Cyber-squatters can wreck your reputation and reach

Cyber sabotage sounds like something that only happens to big multinational corporations, not everyday Australian blogs and businesses. Unfortunately, cybercrime is a lucrative new frontier for those who are tech savvy and unscrupulous, and it’s thriving right here in Australia. At its worst, it can negatively impact the reach and reputation of your website and even cost you thousands in legal recourse.

Now’s the time to understand what cyber-squatting really means – and how to protect your good name.

What is cyber-squatting?

A cyber squatter is someone who registers domain names with bad faith intent to profit from the goodwill of a trademark belonging to someone else. This might include anyone from private bloggers to over-zealous business competitors.

In some cases, squatters buy domain names with a view to sell them on to interested parties at inflated prices. In other cases, they buy domains with a view to redirecting them, for financial or political gain. A cyber-squatter may also buy a domain simply so no one else can have it. This can be an attempt to establish a misguided competitive strategy, such as shelving potential domain names from use by competitors for use in a future business enterprise.

Like a lot of online activities, the legalities around cyber-squatting are in a state of flux – there are as many valid reasons as there are devious ones for squatting domains. Any prosecutions in this area rest on an understanding of whether the buyer of the domain intended to use it in ‘bad faith’, which of course can be difficult to prove.

How does cyber-squatting affect legitimate websites?

Whether you have a hobby blog, a personal profile site or a major corporate online presence, when people seek out your website your reputation is on the line. There have already been some high profile examples of cyber-squatting debated in the Australian media.

Last year, a scandal ripped through Australia’s parenting blogger community, highlighting for bloggers the importance of considering domain name management as part of a blogging strategy. A high profile blog team was accused of buying up variations on other successful blog names, causing confusion by redirecting traffic to their own site and allegedly offering to sell the domains at inflated prices to affected bloggers. This resulted in loss of business, reach and reputation not only for the blog team who bought the domains, but for the bloggers whose domains were affected.

The Queensland government found themselves in a similar position in 2014 as part of their ‘Strong Choices’ campaign. The Electrical Trades Union made the ‘strong choice’ to take part in the government’s asset sales decision-making campaign, by offering their own views at www.strongchoices.com.au – going head-to-head with the government’s own domain, www.strongchoices.qld.gov.au.

How can you protect yourself?

Buying a domain name for your business or personal website is no longer just a one-off addition to your marketing plan. Domain management is now up there with insurance or workplace health and safety when it comes to risk mitigation for your business. By owning as many variations on your domain name as you can, and redirecting them to your primary site of choice, you can avoid potential loss of web traffic.

Some experts suggest that we should all be investing in variations on our own names – like www.oakleighcooking.courses – to protect them against use by anyone else down the track.

Whether you’re in business right now, or looking to the future, don’t risk your reputation or your reach. Get smart about domain name management and consider domain investments that will protect your good name in the long term.