According to statistics collated by Siteefy and cited by Forbes, in April 2023 the number of websites in the world surpassed a staggering 1.1 billion. Surprisingly, only 18% of these websites are active, leaving a remarkable 914,376,818 dormant domain names.
Many of these inactive domains are safeguarded by businesses as a precautionary measure against cyber-squatters who might exploit similar domains related to their core brand. Others view these domains as lucrative investment opportunities, while some simply hold them as remnants of past ventures or re-brands. In any case, these empty domains are 'parked' until a time when they might be put to use. Unlike active domains, they do not direct to a website, and instead visitors are presented with a holding page.
However, recent guidance and rulings published by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has warned businesses to exercise caution with these parked domains, ensuring that they do not mislead visitors with deceptive advertisements.
What is domain parking monetisation?
The holding page for parked domains can be set to display anything from an error message to hyperlink advertisements. Domain parking companies partner with search engines to generate a list of ad topics that visitors to the domain will be tempted to click on, leading them to related sites. The domain name owner can then profit from these click-throughs.
What are the risks of domain parking?
While domain parking monetisation is a perfectly legal use of inactive domains, it must be done carefully to avoid falling foul of the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising and Direct & Promotional Marketing (CAP Code).
Indeed, recent rulings by the ASA regarding advertising on parked domains have highlighted their stance on misleading practices. Specifically, advertisements that falsely promise access to product listings and informative content but instead redirect users through multiple layers of paid ads or search engine results are considered misleading and therefore in breach of the CAP Code.
Some recent decisions:
- The advert text 'Thinking of remodelling your bathroom? See the latest trends' linked to a webpage with a list of links to various bathroom retailers or Yahoo search links. This was held to be misleading despite the terms 'Remodeling', 'Search Ads' and 'Sponsored' immediately below. The ASA held that the advert text would lead consumers to believe they were being taken to an editorial article on bathroom remodelling trends and the qualifying terms underneath were not clear enough to mitigate this.
- The advert 'Canary Islands Holiday Packages are almost being given away' was also found to be misleading, as rather than leading consumers to information on heavily discounted Canary Islands holidays, it led instead to travel agency websites not specifically offering these holidays.
- Similarly, an advert stating 'Unsold Sofas selling for nearly nothing in London (search here)' led consumers to a list of links and further paid-for ads for sofa retailers. This was deemed misleading as the linked pages did not contain any information on discounted sofas, or certainly no offering of sofas at a significantly discounted price as indicated by the header.
How can you protect yourself?
The ASA have summarised its recent decisions into the following advice:
- DO make your commercial intention clear from the outset
- DO ensure the content consumers will be faced with on click-through is clearly described, noting that terms like 'search ads' will be insufficient
- DON'T use misleading headings or terms to entice people to click
- DON'T imply content will be editorial when it is not
It's crucial to bear in mind that, according to the CAP Code, primary responsibility for adhering to the rules falls on marketers (rule 1.8). Marketers have primary responsibility for ensuring that their marketing communications are legal (rule 1.10). This means that domain owners are ultimately responsible for the advertising that appears on their own websites, regardless of whether they have delegated advertising management to a domain parking company. This underscores the importance of maintaining a vigilant approach towards the advertisements displayed on their domain holding pages, taking into account the above rulings and guidelines.
In reality, many businesses may be unaware that their inactive domains feature holding pages with such advertising content. For businesses that have no intention of profiting from parked pages, a straightforward solution is to instruct their domain registrar to ensure that any parked domains are completely free of advertising. This simple housekeeping measure can help mitigate any potential risks and maintain a clean online presence.