How often do you do a Google search for your name or your small business’s name? As a journalist I know that my reputation is extremely important. So I regularly “Google my name” to see what is out there; are people posting comments about me, and what is being said (if anything).
I don’t mind comments on blogs like this one. Call me wrong, call me an idiot, say what you want. That’s fair game with blogs and bloggers. But I need to make sure that someone isn’t using my name to promote a product without my permission, or worse crediting me for something I didn’t do (good or bad). For me that could harm my career, but for a small business it could be even worse.
This often falls into two worrisome trends. The first is known as “Cybersquatting.” One of the earliest cybersquatters was former Newsday writer Joshua Quittner who successfully registered “mcdonalds.com” in 1994 before InterNic changed the policy for registering brand names. Quittner ended up selling the brand to the fast food giant, and donated the money to charity. But others have looked to simply cash in.
But today you need to make sure that someone else isn’t cashing in on your brand. While you might own the “acme.com” domain name, you need to ensure that someone else doesn’t own “acme.net” or even “acme-sucks.com.” Either can be bad news.
The .net address could trick your customers into believing this is your Web site if you’re selling products. Worse, it could even look like your actual site, but be used by cyber criminals as a way of getting information from your customers or clients. Do regular checks to make sure that someone isn’t trying to pull a phishing scam at your business’s expense.
The numbers are quite alarming. Cybersquatting offenses were up 19 percent in the first three quarters of 2007 over the same period in the previous year. That’s according to the “BrandJacking Autumn 2007″ report released by MarkMonitor. Between the second and third quarters the rate increased by 10 percent alone, rising from 286,801 occurrences in Q1 to 342,512 at the end of Q3.
What you need to be worried about is that it isn’t just individuals anymore. Organized cybersquatters often register hundreds, if not thousands of misspelled domains based on every well-known company’s trademarks. This unfortunately can make it totally impractical and cost prohibitive to shut down these rogue sites through manual methodologies. But that’s just one part of the equation.
For a small business, simple regular checking through Google and other search engines can reveal if you’re even in danger. And as is often said, “knowing is half the battle.” Fortunately Google and other companies that operate sponsored link networks even have rules against trademark abuse and can be helpful. While they can’t monitor the sponsored links bided on through their system, they will take down any that infringe on trademarks, once notified.
Likewise companies such as CitizenHawk even provide tools that allow domain and brand owners to see some of the top misspellings and alternate domains just to get things started. There may be no way to get all of them up front, but taking a strategic brand management approach from the beginning is a solid strategy to stopping a lot of potential future attacks.