It is fine to register domain names that might increase your type-in traffic, but cyber squatting is definitely not acceptable. Here’s the difference.
Let’s say you own the domain name www.SWEPA.com and you use that domain for hosting the Subscription Website Publishers Association, as we do. You do your best to optimize your website for the search engines and indexes.
But you know that it is increasing popular for web surfers to simply type a URL into their web browser’s address window in the expectation that a site exists. So you register www.paidmembershipwebsites.com, as well, and redirect traffic from that address to www.swepa.com.
So far, so good. Some people find SWEPA via www.paidmembershipwebsites.com and become dues-paying members.
But then someone else registers www.subscriptionwebsites.com and redirects it to www.swepa.com. The owner of subscriptionwebsites.com signs up for the SWEPA affiliate program at www.swepa.com/public/department56.cfm and redirects to swepa.com with his affiliate ID in place.
Good for him; not as good for us, but okay. We weren’t quick enough to register that domain name, and because he was, he sends us traffic. Some of the people he sends join SWEPA, and as a result, he collects an affiliate commission on those new SWEPA memberships. Perfectly fair.
There are hundreds of people using this strategy in order to passively collect affiliate commissions each month from hundreds of other commercial websites. You could do it too.
It can be very lucrative. Some affiliate programs pay out as much as 55 percent. So you could register a domain name, optimize the site for the search engines, create a Google AdWord campaign, drive traffic to the site, and never have to own or deliver the products yourself.
Simply collect the affiliate commissions as a reward for your ingenuity and your investment in the Google AdWords campaign. Perfectly ethical.
Because words like “subscription website” are generic, we have no claim or entitlement to subscriptionwebsites.com, even though we wish we owned that URL ourselves. For less than a $10 annual investment in owning that URL, the owner has a small cash cow of affiliate income from www.SWEPA.com. Not a fortune, mind you, but a passive income stream nevertheless. So be it.
But now some unethical characters are using this business strategy, or variations of it, to try capitalize on other people’s reputations and property.
Let’s say, for instance, that your name is Fred Gleeck and you have an industry-wide reputation for selling great information products. You ought to own www.fredgleeck.com. And Fred Gleeck does own that URL. In fact, Fred owns fredgleek.com, as well. He bought that one for those instances where someone mistypes or misspells his name, and he redirects fredgleek.com to www.fredgleeck.com
But he does not own, for reasons that defy understanding, the URL www.gleeck.com. Someone else has registered that name and is redirecting it to his own site.
This is not cool, not clever, and not ethical. And while we are not lawyers, and we don’t give legal advice, we’re betting this is not legal, either.
Fighting back against cyber squatting
Cyber squatting is defined as registering an Internet name for the purpose of reselling it for a profit. One instance of cyber squatting involved the domain name wallstreet.com, which was registered in 1994 for $70 and sold in 1999 for $1 million. Presumably this was okay because it was not a copyright or trademark or proper name.
In 1999, the U.S. government passed the Anti-Cyber squatting Consumer Protection Act, which enables trademark holders to obtain civil damages up to $100,000 from cyber squatters that register their trade names or similar-sounding names as domain names. That’s a serious penalty for trying to capitalize on something that you don’t legally own.
So we wish Fred Gleeck good luck if he brings a case against the person who registered gleeck.com and redirects it to his own website. And we will follow with interest the lawsuits brought by other trademark owners who believe their rights have been infringed.
If you believe that you are a victim of illegal cyber squatting, you should fight back. There is a wealth of information about cyber squatting online at such sites as www.ipwatchdog.com and www.nolo.com.
But if you purchase additional domain names that can be redirected to your primary website, and they bring you additional traffic, and subsequently additional memberships, you’re capitalizing on the trend toward type-in traffic. And unlike some shady characters, you’re strategy is perfectly ethical.
Incidentally, SWEPA owns the .com, .org and .net suffixes of its primary domain name. Do you own all the domain name extensions for your primary website URL?