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Emerson Direct and Smoke Away and the art of Typosquatting

Recently I was doing some searches on one of the products that Emerson Direct owns and markets,  Smoke Away. I was intrigued to find that I could do a search on some variations of the term “smoke away” i.e. “smok away” “smokesaway” and was able to come up with a) quite a few companies/competitors that use mispellings of that search term in the hopes that they can lure folks in to a completely different site via ppc and organci rankings and b) people who bought variations of the url www.smokeaway.com in the hopes of luring folks into a site that sells a completely different type of smoking cessation product. One of the worst examples of this is a company that ranks #2 and #1 organically in some of the SE’s for the term “Smoke Away” but doesn’t even have a product remotely similar with Smoke Away and…the term isn’t even in their URL! An underhanded but great job of SEO. But that’s a topic for another day. 

The above mentioned examples of URL hijacking are called Typosquatting. I’m sure you have read recently about some companies that were forced to give up the URL’s that they purchased because of rights violations in regard to the usage of these bad URL’s for profit. 

Typosquatting  is a form of cybersquatting which relies on mistakes such as typographical errors made by users when typing in the address into the browser. We have all done it. You think you have typed in an address properly, and something completely different pops up. What appears is generally a page full of  Google ad sense ads or some faux directory that looks like a directory but in reality are again, ad links and bogus content.

Generally, the victim site of typosquatting will be a frequently visited website.  An example of this would be typing in Goggle.com instead of Google. Try it right now and see for yourself.  The variations of this range from a common mispelling to adding a different extension onto the domain. i.e. adding .org when it should have been .com

Once on the typosquatter’s site, the user may also be tricked into thinking that they are in fact on the real site; through the use of copied or similar logos, website layouts or content. Sometimes competitors of the victim site will do this. I would be even more concerned about a site that resorts to this because this is a border line example of phishing.

Sometimes, the typosquatters will use the domains to distribute viruses, adware, spyware or other malware.  But generally these bottom feeders are either selling advertising to firms based on keywords similar to the misspelled word in the domain or are using it to run Google adsense.

The line between typosquatting and registering a brandable variant of a generic domain name blurs dependent on the circumstance of each situation but as I tell children, if you think it is wrong, then chances are, it is. A brandable variant of a branded term would seem to me like starting a company called Fored Cars or Fordcars when it so closely resemble the Ford Motor Company.

I suppose that’s what lawyers are there for, to sort through all of this. What  you really need to be made aware of though is, who is using your name and for what purpose, and are they making money off of it? As a marketer and a brand owner, you need to protect your brand all the time.

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Marc Meyer is a Digital and Social Media Strategist at DRMG. This is my personal blog where I share observations, thoughts and opinions that are all my own.

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September 2007
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