Ways domains can help you protect your brand identity online

Written By Jordan Milne

It’s a well-known fact that you can’t get a website online without a domain name.

But did you know that domains can be so much more than a mere address or waymark, directing people to your website?

Domain names can also be a powerful tool when it comes to protecting your brand online.

Invest in the right ones and you can use them to safeguard your brand against threats like cybersquatting.

In this blog, we’ll look more closely at these threats before offering a few handy tips for building a domain portfolio that can help to protect your brand and your business.

What is cybersquatting?

Cybersquatting occurs when someone registers a domain name with bad intentions.

Cybersquatters usually choose domain names that are identical or similar to the names of existing businesses and/or trademarks.

Then, once they buy up these domains, they try to profit from them.

There are multiple ways they can try to profit. The first is to try and hold the company with the similar name to ransom for the domain.

The second is to use the domain to sell items, pretending to be the original company.

The third is to use the site for phishing attacks and other cybercrimes.

Examples of cybersquatting

In December 2020, Fox News sued the domain owner of xofnews.com and foxnews-entertainment for cybersquatting.

The cybersquatter had set up a site that featured the Fox News logo and the same layout as Fox News’ main news website. However, the lead story on the cybersquatter’s page was about a weight loss supplement, and it featured a link that allowed visitors to buy these products.

American supermarket brand Walmart was also a recent victim of cybersquatting. In this case, the cybersquatter had set up a site with the domain name Walmart44.com and the person was using it to spread adware, spyware and malicious browser extensions.

In yet another case, a cybersquatter bought the domain peta.com to deliberately harm the PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) brand.

The squatter filled the site with ‘People Eating Tasty Animals’ related content, including links to meat suppliers.

4 ways to protect your brand using domain names

You’ll never be able to buy every domain a cybersquatter could use to mimic your brand. Take the Walmart example above, for example – even if Walmart had bought the domains Walmart1.com all the way up to Walmart100.com, the cybersquatter could have used Walmart1000.com.

However, there are a few savvy purchases you can make that will help protect your business’s identity and integrity online.

  1. Buy equivalent original extensions

By original extensions we mean extensions like .com, .org and .net.

In the PETA example above, the cybersquatter was able to buy the .com because PETA itself used the .org address for its website.

You might not have the budget to buy the whole original set when you’re starting out, but buying as many as your budget allows will help you safeguard your site against squatters.

  1. Buy equivalent new extensions

In the early 2010s, a whole new range of domain name extensions was created and today there are more than 1,300 different options to choose from.

There are extensions for every letter of the alphabet – from .academy through to .xxx, .yoga and .zip.

If one of these new extensions particularly reflects your business, it’s a good idea to buy it.

For example, a beauty business would be wise to buy a .beauty, a toy shop should buy .toys, and a tattoo parlour could buy .tattoo.

  1. Consider typos

Coffee chain Starbucks has been the victim of a cybersquatter who took advantage of a typo.

The squatter bought the domain starbacks dot com and developed a site that made visitors think their computers had been infected by malware.

It’s worth doing a bit of market research to gauge whether you’d need to buy domain names with typos or misspellings in.

Talk to your customers – have they ever made a mistake when searching for your company online? Or do they feel there is any ambiguity in the way you spell your company name online? For example, your company could be called Beds For You but your web address might be beds4u.com.

There’s also a quick test you can do yourself. Try typing your domain into a search engine as quickly as you can. Do you make any typos? Does your finger slip with the speed and hit a wrong letter?

If there are any grey areas, it might be worth investing in your own equivalent of starbacks dot com.

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