Topix Worries About Domain Change

    March 13, 2007
    WebProNews Staff

After paying $1 million to purchase the rights to the domain, CEO Rich Skrenta now has to deal with a couple of daily realities in the search world: changing domains could cause a dropoff in search engine-driven traffic, and Google isn’t exactly Nordstrom or L.L. Bean when it comes to customer service.

Several top level domains have come along in recent years to complement the .com, .net, and .org that have been available to the public. Dot com started life as the domain for commercial organizations, and over the years has become the must-have domain for one’s business name.

Topix has been for quite some time. Skrenta wants the dot com credibility, not to mention making it easier for people to find the news aggregator site. When it comes to the Web, people tend to think in terms of dot com.

Skrenta told the Wall Street Journal about the concerns he has with the change. Sites that make name changes without accounting for the ways search engines look for them could make a website invisible to searchers.

Redirection, particularly the issues with using 302 redirects, has been an issue of contention between webmasters and Google in particular. As the dominant search engine, Google can determine a website’s success. Skrenta fears what a mishap with redirecting people from to could do for the site:

Even if traffic to Topix, which gets about 10 million visitors a month, dropped just 10%, that would essentially be a 10% loss in ad revenue, Mr. Skrenta says. "Because of this little mechanical issue, it could be a catastrophe for us," he says.

Skrenta also experienced the palpable frustration shared by many site publishers when dealing with Google:

Further frustrating him is that Google’s response to Topix’s plea for help was an email recommending that, if the switchover were to go badly, the company should post a message on an online user-support forum; a Google engineer might come along to help out. "This can’t be the process," Mr. Skrenta says. "You’re cast into this amusing, Kafkaesque world to run your business."

Amusing, maybe, but no one at Topix will be laughing if Topix vanishes from the Google realm. In the same article, Google’s Matt Cutts said the post-and-wait support strategy ‘is more reliable than it sounds.’

Fortunately, the issue of pleasing the search engines with a redirect can be addressed. Search engines like 301 redirects, which unlike the 302 redirect tells the search engine crawler that the redirect is permanent.

WebProNews Blog Talk contributor Eric Enge discussed 301 redirects in a recent article. In Google, a site Enge moved managed to be recognized properly within two to three weeks.

Skrenta probably will choke on a Pop Tart at the prospect of two to three weeks of uneven traffic. But we see no reason to think Matt isn’t giving Topix good advice, so perhaps Skrenta should just drop in on the relevant Google Group and send out the SOS.