Think about what you do daily as a marketer to get your product and brand noticed. Working on everything from advertising, to PR to, to social media to search, it’s no secret that your role is to grow the company, increasing revenue, profitability, and market share. For many years, marketing challenges have arisen either from competitors executing more effectively, or from companies failing to execute. As the old adage goes, “Nothing kills a bad product like good marketing.”
But, now that the Internet is a major marketing medium, marketers have another challenge. There are simple yet effective ways for scammers, bad actors, and criminals to make money while affecting a company’s marketing and branding efforts. For example, the BBB reported on a scam that involved legitimate travel sites being targeted by criminals using fake domains to fool customers and steal their money. We might have dismissed this as a problem for “foolish people who don’t know how to use the Internet” if one of our own customers hadn’t found several sites that used mistypes of their name to redirect to a competitor.
Fake Sites Cost Real Money
Yes, this situation is real, and it can cost money. Let’s dissect it a little bit.
Company A has a legitimate site (we’ll call it CompanyATravel.com). Company B registers C0mpanyATravel.com using a zero instead of an “o” in the word “company.” Another tactic is registering CompanyATravel.xyz, a legitimate domain extension (.XYZ) that’s one of the 800+ new extensions launched in 2014 and 2015. Company B creates content on these new sites – search-optimized content that draws people looking for the legitimate service that Company A provides.
So, how many people go to mistyped sites? If 1% of people are mistyping sites when they browse and another 1% are being misled by search results, you could lose up to 2% of business – which inevitably affects your bottom line, profits, and marketing budget.
Some of these sites use a fake domain to send phishing emails or put up fake search ads, aiming to confuse customers into giving them money. An example of this is a political campaign that put up a site that looked much like one candidate’s site and branding, but actually collected donations for the opponent!
Another scenario: You use search advertising to promote your product. People visit a mistype of your domain, where they see a “parked domain” page that serves ads. These pages are quite common, and usually serve ads directing customers to the “actual site” they were looking to find.
Once a person clicks on the ad for your company, you’ve just paid for your own traffic. At a few dollars per click – depending on how you buy ads – that’s going to add up quickly.
Aren’t There Any Internet Police Who Fix This?
These fake sites, or people using fake domains, aren’t policed in the traditional sense. There’s no one out there arresting people for brand security violations. It is the responsibility of the brand owner to learn about these issues and correct them directly – and that’s you.
Do you know how to ensure your marketing efforts aren’t derailed by imposters? There are a couple of things that a marketer can do to protect their brand.
- An obvious one is to obtain a registered trademark for all valuable brand names. Having a mark can make enforcement for any brand security issue much easier.
- Another proactive measure is to put your registered trademark into the Trademark Clearinghouse (TMCH). This entity works to prevent people from registering your exact mark (and specific variations) as a domain name, and also gives you rights to grab domains as the new extensions come online. It can be helpful, but it is not a perfect solution, as bad actors may still register your exact mark – even if they’re warned that it is a registered trademark. Having a TMCH entry also makes enforcement of your rights easier.
What Do I Do To Protect My Brand?
Finding a domain that’s the same as, or similar, to your domain used to be an easy proposition. You typed in variations to your browser and simply found sites. While that protection process is somewhat straightforward, it has become more and more difficult to implement, with an explosion of 800+ new domains. You could spend hours or days keeping up with all of the variations on your name in hundreds of domain extensions.
Many companies we talk to have, or had, an Excel or Word file of domains they check on regular basis. These lists include variations on the company name, proper names of executives, and more. But, manually searching is just not scalable – and it’s not free; even a $10/hour worker is going to take hours to try to find names, and they will not find the names that are registered and lack a live website.
Another possibility is an expensive solution from some of the legal vendors. They typically include this domain watching service as part of trademark watching, copyright and patent searching, fake goods enforcement, and more.
Many companies already have these services, or don’t need the expensive packages for their type of business. Also, many of these services simply provide lists of “hits” for close or exact names and leave you, your company, or your lawyer to comb through them and decide how these domains and sites are used. While some may be infringing, some might be fan or parody sites that you can’t do much about. And, this is not an IT issue. IT (typically) focuses on threats that can infiltrate your company. These types of threats can affect your brand, how your company is perceived, and even cost your organization direct revenue.
Some organizations have taken the time to register almost every variation on their brand names and trademarks, in many domain extensions. This is a costly endeavor. While it may be necessary or appropriate to register your brand in the .Movie extension if you’re a movie studio or making a movie, you might not need it if you’re a B2B business. But someone could take that name and try to fool your customers or employees. The best way to avoid this issue is to monitor all domains that are close to your business’.
The Best System
The best way to monitor is to have a system that monitors all of your trademarks, brand names, and existing domains and offers a way to see your results quickly and visually. If something changes or if a new domain is registered, you should be properly alerted and be able to investigate the issue, in conjunction with teammates or legal counsel. A proper system will let you watch domains that are registered but have no sites, and get alerts if something changes – thus keeping you ahead of potential problems. You want to quickly know who registered the domain and other relevant information for your counsel. Remember, providing false domain registration in the US when committing a cyber crime can have severe legal consequences for the perpetrator.
If these problems are relevant to your company (and what company doesn’t want to protect their reputation and revenue more effectively?), click below to request a free demo of DomainSkate and discover how we’re helping brands stay protected from fraudulent domains.