By Phil Kingsland, director of communications and marketing
A company’s brand and reputation are heavily influenced by its online presence. Existing and potential customers rely on the Internet to find and purchase services. One thing is for sure - if they are unable to find your website, they are likely to turn elsewhere.
With this in mind, a website plays a vital role in ‘winning’ or attracting new business and earning customer loyalty. A key aspect of this is the domain name (www.company.co.uk), which needs to be kept up-to-date and maintained to ensure consistency, search effectiveness and visitor loyalty.
Domain names are registered for a defined time period, usually two years. After this time it must be renewed. If a company fails to re-register its domain name it becomes available for others to register. Research shows that up to 7% of domain names are re-registered within 10 seconds of becoming available.
Cybersquatting is when someone registers, sells or uses a domain name with the sole purpose of profiting from another brand’s trademark. There are also other variations on this practice, such as typosquatting, where the person registers a domain name that is a misspelling of a popular site and then profits from users who make a typographical error when inputting the web address into a browser.
If a cybersquatter gains ownership of a domain name, the chances are they will seek to profit from it. They may try and sell the domain name back to the company at an inflated price, or they may profit from a trade mark by populating the web site with pay per click ads.
There is also the potential for cynical traders to use the site for negative publicity purposes. Traders may publish derogative information or promote a rival’s products or services and use the site as a tool to gain competitive advantage.
Cybersquatting does present a threat to businesses. But companies shouldn’t panic – following three simple steps can help protect their online brand identity.
1. A company should make sure that it has registered all relevant domain names for its business, within all of the appropriate extensions, such as .co.uk, .com etc. and any common misspellings. This can prevent a cybersquatter from registering a similar domain name and trading off a company’s brand reputation.
2. Pay attention to domain name maintenance. Ensuring all reminders are heeded and domain names are re-registered in a timely fashion can significantly reduce the threat of cybersquatting. Failing to re-register a domain name when it expires means that someone else could snap it up, along with a company’s online brand. If this happened the cybersquatter would then be free to use the web site for whatever means they choose.
Domain name renewal is quick and easy - and will benefit them in the long run. If a company pays attention to detail in the short term, it will protect itself from the threat of cybersquatters. For .uk owners, a quick and easy domain name health check exists at www.keepyour.co.uk.
3. Following a preventative domain name action plan should make domain name management and maintenance simple and straightforward. However, for those who have already had their domain hijacked, there are a number of options available such as pursuing litigation through the courts or via dispute resolution services.
The time and money investment required for protection means that small businesses are effectively disenfranchised from the court system.
Dispute resolution services are a viable alternative for small businesses as they are a cost effective and efficient method of dealing with domain name disputes. There are various online dispute resolution policies available to UK businesses, including Nominet’s Dispute Resolution Service (DRS) for .uk domain names, and the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP) for .com, .net and others.
Nominet’s process is founded on mediation, and if needed, an expert decision regarding the dispute. By using telephone mediation to attempt to settle disputes about .uk domain names Nominet’s mediators can help reduce a company’s time and cost when dealing with a dispute. Nominet’s mediators resolve over half the cases they deal with. As neutral third parties to the disputes they handle, they are able to discuss the case in detail with both sides and explore potential areas of compromise to forge a settlement.
The use of mediation to solve disputes is becoming more widespread, with other national registries including Switzerland and New Zealand introducing mediation into their systems as a direct result of observing the success of the Nominet model.
The success of using the practice of mediation for online dispute resolution has meant that it is possible for individuals and businesses to protect themselves from potential cyber threats cost-effectively.
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