TypoSquatting: Ways to Protect your Brand

Just as design and usability issues are important elements to opening a store online, another element of web strategy of paramount importance is typosquatting. If you do not realize its implications now, someone else will and it will be too late. Headaches in reversing this trend should wake domain owners up to protect their coveted brand from bad spellers looking to profit.

Typosquatting AKA URL Hijacking consists of registering misspellings of a web address in the hope that visitors will visit their illegitimate alternate site and they will profit. Fat fingers especially on mobile devices can easily sneak an extra letter into a URL. A person not familiar with English might make an error trying to spell it phonetically. Non native English speakers are a prime target to drive to alternate sites. If that URL is not owned by you, then someone looking for your site might be visiting a cybersquatter's site.

Typosquatting is a type of Cybersquatting and has been around since the early days of the web, when opportunity knocked for tech savvy individuals to earn a quick buck, sometimes many bucks, by selling the domains they purchase to their rightful owners.

Hits the Big Brands

Large brands and names have been the targets of Cybersquatting (which is illegal ever since the introduction of the anti-cybersquatting consumer protection act). Names of brand and people include Bruce Springsteen, Madonna, Avon, and Hertz among the many.

A nice size crowd of Illegal activities have gathered underneath the Cybersquatting umbrella. Good thing there's an umbrella, as victims of typosquatting are getting soaked, so much so that Typosquatting is estimated to cost brands collectively hundreds of millions and almost half a billion in impressions annually.

Typosquatting Exposed

Sophos, a leading developer of online security hardware and software conducted an experiment in security by typing in one letter variations of the biggest names such as Google, Apple, Facebook and what did they find? By just applying mistakes with just one character in the real web address, they generated over 2,200 URLs.

Out of all the mis-typed domains, 80% of them led to bogus websites, which were set up to deceive those who had trouble typing mistake-free URLs. Now, out of these 80%, below 3% of them were set up to commit some form of phishing, fraud or hacking). Most were just about making money in some way.

Given just the above (and there's a lot more. Trust me) the time may have come to protect your brand by following the mini action plan below.

  • When beginning your registration process, you need to register the most commonly misspelled variations of your domain name. There are lots of tools out there. Domain Typo Finder is one you might find useful.

  • Be proactive about registering the most common alternate domain names. Registering domains is not cost prohibitive at 10-40 USD a piece, so do your research and register the the ones that are most common.

  • Get the tech team at your company to apply simple redirects to each alternate domain that is registered. This way, visitors will end up at your site even if they types the incorrect URL

  • Monitor your brands using a service that searches round the clock. These services use sophisticated algorithms that will help protect your brand against cybersquatters that threaten your trademarks and brand

  • Don't let others make money off your brand. This can also snowball to damage your reputation. There are lots of bad things that can happen.

Being proactive and having the knowledge can go far in helping to keep your brand and customers from this threat. Feel free to chime in in the comments section below. What do you do to protect your brand against cybersquatting?