Protecting Your Brand Online – Domain Strategy

New Domains are coming… Which should you buy?

You already know about .com, .net and .org, but did you know that in 2014, there will be hundreds of new top-level domains (TLDs) coming available, including .blog, corp, .health, and more?

Now is a good time to re-evaluate your domain strategy, or develop one.

“Should we buy all of them for our name?”

It would be great if you could completely block others’ use of your trademarks in domain names but that’s really not possible and not very practical to try. Unfortunately you can’t own the whole Internet.

First, there’s no way to block registration of domains ahead of time (with one exception, which we’ll get into later). Secondly, there’s a nearly infinite number of possible variations on your brand, just by adding a single word or character. And third, like it or not, there are legitimate reasons people can use your trademark under the doctrine of “fair use“, which includes, like it or not, criticism.

You do have recourse, however. There is a process for dealing with use of your trademark in a domain name that doesn’t require going to court: the Uniform Domain-Name Dispute-Resolution Policy (UDRP). It has been used in thousands of cases to successfully transfer ownership of a domain to the trademark holder. Of course, there have also been thousands more that have gone the other way. Ownership is the only true protection of a domain.

Suggestions for a successful domain strategy:

  • Own all of the major domains for your brands:  YourCompany.com (.net/.org/.info). The cost is trivial compared to the cost of contesting even one of them somewhere down the line. Own them for your products as well.
  • If you’re international, own the country domains for all countries in which you do (or plan to do) business. Again, the cost is trivial. Also, the UDRP does not apply to country TLDs, although most countries do have a similar process in place. You don’t need to buy every single one — there are over 250 of them, just the ones that make sense.
  • Don’t waste resources acquiring negative domains to block others using them. We’ve seen other reputation management companies recommend this, but it’s a waste of your money. There are simply too many variations — even if you buy YourCompanySucks.com, what about Your-Company-Sucks.com? Secondly, if someone is really committed, they’ll get visitors — and search engine rankings — even without using your trademark in their domain.

What about the new Top Level Domains?

There are a few considerations for acquiring the new TLDs: branding, brand protection, reputation management and search engine optimization (SEO).

For SEO purposes, the jury is still out. Keywords in the domain name are certainly a ranking factor, but will Gold.Jewelry be on equal footing with GoldJewelry.com? Possibly, and if you have a reasonable play in that regard, it’s probably worth making.

For branding purposes, think in terms of particular product offerings or marketing campaigns. If you’re a nutritional company, how about something around your core ingredient, e.g., AcaiBerry.health. Or your fashion accessory company’s blog might be at YourCompany.style. There are lots of ways to get creative.

As far as brand protection, if it doesn’t make sense to register your brand across 250 country TLDs, it doesn’t make sense to register it across several hundred more new TLDs. There is an option available from one of the owners of over 200 of the new TLDs to block your brand across all of their TLDs, called DPML (Domains Protected Marks List). This prevents use of your mark as part of the domain name across all of their TLDs, without you having to buy the domains. It costs in the neighborhood of about $3,000 for a 5-year term. That’s a lot of money but less than the net cost of even one UDRP dispute, and significantly less than the cost of registering one mark across all those TLDs. Check with your domain registrar for more information — most of them offer it now, even if they don’t have information about it on their site.

For reputation management, the new domains offer an opportunity to create some additional properties using your brand in a simple URL.  For example, you might have your CEO’s profile or blog at YourCompany.ceo.

So which should you buy?

If your product category is available as a TLD, you should probably go ahead and grab it — .jewelry, .health, .fashion, etc. You probably also want the one that matches your official company name, i.e., .llc, .inc, .corp, .company, etc.

Perhaps most importantly, if you want to get the most reputation protection value out of one of these new domains, have a content plan for it — don’t just redirect it to an existing site. 

A final note regarding the new TLDs. As a trademark holder, you can be first in line to get YourBrand.whatever without worrying about squatters.  You must first register your mark with the Trademark Clearinghouse (TMCH), which costs a maximum of $150/yr. per mark. If you have any interest in registering domains with the new TLDs, this is an important first step. It will also be required in order to get the DPML block described above. Once you’ve done that, talk to your registrar about the sunrise period for the TLD you’re interested in. As an added benefit, TMCH registration will also notify you any time anyone registers a domain with the new TLDs that matches your brand.

Be proactive in protecting your brand

One basic rule of trademarks is that you must be proactive in enforcing your mark, so you need to monitor new domain registrations for use of your brands with tools and staff, and be prepared to take action where possible. We use several such tools here at Momentum Factor to monitor our clients online as part of both our FieldWatch compliance monitoring and our reputation management services.

The new TLD’s present an opportunities for companies to extend their brands and protect their online reputation. We recommend any company seeking to improve either take a good look at what will fit their needs, and own them sooner rather than later.

 

Wave - Momentum Factor Colors - Light Blue, Light Orange, Dark Blue - Footer Momentum Factor CHAT WITH US