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Fumbling fingers drive VeriSign traffic surge

The company soars into the top 50 most visited U.S. Internet properties in September, a substantial improvement from its 135th ranking the previous month, according to a report.

VeriSign soared into the top 50 most visited U.S. Internet properties in September, a substantial improvement from its 135th ranking the previous month, according to results released Tuesday by ComScore Media Metrix.

VeriSign's controversial Site Finder, which redirects users to its Web site when they mistype a Web address, pushed VeriSign up to 11th in September from 135th in August, according to the report. That's quite a jump, especially considering that Site Finder launched midway through the month, on Sept. 15.

"There has to be some external or internal event to cause growth of this magnitude on a month-to-month basis. For VeriSign, they did it with internal changes when they launched Site Finder," said Graham Mudd, a ComScore Media Metrix spokesman. "When Symantec had 400 percent growth in August, it was due to external forces. There were a number of viruses surfacing at that time."

VeriSign had 31 million unique users in September, a 540 percent increase over the previous month, according to ComScore Media Metrix. That level of sequential growth is considered unusual, Mudd said.

Historically, VeriSign has averaged about 5 million unique visitors a month, Mudd noted. And VeriSign may fall to that level again this month, given that the company temporarily halted its Site Finder service. It is, however, considering relaunching Site Finder in the future, according to the company.

As part of the Site Finder service, VeriSign, which holds a monopoly in running the master database for .com and .net addresses, receives advertising revenue as people are redirected to its Web site. But Stratton Sclavos, VeriSign chief executive, said in a previous interview with CNET News.com that the amount of advertising revenue generated is insignificant compared with VeriSign's overall revenue of over $1 billion.

Much of the controversy surrounding the Site Finder service has centered on concerns that it would confuse some antispam filters and other network utilities. Sclavos, however, has previously defended the service, saying it is stable and standards compliant.

The report also noted that a record 150 million U.S. residents logged onto the Internet in September. That represents more than half of the 292 million people living in the United States, according to the latest U.S. census figures.

"In September, a number of events impacted Americans' use of the Internet, including Hurricane Isabel, the kickoff of the NFL season and students returning to school," said Peter Daboll, president of ComScore Media Metrix, in a statement. "That this medium has now crossed a threshold of 150 million users is a reminder that while it continues to mature, the Web also continues to expand its reach among the total U.S. population every day."