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Have you got your domain names covered?

Posted Saturday, November 20, 2004

The story of the domain name dispute between etoy.com and eToys.com uncovers an important issue facing all webmasters, should we register domain names that are similar to ours? In the eToys debacle, a group of artists registered the domain name "etoy.com" in 1995. Then in 1997, an online toy store bought the domain name "eToys.com" and in 1999, chose to sue etoy.com for the use of a similar name. At first, etoy.com was forced to shut down it's site but thanks to public pressure eToys.com dropped it's lawsuit in January. (For more on this, please read (http://www.rtmark.com/etoyline.html))

Of course, not all domain name disputes will lead to court but there are reasons why webmasters should consider registering similar domain names. Firstly, we spend a lot of time and effort marketing our websites. It would all go to waste if someone registered a similar sounding website and all your traffic went to them instead. Worse, if this site's focus was completely irrelevant to yours, then users would be totally confused and will probably not return again. For example, if you had a site called AboutBigApple.com dedicated to the city of New York and there's another site called AboutBigApples.com all about apples. A visitor expecting to find pictures on Central Park or the Empire State Building would be served up photos of Grannys and Galas instead. Rather disorienting don't you think?

Another good reason for registering similar domain names is to use them as doorway pages to help improve your search engine position. So you could have each domain name pointing to a single doorway page which is optimised using META tags and descriptive titles. The doorway page then links to your original site either automatically or via a link or button which users click on. With this, you would have protected all permutations of your domain names AND helped improved your search engine rankings.

So how do we decide which similar domain names to register?

It's entirely up to you but the following guidelines can help. Say you have a domain called xxxxxx.com, possible high-risk domain names would be :

xxxxxxs.com
xxxxxx.net
xxxxxx.org
xxxxxxs.net
xxxxxxs.org

Or you can try this service at (http://www.nameprotect.com/tmmonitoring.htm) that helps track your domain name for possible threats. The service generates a free monthly report on your domain name and gives suggestions of high-risk domain names to register. It also has a feature that can tell you if anyone is trademarking a name that's similar to your domain name.

What happens if there's already somebody else with a similar name?

The best thing to do is to co-exist with this other site. Most of the time, whenever someone registers a similar domain name, it's done completely innocently. For example, our site at (http://www.payingads.com) started receiving emails from visitors saying that they couldn't get into their accounts using their username and passwords. A quick check in our databases revealed that these visitors were not our site's members but members of a site called (www.payingad.com). This site pays people for viewing ads while our site is a global exchange for people looking for paying web ads to place on their websites. Our businesses are different so it was obvious that payingad was not trying to usurp our users. So we're content to just leave things as they are.

However, we still get user complaints on our site mistaking us for the other site, typically around 2 to 4 a day. If you find yourself in this situation, deal with it carefully. Though some of the emails can get quite irate, remember to always be courteous and take time to clarify the situation to them. It's bad enough that they keep getting "Invalid password/username" messages whenever they try to log on even when they're certain it's the right password or username. It's like being told you have brown eyes when you know your eyes are blue. Politely explain that there is a site of a similar name and direct them there. Also, explain more about your own site as they might also be interested in your own services. Who knows, you might even come away with a few more new visitors to your site.

About the Author
Gim Yeap, PayingAds.com - a global exchange for webmasters looking for paying web ads for their sites. Please send your comments or queries on the article to gim@payingads.com.