Blogger Jody Allen has been forced to apologise for domain squatting after being accused of unethically attracting visitors and advertisers to her site, stayathomemum.com.au.
The Queensland-based website had attracted the attention of advertisers and Melbourne investor Leon Serry with a business model that turned housewife advice into a high-rating encyclopedia.
On Wednesday, rival bloggers contacted media outlets and advertisers, including Suncorp, to say that the Stay At Home Mum blog had registered a number of domains similar to successful independent blogs in order to redirect web search traffic to itself.
They reported that they had been told they could purchase the domains for a fee of up to $20,000, could rent the domain names for a monthly fee.
“Dear Suncorp, Do you realise you are supporting the unethical business practices of the Stay at Home Mum? You advertise on that home page but Stay at Home Mum has bought up all range of url variations of other successful businesses and now redirects those urls to its website. While not illegal, it is an underhanded way to obtain business and you Suncoprp [sic] are supporting that by advertising on the Stay at Home Mum webpage page,” the notice said.
It went on to offer the example of The Organised Housewife blog (theorganisedhouswife.com.au), an independently successful blogger-turned-business woman whose domain was affected by SAHM’s ownership of the similar organisedhousewife.com.au (without “the”).
“This is now being highlighted in many, many online networks of small businesses and mumpreneurs, and even to the public likers of business pages - Australia wide,” the notice continued.
“Suncorp I ask that you demonstrate good corporate citizenship and show Stay at Home Mum that you do not support unethical business behaviour by withdrawing your advertising from the Stay at Home Mum website immediately.”
A spokeswoman for Suncorp said the bank has advertised on the site in the past but it was "not a strategic relationship".
Ms Allen posted an emotional video on Facebook on Thursday, apologising for an error the site had earlier said was committed by “outsourced developers” for redirecting “100’s [sic] of domains”.
“I just like to start by saying yesterday was one of the worst days of my life … but my only error was in judging the advice that I’d been given. Having said that I solely take responsibility for this bad decision," Ms Allen said.
She went on to explain the site was a home-based operation in Gympie, with no shareholders or large corporate apparatus, and offered to speak to anyone who had been affected, in particular to Katrina Springer, owner of The Organised Housewife.
“This redirect was not an intentional action and it is unfortunate if it has inflected any of our fellow bloggers in the process,” the site wrote on its Facebook page earlier.
Mr Sherry, who last month told Fairfax Media he had injected cash and taken out an option to acquire 30 per cent of Stay At Home Mum as an investment, was unaware of the claims and ensuing social media storm on Thursday.
He told Fairfax Media he didn’t know anything about it or how it would affect his option.
“I only have an option, I’m not a shareholder. I don’t know anything about it.”
Asked whether it would change his investment intentions, he said he hadn’t yet made a decision on the option.
“I’ll have to look into it. I’ll definitely check it out.”