Ever typed in a domain name that you thought was what you were looking for but, because of an unlucky guess or a keystroke error, you wound up on a poorly designed site boasting nothing but lists of pay-per-click ads?
Some 85% of domain name sites that aren’t being used for content purposes recycle pay-per-click ads and are owned by cybersquatters - people who purchase particular domain names that they believe are likely to receive Internet traffic. A few expert cybersquatters net millions of dollars every year; however, most are opportunists who register just one or two names.
Joshua Bourne is all too familiar with cybersquatters. As managing partner of the Internet strategy consultancy FairWinds Partners, he provides proactive intelligence on which available domains to register, and monitors domain name registrations and recovers domain names that businesses want to use. Bourne also co-founded the non-profit organisation Coalition Against Domain Name Abuse (CADNA) which counts not just Bacardi but also the likes of Verizon, Dell and HSBC among its members.
Bacardi appointed FairWinds Partners 18 months ago on its domain name strategy so that now all registration process management takes place via FairWinds, which has also acquired back any business-critical domains on behalf of the company.
Bourne, who is based in Washington, describes domain name strategy simply as ‘owning every name you need – but not a single name more – and then using them properly.’ Reflecting on his partnership with Bacardi, Bourne says: ‘The digital team relies on FairWinds to help them triage domain name situations.’
A typical situation involves buying back domain names like www.bacardirum.com. After ‘Bacardi’, ‘Bacardi rum’ is the second most popular Bacardi-related term that gets keyed into search engines, hence the business need to recover the name. Bourne reveals that there a phenomenal 2,000 domain names that include the correct spelling of Bacardi but which the company doesn’t own. Not all of these will present a problem for the company; generally, it’s only those that attract a lot of traffic (bacardirum.com, for instance, attracts 1,000 visitors a month). ‘The first filter we use for figuring out what’s damaging to a brand is how many eyeballs it’s attracting,’ says Bourne. ‘The chances are it’s an illegal infringement, but at the same time is probably not that damaging to the brand due to how little visibility it gets online.’
Fair use could mean a Martini website with recipe ideas (the fact that Martini is a cocktail as well as a Bacardi-owned brand name puts it in a different category to other brands in the Bacardi stable). Bourne says: ‘Sometimes we investigate and see that it’s a logical fair use. Someone has business cards, stationery and an emotional attachment to this site. It’s unlikely they’re going to sell unless we offer a life-changing amount of money so it’s important to prioritize carefully.’
More often than not in cases where there is a fair use (for instance, some uses of ‘Martini’), FairWinds uses anonymous acquisition to recover domain names. This entails dealing directly with the domain owner and then using what FairWinds calls ‘an arms-length company’ to purchase it. That way, the cybersquatter doesn’t realise that either Bacardi or FairWinds has anything to do with the transaction; he or she is led to believe that they are selling the name onto another small business.
Bacardimusic.com was one such example. ‘Our approach was not only quicker and more certain, but also much more cost-effective than dispute resolution,’ says Bourne. He adds: ‘I’ve purchased names as cheaply as $500 which means that Bacardi instantly saves because the only other option was to spend $5,000 filing a UDRP.’
A UDRP - Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy - is filed when a third party has registered a domain name in bad faith and the registrant is demanding a high price for the domain. Bacardi will be issuing a UDRP to help reclaim Bacardistore.com because the owner is being too demanding, so needs to be dealt with differently.
Generally, the most straightforward option for recovering a domain name is to drop-catch it when the cybersquatter fails to renew, as was the case for eristoffblack.com. ‘This is the most inexpensive way of getting back a domain name,’ explains Bourne, ‘but happens only rarely. For the most part, if a name’s worth Bacardi owning, it’s worth money to the speculator so we’re really capitalizing on identifying the occasional process breakdown on the other side.’
Bacardi’s partnership with FairWinds has so far helped save it $100,000 annually. What’s more, it’s kept up to date with domain name issues via strategic weekly reporting from FairWinds. And the work is ongoing. Bourne says: ‘We’re ensuring that Bacardi has the right domain names which direct users to the right place. Once they get there, rather than a blank site, they will have an engaging, relevant brand experience. We suspect other premium spirits companies have not done this to date. So this is going to help Bacardi jump way ahead of its competitors.’
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