The Curious Case of RedbusOfferCode.com redirecting to MakeMyTrip’s Bus Ticket Booking page

redbusUpdate: After this story broke, the site redBusOfferCode.com has been pulled down. A 404 error page is all that remains.

We at YourStory have had the benefit of hearing numerous outrageous tales about the ways and means employed by e-commerce platforms to redirect traffic from their competitors. There are the tried and tested SEO tricks (keyword stuffing, doorway pages, etc.) which Google has managed to catch on to pretty quickly. And then, there are the affiliate programs. But changing times call for newer (and slyer) measures and the incident narrated here is perhaps a telling example of that.

I was planning a trip to Chennai from Bangalore on redBus, after having been ticked off by Indian Railways’ perennially booked out train reservation system. Now, until some time ago, when you finished booking a ticket from point A to point B on redBus, you were given a rather unimaginatively titled offer code called “RETURN” which entitled you to a discount of Rs.50 on the return journey fare. But when I finished booking the onward journey from Bangalore to Chennai last night, I received no such code.

So, like all judicious Indians who do travel bookings online fairly regularly, I googled “redBus offer code”. The first result was the redBus help page, outlining the use of the offer code system. The second result, however, was much more interesting – it was a site titled “redbusoffercode.com” (screenshot given below):

redbus

The rest of the story is easy to guess. Clicking on “Click To See” on any post in the site redirects to MakeMyTrip’s Bus Tickets page (screenshot below):

redubs

A quick WHOIS lookup doesn’t give any clues about the owner of the domain RedbusOfferCode.com, with details being placed under privacy protection. The WHOIS entry , however, states that the registration service was provided by Geek IT Solutions (which turned out to be a Hyderabad-based IT company upon further googling) and the phone number mentioned was not reachable.

Nonetheless, inspecting the elements on the RedbusOfferCode.com page gives the tracking URL http://track.in.omgpm.com/?AID=179706&MID=155512&PID=7752&CID=3275876&WID=33724. The “omgpm” in the URL refers to OMG Performance Marketing, which has an affiliate marketing business unit called OMG Network.

And it so happens that MakeMyTrip is an OMG client (screenshot below):

redbus

To be honest, this sort of snooping isn’t all that necessary. Even a cursory glance at RedBusOfferCode.com provides most of the story. The site has two banners, both advertising an Rs.100 cashback offer on all bus tickets at MakeMyTrip. All the other pages are empty, with no content (including the About page). And the bunch of tags, at the end of the page, says it all:

redbus

Now, without going into the legalities or the ethics of setting up such a site, one can safely assume that at least some amount of traffic is being ferried to MakeMyTrip’s bus tickets page via RedBusOfferCode.com.

This instance is interesting because it is essentially a clash of the titans across categories. MakeMyTrip leads the pack for air & rail travel portals inIndia(after our very own IRCTC, of course) while redBus enjoys top-of-the-mind recall when it comes to bus ticket bookings. MakeMyTrip seems to be indulging in a category expansion exercise, with ferocious promotion of its bus ticket booking feature. To many, it’s a game that redBus has already won. But that doesn’t seem to be stopping MakeMyTrip. To us, this is surely a space worth watching.

Aware of other such instances? Feel free to leave a comment or write to us at feedback@yourstory.in.

Sriram Mohan | YourStory | 5th January 2011 | Bangalore