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Defending Brands From Squatters, Plagiarizers & Devious Domainers
An interesting byproduct of the improvements that the search engines have made in cleaning out spam from their indexes is that the spammers had to go and find something else to do. Many of the global marketers that we work with at Agency.com are constantly barraged by people all over the world looking to co-opt some of their brands’ spotlight.
Unscrupulous domainers register domains that contain trademarks and common misspellings so that they can take advantage of the monetization and parking programs that syndicate Google and Yahoo! pay per click ads. It is little skin off their noses to deploy hundreds of pages of advertising that just sit and wait for someone to mistype a domain.
So how can a brand owner of any size work to defend trademarks and copyrights? Here are some of the typical suggestions that we provide to help our clients maintain better control.
Domain acquisition strategy. Is there a plan in place to purchase domains? This is the first place to start. Variations of your trademarks can be practically infinite, particularly when you are a global marketer. It is important at the very least to have a strategy around which domains to buy. Proactively reserve domains for campaigns and taglines, even if you don’t plan to deploy them. Don’t forget international top level domains or negative variants such as “YourCompanySucks.com.”
Domain governance planning. Once you have the domains, what are you going to do with them? Parking them at your registrar will result in them setting up AdSense landing pages, which is a growing source of revenue for your registrar and Google – but not for you! Worse yet, the content matching of those ads could be sending traffic directly to your competitors. Most reputable registrars will respond to a letter requesting the removal of these ads. As well, improper handling of domains can result in inadvertent cloning of your site. Legacy domains that are no longer in service can either be a blessing or a curse – do you redirect them in perpetuity, or will someone snap them as soon as they expire? In support of Tony Wright’s posting last week about Three Rules For Search Marketing With Franchise Organizations it is important for any franchise business to have clear governance regarding how the individual franchisees can use the parent’s trademarks in their domains.
Anticipate misspellings. Misspellings are a favorite of the unscrupulous domainers. Secure common misspellings so that traffic that was meant for your brand doesn’t end up going to the competition through someone’s “make money on the Internet” get rich quick scheme.
Dealing with squatters. Is it worth it to pay the big bucks and go to the mattresses with these guys? It will cost at least $1,500 to go through the ICANN Uniform Domain Dispute Resolution Process which doesn’t include your lawyer’s time. Should you send them a cease and desist letter, or make a strongly worded argument with their host and registrar? Cost can quickly escalate, so pick your battles wisely and limit efforts to squatters that are actually in a position to do the brand harm.
Combating plagiarizers. Running parallel to the domain management issues are the sites that actively violate your copyrights. Some competitor or scraper has ripped off your content so what do you do? It took your marketing department nine months to write that page of perfect prose. A simple option is to file a claim with the major engines under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to have the offending page removed from search results. File your appeals with Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft. If that doesn’t take, sic the lawyers on them and their hosting company.
It is important for global brand marketers to understand that this problem will never go away, particularly since the major search engines are well positioned to continue to profit from it. Many of these problems could be headed off at the pass through preventative domain registration. But if you are a major brand marketer, you may have to unleash your corporate counsel to defend your brand from this latest flavor of spam.
Jonathan Ashton is the VP of SEO and Web Analytics for Agency.com a global interactive marketing firm based in New York with offices worldwide. He runs the company’s SEO practice which is centered in Chicago. Contact Jonathan and share networks through LinkedIn. The Industrial Strength column appears weekly at Search Engine Land.
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.