If your company has a major brand, domainers who exploit cybersquatting have likely already targeted your business. Their practices are often looked down upon, but if their dark powers weren’t effective, they wouldn’t make money. Still, you can learn the same black magic and turn it into good and profit for your company. In this down economy, don’t ignore the shady domainers—instead, strike back by reducing what they’re costing you and increasing your profits! Read on and I’ll explain how.
I don’t want to stray too far off into a tangent, but terminology has been rapidly shifting about, so I’ll touch on that briefly. “Domaining” is the practice of buying domain names, with the intent of later selling them at a profit. “Domaineering” is a relatively new term the industry is employing to refer to obtaining domain names to use as an advertising medium.
Frequently, domaineers seek to buy valuable keyword domains that people might reasonably go to directly as “type-in traffic” and then park ad content on them, making PPC revenue off the clicks of users who come to the site.
Cybersquatters are unethical domainers or domaineers who obtain trademarked and service-marked terms as domain names in order to make money off of the intellectual property of others. In most cases these days, cybersquatters cannot compel companies to buy back their own marks as domains, since those companies can often force the cybersquatter to relinquish the domain without profit. So, cybersquatters are more frequently taking the domaineering route, buying up domains, and keeping a low profile while profiting off of the clickthroughs of the ads targeted to the victimized brand names. (Such variant brand name domains can also be sold for profit on the gray market.)
So, how do they get away with it—why aren’t they noticed?
Unethical domaineers are highly adept at generating variations upon brand name domains. They register common misspellings of brand name domains, frequently occurring typos, lookalike domains and related stems (registering a plural for a singular term, for instance).
When I used to work for Verizon (now Idearc) Superpages.com, I occasionally assisted the intellectual property department in policing and referring infringing domains over to them for handling. Although back when the new company name was launched Verizon proactively registered a great many of these variant names and used MarkMonitor to help watch for more, there were always new product names being introduced that allowed openings for cybersquatters and character combinations that their monitoring missed. (Not to mention, the IP department seemed more hyper-focused on “Verizon” name derivatives, and less on satellite brands like “Superpages.com”.)
Over time, I’ve run across a great many cases of cybersquatting—not just with Verizon, but also with a really large number of major name-brand sites.
It took me only a few minutes to find some examples like these:
While you can imagine that these major name brands like Coca-Cola, Verizon, Google, IBM and Microsoft are all big targets for this sort of thing due to their high popularity, lesser brands are also targets for this and are frequently far less well policed. (As of the time of writing this article, none of these domains are pointing to the official sites of the brand names the domains are based upon.)
Many of these types of domains are essentially stealing brand traffic—they are brand parasites. Even worse, a number of the major brand companies involved are actually paying the parasites to do this! You can often find PPC ads from the victimized companies appearing on the typosquatting sites, and money also passes to innocent affiliates and distributors whose ads also appear on these sites. Innocent or no, the money often should be going to you directly rather than going through them due to a bogus domain.
Stop paying parasitic middlemen, and take back your brand! Force the bad guys to relinquish infringing domains, and get them pointed directly at your site!
Using their same methodologies, seriously consider registering other variant names and 301 redirect all of them to your main site.
While an individual misspelling may bring you relatively small amounts of traffic, this sort of long-tail-brand-traffic can definitely add up over time. A single brand name can have quite a lot of potential misspelling and typo variations as well—in bulk, the traffic from all of these could actually give your site a small bump up.
Also, if you proactively block the unethical domainers from nabbing your brand-variation domains, you’ll save money you’d pay to them in advertising fees and money you’d pay to affiliates, and your legal department would be saved considerable time and money in the long run.
Just as a best practice, misspellings of your brand/domain names should be registered by you and 301 redirected to your main domain.
Here’s a list of types of domain name variations that squatters exploit:
- Word stems – plural and singular forms of words, other versions associated with the word (example: ”macy.com“ );
- Misspellings – (common/uncommon misspellings, phonetic spellings)
- Versions of words with various letters dropped off
- Versions of words with extra letters inserted (such as adding extra “www” at beginning of names) Ex: wwwgoogle.com
- Transposed letters
- Lookalikes: domains with various letters exchanged for other characters which closely resemble them
- Other permutations – multiple-word domains with dashes or underscores separating the words
- Homophones or phonetic spellings (example: EyePhone.com)
- Domains with another Top Level Domain (“TLD”) suffix, such as .NET, .BIZ, .INFO, .FR, .BE, .IT, .DE, etc.
- Domains of your name translated into the equivalent word(s) in another language?
Since there can be various combinations of all of the above, there are many combinations possible for a company’s brand names! And, don’t just limit it to the company name alone. All a company’s marks should be checked for this sort of thing.
Nearly everyone who owns a domain name has got a domainer cleverly receiving traffic when people mistype the “.COM” part of their domain names—if you leave out the “O”, you end up getting redirected to an affiliate site, an ad, or to a parked domain page. Ex:
And, there have long been rumors he might eventually persuade the Colombian governing body to allow a similar arrangement with the “.CO” TLD!
There are tools out there which can help you to automatically generate lists of variation words to use as domain names, if you want to police your brand.
One of the best tools for this used to be a Microsoft research project, Strider URL Tracer with Typo-Patrol—it was once my favorite tool. Unfortunately, this project is no longer being supported and upgraded by Microsoft. I wish they’d bring it back!
There are others out there as well such as this one. There’s also a number of desktop software packages which do the same sorts of things.
If you’re not adept at this, though, you might also consider hiring someone who can assess your unique situation, generate the brand name permutation lists, check them for squatters, and then recommend ongoing strategies to you. As you can see, these guys are clever, and not everyone can think like them.
If you have a major name-brand and are a publicly traded company, it really behooves you to find the cases of cybersquatting associated with your brand names, and force the owners to relinquish them to you (unless it is a “fair use”). This is a necessary part of protecting your marks. Buy up other variations of your domain as well, and 301 redirect all of these back to your main homepage. By doing this you can save money by cutting out the parasites and middlemen, and you can also increase your organic traffic through all those long-tail-brand domain referrals that start rolling up into your homepage.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.