How’s that for a controversial topic? Don’t worry – the premise here is to inform you how cybersquatters do what they do, and how they get away with it. Think of it as an action item for you in your line of work, at your company!
Here are some facts about companies (especially small to mid-size companies): there’s usually nobody in the office who knows a damn thing about the brand protection elements of internet marketing. These days, you’ll probably find a graphic designer who does minor website graphics here and there, and maybe an SEM guy who does AdWords, but nobody who really knows what the hell they’re talking about in regard to advanced brand integrity, domaining or anything of that nature.
Good cybersquatters know this. I’m also convinced at this point in time that the best cybersquatters on earth do not exist in the United States, but elsewhere. You’d be a fool to cybersquat in the US, it’s probably the most difficult country to do it and get away with it.
Corporate Weaknesses that Cybersquatters Exploit
Here are two of the biggest vulnerabilities I’ve seen in my career in small to mid-size businesses, in regard to protecting the brand name (more specifically, domain names) online:
- Nobody’s educated about cybersquatting: That’s right, upper management usually doesn’t understand the point of owning the .com of your brand name. They only thought about the actual company name. They don’t know that cybersquatters go for misspellings, plural versions and other variants to capitalize on type-in traffic. Oh, and they don’t know what type-in traffic means, either. They know so little about the world of cybersquatting that they wouldn’t even know to say “let’s hire a guy who knows about this stuff.”
- Nobody’s willing to spend thousands to sue someone over a cybersquatting case: What I’m about to say is so true — companies tend to send cease and desist letters as empty threats that will never be acted upon. I’ve heard corporate counsel say “we’ll send the letter, but I’m not spending $15k to take someone to court over a domain name.” I’ve heard it MANY times, actually. To a bigger extreme, most small-mid size companies don’t own an international trademark and won’t even touch an international cybersquatting case with a ten foot pole.
With that being said, the two things cybersquatters have going for them are 1) misinformation, and 2) the cost and time involved in the court process, which is enough to scare most people away. In essence, cybersquatters are like great Texas Hold ‘Em players – the call the bluff of any cease & desist that comes their way. The occasional squatter sitting in his mother’s basement will cave in to a C&D, but many won’t fall for it.
The best thing any ‘web guru’ (God, I hate that term) working for a company can do is to spend a good day or so typing in domains based on their company’s name, brand names and variants, and buy all of the major .com versions right away so that they’re in the company’s possession. Don’t forget the “CompanyNameSucks.com” version, too. If your company runs franchises, be sure to start working on an internet policy that restricts franchisees from doing certain things (like registering domains without your approval). If you don’t take these actions, a cybersquatter will.
Carelessness in Domaining Can Hurt
The worst case scenario I’ve ever seen was for a multi-national, $600 million company who didn’t even own the .net domain name to their own one-word company name. It was registered in the earlier half of the 2000’s by a cybersquatter in South Korea, who is still running a parked page on it. Given that the .com site was pulling in about 7,500 uniques per day and is a popular international brand name, there’s no doubt the .net was getting some healthy type-ins.
Here are all of the aforementioned elements coming into play that I mentioned before: 1) nobody knew/cared to do anything about it in time, 2) nobody is willing to pursue this in court, 3) it’s international, so, the Korean legal team would have to go after it, and nobody is even willing to reach out to them and request this.
Cybersquatter 1, Big Corporation 0.
I could rattle off a whole bunch of other scenarios I’ve seen: plural domains, common exact-word misspelling .com’s, .ca’s, etc. – running on parked pages, with or without a “this domain is for sale” link at the top…all of which were careless, stupid and easily avoidable issues, even in the early 2000s. However, the cybersquatters who are still benefiting to this moment are having a field day.
Many other huge corporations still sit back oblivious to their cybersquatted trademarked names, benefiting someone else’s monthly payroll. Which companies are on the ball, and which aren’t? Maybe Rolex is up on these shenanigans, but how about Invicta? Maybe John Deere knows about cybersquatting, but what about Toro? Cybersquatters do their due diligence, even if these companies don’t.
This is why cybersquatting is still alive. Smart squatters don’t go after god-like organizations like Microsoft, Dell, or Disney; they’re going after the ones who probably have an internal weakness, or no system in place that has enough of a backbone to do anything about it. Just like the way hackers find a weakness to exploit, so do cybersquatters. With that being said – to be a good cybersquatter, you have to be a good risk-taker. You’d have to know which companies would probably never pursue you in court. You’d be the kind of person who would let a 30 day term on a C&D letter go by, and wait for the next move (if any).