Spoof page causes web traffic surge

21 Aug 2003

A spoof web page about the war in Iraq led to an audience boost for the Blueyonder portal across a number of international markets and proved the power of both the search engine Google and viral marketing, according to the latest research from Nielsen NetRatings.

Created by a Blueyonder ISP subscriber, the page is designed to look like a standard error page except the wording has been amended to say: “These Weapons of Mass Destruction cannot be displayed”. The page includes links to help the reader ‘Detect weapons’, which takes them to Amazon’s UK site, and also opens a pop-up window for an online casino. Visitors can also link to another page where ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’ merchandise can be bought.

The research showed a sizeable jump in Blueyonder’s UK audience, with 31pc going to the ‘WMD’ page in July. In Australia, where Blueyonder did not have an existing web presence, the effect was even more pronounced – a massive jump in audience and 90pc of that audience being for the spoof error page. The ‘WMD’ page also found readers in France, Germany and the US.

The Blueyonder audience was boosted when it started to come top of Google’s searches when the phrase “weapons of mass destruction” was searched for. This happened because webloggers – ‘bloggers’ – worldwide started linking to the site, and since Google works by identifying sites people are linking to, this pushed the spoof WMD page to the top of the Google ranking.

Amazon also benefited from the prank. The links on the site led to Amazon.co.uk, and the click-through rate was high. In the UK, 31pc of visitors to the WMD site went to Amazon, and in Australia the figure was 37pc, which almost doubled amazon.co.uk’s audience in Australia.

“This is a fascinating net phenomenon,” commented European market analyst Tom Ewing, “It really shows the power of viral marketing: most of the hits came from Google after an e-mail was circulated telling users to type the phrase into the search engine and hit the ‘I’m Feeling Lucky’ button, which takes you to the top result automatically. It also shows the power of Google, of course, if it can generate this much traffic.

“The Amazon aspect is what’s really interesting,” he added, “because it implies that if you want to promote a site or product you can get massive click-through rates by coming up with satirical or joke pages like these.”

By Brian Skelly