More on the Gmail/General Motors Mixup

We posted an item the other day from a reader who kept landing on General Motors’ Web site when he went to use his Gmail account; he wondered if many Gmail users did the same, and subsequently wound up buying cars.

We don’t have an answer to that question, but the whole scenario is starting to look a bit less far-fetched than I, and most readers, had assumed. Bill Tancer, the general manager of global research at the search-data firm Hitwise, wrote in to say that he took a look at the issue and came up with some compelling evidence:

Saw the post on the Coase Theorem and the Gmail/GM scenario. On the assumption that someone looking for the Gmail site, upon arriving at GM, would continue on to the correct Gmail URL, we pulled U.S. data on visits leaving car manufacturer sites going to Gmail. Looks like the data confirms the unintentional visit: 0.94% (and Gmail is the top downstream email/social networks site) 0.14% (Gmail is the 8th downstream email/social networking site) Gmail is not even in the clickstream 0.09% (Gmail is the 13th downstream email/social networking site) Gmail is not even in the clickstream

Now we just need someone at to let us know if any of those .94% of outbound visitors bothered to buy a car while they were there. Let me take this opportunity to point out that the original blog post on this subject was sent in by a reader, as was this follow up posting. Clearly, we have some of the best and most proactive blog readers in the universe; you make our job much easier and much more fun. Thanks.


Don't forget the tip suggested last time for Firefox users: just highlight the autocomplete entry, and hit "delete." And if you're not using Firefox, now's as good a time as any to switch.


Try It may not solve the problem. But it can catch common typos and redirect you to the right page automatically. It costs nothing, and easy to switch back if you aren't satisfied

Rich Wilson

What I find 'interesting' is that someone knows what 'email/social networking' site I visited after visiting a car manufacturer's site. And that that doesn't seem to bother anyone else.

Has anyone noticed that visiting this blog will run javascript from 6 domains in your browser? (google, nytimes,,, and That is, if you let them. I run noscript in Firefox so I know who's running code in my browser.

david g

@ Rich Wilson

Hitwise gets their data from ISPs that sell all usage data. Disabling javascript won't prevent that from happening.


Oliver - I really don't think that's the issue. I just tried it myself (first, went to, then typed "" so that "" was the only thing in my auto-complete, then pressed "ENTER." Voila I'm at the General Motors site and I've never been to it before).

I guess we'll never know for sure without surveying people, but if we're accepting this article's assumption that there's a statistically-significant number of people who are accidentally getting to the General Motors and thus have to navigate away to GMail's site, I think it's far more likely that they're getting there the way I'm describing.

Fwiw to those who mention browsers - I've replicated this mistake on both Firefox (my default browser) and IE.


Mark Forstneger

Am I the only Web user who bookmarks my frequently-used sites so I don't HAVE to type in the URL every time? :-)

Oliver Townshend

I can't see any other way to accidentally go to the site. I typed (instead of using my bookmark), and went there. There's no way to go to except if you accidentally press enter. Once you have, you've got a problem, but you are safe until then. This is the simplest explanation for all of this.


A lot of posts here seem rather condescending, but I consider myself a highly tech savvy user, and yet this does happen to me once a month or so. Let me explain.

To get to gmail, I type, Cmd-N, g, m, (down arrow), enter. The reason I do not use bookmarks is that on my apple laptop (os x), my keyboard is a much faster way to get around then the mouse. But sometimes I miss the downarrow, or the computer is lagging (it's an elderly powerbook g4, and especially slow when I'm number crunching in the background), and so I end up at GM. This is in firefox on a mac, where the autocomplete does not automatically select the top link. It also happens similarly in safari if I'm too quick to hit enter before the suggestion pops up.

My key comment here is that keyboard access for me is substantially faster than mouse/click...


Happens to me all the while...

When I start to type Windows IE 7 helpfully shows me a dropdown that lists gmail from sites visited previously.

Funnily I land up at all too often!!

With the net all-pervasive, I guess many people have the same experiences!!


Oliver (and anyone else following along at home),

One last time in hopes of clarifying, then I'm off the case for good -

It's not that people are typing in "" and STILL go to "". It's that people are only typing "", then they see that "" is suggested in the auto-complete drop-down that appears below the url bar. THEN, they either forget to press their down arrow, or they press it too lightly and the stroke doesn't register, so that the auto-complete suggestion isn't actually selected. When they then press "ENTER" they will send "" off into the aether, and will be provided with General Motors' website.

If that doesn't help, we're having one of those unfortunately circumstances where, despite honest intentions on everyone's part, we aren't communicating well. say luh vee.

Belated Merry Christmas,


A ha! And I'm rewarded with a technology tip. :D Happiness abounds!

Thanks, and glad we finally got ourselves on the same wavelength. No wonder two different people were producing two different and valid results, a settings difference could yield different results! Man, I'm glad I'm not a scientist (and so is science :p).



First off, clear your browser's history. Then you won't have the URL for GM showing up anymore.

Secondly, this is a good strategy for spam sites. Say some popup window opens up and it displays a page on some website. As long as this website is slightly ahead of some familiar site alphabetically, it will show up in the browser's history above the site you are looking for.


I don't think so - the browser should only suggest autocomplete entries for sites that the user implicitly clicked through to or typed in, so won't suggest redirects/popup urls etc


Re comment #1: Yeah, like Doh! Time to clear my history.

Matt M.

Obviously, the Toyota visitors are not mistakenly typing in gm and meaning to go to Gmail. So, wouldn't you have to back the % of Toyota (etc.) visitors who go to Gmail out of the % of GM visitors?

For instance, (# of visitors being equal) the percentage of visitors going from GM to Gmail should really be 0.8%.


I type "," so this doesn't affect me.

Funny though.


The alphabetical listing of your browser history is definitely one of the big flaws with IE. It's good that so many alternatives exist.


Either I'm confused, or the other posters are. The originally described problem is not that the wrong auto-complete is being used, it's that the accurate auto-complete is being displayed in the drop-down but then the user doesn't tab to select it - they just press "ENTER" after typing "gm" and seeing "gmail" in the auto-complete suggestion.

If I type "http://www.wir" into my browser, the auto-complete brings up "" but if I simply press "ENTER" I go to "" which seems to be a parked domain of some sort.



Oliver Townshend

JSC - they get at some point, because at one point they went to this site, so auto-complete remembers it as a site. Perhaps they pressed enter to early. Once you've done it you're stuffed unless you clear all of these items.

Oliver Townshend


Yep, you're right. Do what I do. Go to Tools, Internet Options, Advanced and tick "use inline autocomplete". Bye bye problem. (although its now rather hard to go to if that's where you really want to go).

Happy new year!