You've probably seen her around. She is one of the most popular faces on the Internet, apearing if you misspell the address of a site, or if the owner of the site forgot to renew it. But behind that pretty face, there's a whole universe. One of the darkest sides of the Internet, with a lot of money flowing and where some legends are being born.
Who is she
She is one of the most recognizable faces on the Internet, although her name is almost unknown. The picture comes from a stock photography website and it has been used endlessly by people that work with parked domains (more of that later) to fill generic webpages together with some links.
You can find more pictures of the same model and the same photo shoot in iStockphoto. The photograph was taken in Unity Village, in the Kansas City area by a photographer named Dustin Steller. The model is the photographer's sister, Hanna (here is proof).
But besides the mystery of the face, this is a symbol of emptiness. Parker Ito is an artist that made a painting from this picture in an artistic exercise similar to Warhol's.
“In regard to the paintings, they might be considered in relation to Warhol’s Marilyn series of silkscreened paintings. Both Marilyn Monroe and “the parked domain girl” are icons of emptiness–Monroe was (in her media representation) a blank slate for sexual desire, the parked domain girl is (in her media representation) a symbol of sites without content”
But what lies behind the smile of the blond girl is a darker side on Internet.
Her picture is placed in parked domains under what is called parked domain monetization. It is pretty much like the Real State business with real money but instead of land, virtual sites and names are bought and sold.
This is a big business of millions of dollars that made some people rich with little work. It is based on Type-In Traffic, or people who type the URL directly in the browser without going through a search engine or a bookmark. There are some different ways that this works:
- The domains are parked or minimally developed.
- The webpage will have advertising listings and links. Those can be dynamic or static.
- The links normally work trough Google Adsense or Yahoo Search Marketing, the owner gets a percentage of the advertising budget
- The site can also be redirected to different sites, and the owner of the landing page will pay the owner of the name.
- The owner of a popular name would be able to sell the site in an auction.
How it works?
The system works when people register different kind of sites' names:
- Popular words that people will type directly in the browser, like candy.com
- Popular sites that can be easily misspelled, like jmail.com
- Expired domains and what is called dropcatching (buying the domain before the owner can renovate it).
Among the people who started early buying domains like bussines.com or sex.com, they managed to make millions (check the history about this last one). There is a really interesting and scary article in CNN Money about the parked domain monetization called: Masters of their Domains that not only explains how this business model works, but makes us visit the world of the Domainers. These people own thousands of domains, and like the ancient owners of land, earn a lot of money.
In this article we discovered that one of these Domainers is, according to the journalist, the Keyser Söze of the parked domains, called Yun Ye.
Yun Ye operates in Hong Kong. He owns over 50,000+ domain names, all using the Pay Per Click model. Apparently he started buying up domains in the late ’90s. Right now he makes over 6-Figures a day. His strategy is among the worst practices in online war. He buys expired domains at a speed that is impossible to top. He buys if the owner forgot to buy it, if he decided to close the place or if the owner doesn't have the money to continue paying for it. All the work and visitors of those page become his. He never concedes to interviews, and he is behind a million dollar-one man company. The other Domainers only know his name, and many have lost valuable sites that didn't renovate immediately.
But this is only one man in a business of many. Thanks to Google and Yahoo, anybody can start this business. You can try to give your page content, you can buy or scrap content, or you can wait for people to type the name of your site in the browser to make some money.
Apparently most of these sites where the parked domains girl is shown are owned by Demand Media, the company behind online brands such as eHow, LiveStrong.COM and Cracked. This company tried to go a step further, not only buying names, but focusing in the creation of specialized, semiprofessional content with some web 2.0 and social strategy, feeding their different sites with the content of low-paid content writers. There you don't only have visitors that arrive by mistake, but that stay and return to create a community.
Although the new business model is creating traffic and earning money (enough to make its creator, Richard Rosenblatt, rich, a recent article has shown that a full 44 percent of its revenues in the first half of 2010 ($47.7 million) still came from its domain registration business.