Infringement ghosts - how do Meta Tags steal your money?

What are Meta Tags?

Meta Tags are hidden content in websites HTML code. Website visitors cannot see those tags on the website. They have been key elements in website search engine optimization (SEO) for years.

Historically Meta Tags had significant impact on websites ranking in search engines. Due to abuse by SEO advisors their importance to SEO decreased over time. Title tags for instance are still significant optimization tools.

However, Meta Tags are crucial when it comes to connecting with search engine robots (that automatically scan websites for ranking purposes). When scanning websites the Meta Tags tell search engine robots what the website is all about, its content world and purposes.

Some tags may be viewed in search engine results pages (SERP), but basically anyone can find them in the website code.

There are 3 commonly used Meta Tags:

Title tag 

This tag usually constitutes web page subject and main purpose. Title tags are usually visible on SERP pages so they are key elements both in SEO and in relevant audience brand perception.

Description tag

a longer version of the page content summary than can be displayed in the title tag. Description tags do not help search engine rankings directly, nevertheless they are key factors in SERP conversion rate, which is the percentage of clicking your link after viewing SERP.

Keywords tag 

web pages that their code contains keywords tag should be found in SERPs after searching for one or more of these words. Nowadays, many search engines stopped considering keywords tag when determining page ranking.

How Meta Tags are used for brand infringement?

So, how can Meta Tags infringe brand names? Using trademark names without consent of the rightful trademark owner is a form of infringement.

Remember, the words and sentences used for the Meta Tags influence web page ranking and in many cases they are visible for search engine visitors. If a web page uses a brand name in its title tag, it is more likely that people searching for this brand name in search engines will get to that web page (depending on the page's SERP). Moreover, when someone sees this page in the results pages, they will also see the name of the brand displayed (title tag is displayed in most search engine SERPs), and are more likely to associate between the page and the brand, and click on the link to this page. Now a web page that infringes a brand name got a visit, probably originally intended for legit websites.

Why steal traffic?

Some experts address this issue as a traffic theft issue, meaning that unauthorized trademark use is meant to divert visitor traffic from getting to legit web pages.

What do infringers do with this stolen traffic? Some website owners just want the traffic to improve website statistics and get higher rankings in search engines (and that draws more website visits and so on). Others think that a small percentage of accidental visitors stay on websites they did not intended to visit (online gaming, porn and financial investment excel in making accidental visitors stay).

Is traffic theft the only problem with Meta Tag infringement?

It is true that many infringing meta tag websites only want your click, and it does not matter to them what happens after you clicked their link. However, many infringing website owners do not stop there. They are trying to get visitors to their infringing websites, but they will do a lot to make these visitors stay.

That kind of infringers tries to make sure that visitors entering the website will be satisfied by what they see, read, watch and maybe even purchase. When searching for a brand name in search engines, one may expect that results suggested by search engines would have some linkage to that brand. When someone that searched for a brand name and clicked on search engine result link, gets to the linking page and this page looks nice (similar to professional website look and feel), with the brand logo and maybe some products, they are more likely to stay on the website. If they searched for this brand in order to purchase products, they might do that with an infringing website, and in this case infringing Meta Tags just cost your business a sale.

There are 3 types to this infringement mechanism:

The first one is to develop a website that can easily pass as legit, although it's not. Visitors might get confused and learn information or make purchase mistakenly thinking that this is formal information or original product purchase. Some of them never find out that they were exposed to invalid information or bought counterfeit goods. If something looks funny or they have problems with the product (or even delivery) they might also be angry at the brand, thinking that the mother company is at fault here.

Second type is to build the infringing website so it does not look like the state of the art, and product prices are too low to be true. In this case the infringing website owner wants accidental visitors to understand that they arrived to a counterfeit goods website. Some will stay and browse, and maybe decide that they prefer to buy the counterfeit product instead of searching for the original brand again in order to save time or money.

Third type of mechanism is less frequently used, because it usually involves competitors or other related legit businesses, knowingly or not. It is very simple: use competitors' brand name to promote your business. In search engines it looks like a result is connected to brand A (by using infringing Meta Tags) but when clicking on the link visitors get to brand A competitor's website directly or by re-direction (forwards the visitor to a different URL). Some visitors might decide to stay there and settle for a similar product sold by brand A's competitor for various reasons like saving search time, they do not distinguish between the 2 competing brands or because there's a special sale just for now (who would have guessed?) etc. In this case, you are losing customers and potential customers to your competitors and might lose them as customers forever.

Ghostbusters – fighting Meta Tag infringement

When fighting meta tag infringement you use the same weapons that you use to fight exposed content infringement. There are legal tools to take down infringing websites, effective also for meta tag infringement. You can also take down just the parts that are infringing your brand, including in the Meta Tags.

Most search engines have infringement report forms so you can report to them directly if someone is infringing your trademark through them. In order to do so you need to find those websites infringing your trademark in their Meta Tags.

It is practically impossible for 1 person or even dozens to check every available website's Meta Tags. Even if you do find some, who's to say that these are the ones that damage your brand and business the most?

That means that you need a reliable and robust monitoring system that automatically scans website code including Meta Tags (as well as other criteria) on a routine basis, as part of your brand protection strategy. This system should be able to rank meta tag infringement cases and advise on action prioritization to fight all those hidden infringements.