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When you’re busy managing your website’s day-to-day operations, the last thing you’re thinking about is your website’s domain name. There’s content to upload, search engine optimization (SEO) to perform, an audience to engage — and you bought a customized URL, so it’s yours to keep, right?
Unfortunately, it’s not. Domain names are purchased for a set period of time, after which you need to re-purchase it or risk someone else getting control in a maneuver known as “cybersquatting.” Believe it or not, cybersquatting examples include even the world’s biggest names.
Cybersquatting is “the act of registering, trafficking in, or using a domain name in bad faith,” according to UpCounsel.
Although domain names are cheap, they are sold on a first-come, first-served basis, so cybersquatters aim to profit from owning a URL that others will find desirable.
You’ll know your URL has been claimed by a cybersquatter if you see a parked website, a site “under construction,” or something with a clear “domain for sale” landing page. There are many cybersquatting examples out there, though big-name companies today make buying variations on their domain a priority before launching, especially if they have a strong trademark. Smaller business and website owners can be less savvy, though.
There are many ways that cybersquatting can hurt your website and, more significantly, your brand. In trying to safeguard your site, it’s important to be aware of the following concerns.
Once you no longer own that domain, you can’t control what it hosts. Cybersquatting examples show sites that are full of ads, say negative things about the original owner of the URL, host harmful content, or even just shut down.
If you can’t reach an agreement to buy the domain from the cybersquatter, you can start legal proceedings. In the U.S., the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act has provisions for suing, or you could start ICANN arbitration.
Your SEO ranking is based on a variety of factors, including the quality of content, volume of traffic, and site reputation. If you change the URL, domain, or subdomain, your SEO ranking will take a hit.
And if you rely on a steady flow of organic traffic to run your business or blog, then any changes or issues with your URL can cause the traffic to dry up. People who navigate to your site will see changes and might think you’re no longer operating — or worse, the cybersquatter might mimic your site but mess with your content.
If you’ve been a victim of cybersquatting, take heart — even Google has fallen prey. Sanmay Ved was able to purchase Google.com for just $12 in September 2015, though they quickly bought it back, The Independent reported.
Celebrities often fall victim, too. Jennifer Lopez filed a successful lawsuit in 2009 when a website posted indecent photos of her on JenniferLopez.biz, according to Reuters. Paris Hilton discovered websites using her name when she registered parishilton.com, reported Domain Name Wire, while Madonna discovered madonna.com was hosting objectionable images of her while also selling adult content, reported CNET. Even the estate of Jimi Hendrix won a cybersquatting case, according to BBC News.
Businesses aren’t immune: there are cybersquatting examples involving names like BBC News, Dell, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Kodak, Verizon, and eBay. In fact, the World Intellectual Property Organization reported a record number of cybersquatting cases in 2017.
Some platforms and hosts make it easier to keep your URL by sending notifications when time is almost up. When you buy a plan from WordPress.com, for example, your subscription is automatically renewed, which reduces the risk of losing your domain.
However you keep track of things, it’s important to know the date your domain will be up for renewal to make sure you keep it safe and under your control.
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