March 12, 2010
One of the greatest strengths of the Web is that it gives everyone with a connection the ability to publish content, period. Anyone can register domain names and build attendant webpages, often for what amounts to a pittance. Some domains cost as little as ten dollars to register, or less if the buyer wishes to bundle the purchase of several names at once. Naturally, this flexibility has attracted the attention of people with less than honest motives for their efforts.
Like it or not, there are individuals online who aren’t content to promote their brand through their own efforts and hard work, but would prefer to profit by the work of others. They accomplish this through a number of unfortunate methods. They domain-squat on names they expect to become famous, use similar names and domains to get attention, and in general rely on the good name of brands they have nothing to do with to draw in business.
As part of the effort to build up a brand into something to be proud of, it’s important to focus on brand protection. It may sound silly on the surface; after all, who could be confused by Makdonolds as opposed to McDonalds? However the issue isn’t always quite so ridiculously clear, and can lead to a number of hassles a brand just doesn’t need. Here we share three common hazards and their solutions for safeguarding your brand.
Hazard 1 – Cybersquatting
In short, cybersquatting is a series of methods for registering and maintaining a domain name solely with the intent to profit from another agency that desires it.
The first method revolves around predicting the need for the domain name itself. As in the above example, suppose in the early days of the Internet someone outside McDonald’s had registered all the relevant domain names. When McDonald’s finally goes to establish a Web presence, they find the names they need are all taken, and thus have to bargain with this individual for terms under which he’ll sell them back, obviously at a profit to himself.
Other methods involve registering similar domain names to existent ones. Suppose again that McDonald’s had possession of McDonald’s.com, but not McDonald’s.net. The squatter picks up the .net domain, knowing that at least some people will come to the page out of curiosity or by accident. Once again, they can bargain with McDonald’s over ownership, or they can provide a link to McDonald’s own webpage, and thus get click-through traffic that can be monetized with ad revenue.
Solutions to Cybersquatting
Due to the fight over free speech and free market rights pertaining to the Web, cybersquatting is not easy to define as illegal. It is certainly unethical, but given the myriad of international laws governing the use of these domain names there is not always a clear recourse in overcoming these activities.
There are always methods that can be used, however. First, there is the legal recourse of going through ICANN for arbitration. However courts can and often have overturned ICANN’s rulings upon further review. The legal fees associated with this process may exceed the cost of simply buying the domain outright from the squatters.
Another option is to be creative with your domain names. Google, Yahoo, icanhascheezburger, and similar domain names share a certain nonsense quality. They aren’t commonly used words, and are less likely to get snapped up by squatters. If your business isn’t tied strongly to a real world word already, consider coming up with something outside the box to prevent yourself from getting squatted. Purchase several of the more common variations on your domain name as well, to prevent the parallel name style of squatting.
Hazard 2 – Typo Squatting
Typo squatting relies on common typing errors or shortcuts to redirect users to a site other than the one they intended to visit. For example, information.com could be typed as iformation.com or info.com, and lead to the squatting site instead of the intended location. While this may seem like a variant on cybersquatting, it ends up being rather different in practice.
As with parallel naming, the intent here is to use a similar name to draw in users looking for one site. However the intent is very rarely to sell the url to the parent company. More frequently, these sites direct to ‘gripe’ pages, spambots, malware propagators and other malicious activities.
Solutions to Typo Squatting
Once again, legal action can be taken to protect a brand (particularly if the squatters are profiting from the venture), but can quickly become expensive. A more cost-effective route for a smaller brand just getting started would be to post information to your Social Media News Room and webpage about any such sites you come across, with warnings and information on how to circumvent them. Taking responsibility for your brand is the best way to protect it and cement its value in your audience’s mind.
Hazard 3 – Complacency
It’s tempting to register a domain name and trademark, and think that’s all you need to do. However, neither of these confers automatic protection. Yes, they allow for recourse to the law in the event a case goes to court, but the Internet is a place where information moves quickly. By the time you fight things out in a court case that you may or may not actually win, people already have associated your brand with the spambot they accidentally got directed to.
Solutions to Complacency
Be proactive. Education is your best defense on the Web. Learn about common cybersquatting and typosquatting tactics. Check your domain and see if others are using these tricks to hurt your brand (consciously or inadvertently). Be aware, be informed, and take every step you can. The Internet is a dynamic place, and it falls to you to make sure that benefits you, rather than blemishes your brand.
Enzo F. Cesario is an online branding specialist and co-founder of Brandsplat, a digital content agency. Brandsplat creates blogs, articles, videos and social media in the “voice” of our client’s brand. It makes sites more findable and brands more recognizable. For the free Brandcasting Report go to http://www.BrandSplat.com/ or visit our blog at http://www.iBrandCasting.com/