Whenever your brand is searched for on Google and other search engines, the consumer not only ends up on your website and channels. To what extent competitors unlawfully take advantage of your brand and how you can protect yourself is something you can read about here.
Trademarks: why they are important
Brand names and trademarks are valuable properties. They safeguard the awareness of a company and the trust that has been gained from customers. But third-party sellers can try to use your brand for their own purposes. In the real world, this involves mainly counterfeit products, which criminals use to snatch sales away from the brand’s owner and to harm their reputation.
Counterfeit products are naturally also offered in every form on the Internet. These include spam emails or banner advertising which features the brand’s name but that navigates the user to a website imitating the original online shop. It may also be the case that third-party sellers register a domain featuring a term from the brand in the name or a variant thereof with a typo.
But brand abuse also takes other forms, like so-called ad hijacking. In this case, affiliates (websites with ads which link to an advertising company) take over the original text of the Google ad from a brand-name company. Afterward, they offer slightly more than the brand-name company and, as a result, take a higher ranking in the Google hit list. The consumer who clicks on this ad then initially ends up on the affiliate website and is navigated from there to the website of the brand’s owner. This allows the affiliate to rake in fees, which the brand’s owner would have saved if the consumer was led directly to their website.
When companies protect their brand and review the measures taken, they are securing sales and customers’ trust.
How you can protect your brand from abuse on the Internet
Monitor closely how your brand is being used on the Internet. Take measures that allow you to limit any possible abuse:
- Register your brand name. Register a domain with the brand names or check the legal parameters if the domain name is already taken. Also think of social media channels like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Wherever possible, let the authenticity of your channel be verified.
- Work closely with your business partners. Determine precisely the rules on how your business partners and middlemen may name your brand. Agree to who may bid on which brand terms with Google Ads. Place backlinks on and for both parties’ websites to reinforce the original websites.
- Reinforce the visibility of your company’s own presence. Publish a list of your social media channels on your website and link to these. Of course, link all social media accounts to your company website too. Register your company website and all your websites featuring brand names in Web catalogues and link collections. Generate an industry listing with Google Maps to increase your visibility during local searches. Use your brand name in image file names to ensure your brands are considered during Google image searches to a higher degree.
- Find out if your brand is being abused. Analyse whether your Google ads achieve a visibility of at least 90 per cent with the respective brand keywords or if the ad positions are taken by the competition. Check if the share of affiliate traffic to your website significantly increases. Use brand monitoring tools (see below).
- Take consistent action against brand abuse. If you have identified a competitor who is misusing your brand, demand that they stop. Report the abuse to the social media platforms and search engines, such as via this form for Google.
Brand monitoring tools: how you can monitor your brand on the Net
Brand monitoring tools take over the monitoring of search engine hits and online marketplaces for you. Wherever the brand is being abused, such as in ads that lead to a competitor’s website, the tools set out an alarm.
Here is a selection of brand monitoring tools:
How far can trademark protection go?
Generally speaking, brands may be named and used by competitors, also in Google ads. This was established back in 2011 by the European Court of Justice (C-323/09). The reason: in this way, an alterative to a brand-name product can be advertised. However, it must be made clear to consumers who the owner of the ad is. Additionally, the brand may not be harmed or “watered down”, such as if the competitor products are not sufficiently different from the brand-name products.
The extent of a brand’s protection was decided on by the European Court of Justice at the beginning of 2020 in a case between the pay-TV broadcaster Sky and a cloud provider by the name of SkyKick (C-371/18). Sky wanted to prevent SkyKick from using its name, as the brand is also protected in the area of computer software. However, the judges saw this as going too far. It is not seen as bad faith when a brand is registered for many areas of protection. This also applies to a company that is not yet active in the respective areas. But, if after five years the respective products and services are still not offered, the brand’s protection in this area can be cancelled.