the “MORE…” link. Now I get a full page of text link ads for such things as Pamela Anderson (a porn star), PussyCat Dolls (?), Britney Spears, Angelina Jolie, and dozens of other scantily-clad ladies and pop culture items. Keep in mind that is a page full of sponsored text links, all off-topic, hosted on the UTube.com domain. I also see a HUGE “search” bar top and bottom… and it leads to such listings as “Sex Ads…Awesome! Are you looking for sex too? This site totally has the best sex stuff I’ve seen on the web! You gotta check this out”. I kid you not. And I remind you this is content I am viewing on the Universal Tube & RollForm Equipment Corporation corporate web site.
What price, brand tarnish, Mr. Girkins?
I am willing to bet many of Universal Tube & Rollform’s accounts are large, and don’t originate on the web site. They originate on the phone, or in person, and the large accounts are actually relationship-based. And now, thanks to the not-very-wise business decisions being made, those clients have to reconsider those relationships. Is that porn on the web site? Is that online gambling being promoted on the corporate web site? Are those even legal? Do you want to be associated with that, or do you feel safe trusting the business people who chose to monetize their web site traffic by promoting soft-core porn and gambling for a few hundred bucks in advertising revenue? Religious aspects aside, I am sure that this is a very risky venture, putting such links on the home page.
Now I have avoided discussing the SEO impact of off-topic, front-and-center paid links on the corporate web site. I have avoided mention of how the additional pages of advertisements may be viewed as spam by search engines, or at least dilute the semantic focus of the UTube content. That’s all very important, and should have been addressed by the quality business and Internet consultants Mr. Girkins interviewed, but they pale in importance compared to “hot steamy erotica at UTube.com” or “Top illegal porn0graphy Sites:The best of the best sites for your ILLEGAL P0RN0GRAPHY on the web.” That’s right. You can find all sorts of nastiness on UTube.com now.
Not wise. Not wise, at any price.
Missed opportunity. Bad business advice? I’m not sure. But it’s bad for Universal Tube & Rollform Equipment Corporation. It could have been good.
Disclaimer: The sponsored link service Universal Tube & Rollform Equipment Corporation chose to use permits almost anyone to enter almost anything into the site’s URL, and it produces a page of ads that appear to be on that topic (but really go to more general web sites like music download sites or pop-culture community sites). That’s how those P0RN0GRAPHY and “steamy erotica” pages were generated. You can have the Universal Tube & Rollform Equipment Corporation web site generates pages of ads on any topic you like, just as I did here:
Out of fairness, though, they are showing ads for Adult FriendFinder, a clearly Adult affiliate program.