Ortsbo claims to fill a need that doesn’t really exist. Universal translation in chat sounds like a great problem, but people aren’t doing that much talking to people who don’t speak their language. You don’t already have friends who don’t speak your language because, well, how would you have met them? So when someone claims they have 12 million active users, my first thought is: “Wow there are that many Chinese gold farmers playing World of Warcraft who need a translation service?”
Ortsbo’s value as a translation service is diminished by the fact that it uses the Google Translate API as its back end. In six months when Google turns off this API, what will Ortsbo do instead? If Ortsbo had its own technology and IP for doing translation, it would be sitting in an amazing spot on this news. It could fill a need that Google was no longer filling, but instead Ortsbo will be left scrambling for a new translation engine.
Assuming there is a need and I am wrong about the demand for the product, that isn’t the reason I don’t believe the numbers. It’s the 80% direct traffic number. Did you know that the number one source of traffic for Gmail is search? People Google, or Bing, or Yahoo! “Gmail” and then click on the link. No matter how strong your brand is, 40% of the people who want to go to your site directly will type it in to the search bar rather than using the address bar. This makes it near impossible to get over 60% direct traffic unless your users bookmark your site and set it as their home page. Not a smoking gun that Ortsbo is not the “next Facebook” as its marketing materials would imply (check this PDF), but it is very suspicious. It is even more suspect since the name is so forgettable. Even after I knew the name, I wanted to spell it six ways of wrong.
So then you pull the Alexa and Google Ad Planner stats on Ortsbo. Its top traffic drivers in search are “Juegos Gratis” and Spanish porn topics? Time translate? Who searches for “time translate?” If you told me you were the top hit for IM translate, or MSN Messenger translator, I might have believed that was driving some traffic, but nobody is searching for “time translate.” And you can’t build a business in Canada or elsewhere trying to convert people searching for porn to loyal users of your translation service, no matter how many puns you make about how it makes you a cunning linguist.
There is a piece of Web tech know as a de-referrer. Affiliate marketers use it to hide where traffic that is supposed to be coming from their Web site is really coming from when it is purchased from porn sites and other places. A de-referrer works well to a point. It makes the traffic appear to be “direct,” like 80% of Ortsbo.com traffic. You can see how a de-referrer works by looking at the front page of Ortsbo.com, which, when left open for more than 45 seconds, forces you to another page on its site.
But when you get too much of it, Alexa shows the click stream data as being wherever the top sources of the content are coming from. In Ortsbo’s case it’s porn sites in other countries. Buying cheap pop-under and interstitial frame traffic, at pennies per 1000 visitors, Ortsbo is fleecing investors out of millions. If it were disclosing this, it might not be the end of the world; it could make some claim that the ROI on that purchased traffic was beneficial because it needs traffic from any of the 50 languages it translate into. But the story would be more compelling if the home page were available in 50 languages. The Ortsbo home page is not available in 50 languages because there is no value in the traffic Ortsbo is buying.
I suspect that Ortsbo will claim it isn’t buying traffic, or not that much, but I had a conversation with a traffic seller that confirmed, on the condition of anonymity, that Ortsbo had told him that it was buying traffic with the intent of “appeasing [its] investors and meeting the expectations of [its] board.” In my view this is fraud, especially if marketing and press materials refer to this traffic as “direct.”
It was also purchasing full page interstitials from AdBrite, which I might view as less of a sin, since at least those users were seeing the page.
So how much “real” traffic is Ortsbo.com getting? One of the easiest methods for measuring the destination strength of a site is to look at how many monthly searches Google reports the name of the site gets using the AdWords Keyword Tool from Google. While you can game the stats for Alexa and Google Analytics using many nefarious techniques, you can’t game how many unique users search for the topic in Google’s own stats.
According to Google’s Keyword Tool, Ortsbo gets fewer searches than LockerGnome.com, more than my hobby site, XYHD.tv, and a whole lot less than Facebook (which is thrown in just for illustration).
Ortsbo.com is legitimately half the size of LockerGnome globally, and 1/10th LockerGnome’s size in the US. Based on Ortsbo’s valuation, that makes LockerGnome worth $1B, and XYHD.tv worth $25M. (if anyone wants to buy either of these properties at this price, we are offering a 50% off sale this week… no Groupon needed). And based on these numbers, Facebook is worth more than the global GDP, but we all kind of knew that anyway.
Ortsbo, likely legitimately, has 800 k-1 million visitors a month. Which isn’t bad, but it doesn’t warrant a half-billion dollar valuation.