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Some Web Hosts Are Monetizing Their Cusotmer’s 404 Error Pages With PPC and Why It’s Bad News

August 9, 2012

I recently followed a bad link to a web address and was surprised to discover that the 404 error page returned a PPC lander served up by the web host.

I can’t recall ever seeing this before, and I don’t know how common it is.  I use HostGator as my web host, and to my knowledge they don’t engage in this practice.

A whois search of the website in question revealed that the site was hosted at HostMonster.  I did a reverse IP lookup to find a list of other websites hosted on the same server, and corroborated that not all, but many of HostMonster’s customers turned up a PPC parking lander on their 404 pages.

The reason I bring this up is twofold. Firstly, as someone running an online business how would you feel if your web host was serving up ads for your competitors on your own website!?

I found one such possible example at HIDLighting.com.au, a company that sells HID driving lights.  Here is an example of their 404 page, (pictured below) on which I saw an ad for another lighting company, FloLight.com, as well as several ‘related search’ lighting keywords that I assume when clicked would take the visitor to the second page of a 2-page lander where they would also be presented with more ads from potential competitors.

If you run a website you may want to verify this is not happening with your host.  If you are using WordPress there are many plugins available for setting up a custom 404 page or 404 redirect (find some here).

HostMonster 404 landing page template with PPC ads

Welcome to HIDLighting.com.au, where you can find everything you need from FloLight.com … DOH!

Another possible concern here is, and I don’t know how plausible, whether or not someone could ever cite this as evidence in a trademark dispute to snatch and grab a domain name you are otherwise actively using in good faith.

For example, it is well known that Google.com has been pursuing a UDRP against the owners of Goggle.com. Without getting into the specifics of that case, but for sake of example, what if Google’s lawyers had been able to cite an instance of a 404 error page on Goggle.com, say Goggle.com/google-goggles/ – a ‘non-existant’ page that served up ads for Google Goggles?

Would a panel find this as evidence of bad faith? It sounds far fetched, but welcome to the wild world of UDRP, from what I understand.

What do you think?

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