Simplifying Legal Stuff

WITH ATTORNEY FAITH MITTON

Article: Your Search-Engine-Optimized Domain Name Is Killing Your Brand

Disclaimer: This content is for general legal education purposes only and shouldn’t not be relied upon as legal advice specific to your situation. If you need legal advice, consult a licensed attorney.

SEO is all the rage these days, and with good reason. If we need information about something, 90% of us will probably turn to our favorite search engine to get the tea on that topic. And unless we’re really pressed, most of us don’t get past page 2 of the search results.

 

So to get a website to appear more highly on the search results, popular thinking is that the website’s domain name should correspond to the keywords that people are searching for. This is called search engine optimization (SEO).

 

As an example, if your business sells tasty mini cupcakes, an SEO domain name would be tastyminicupcakes.com. Using this domain name makes it easy for people to find you online because the domain name lines up with their search terms. Makes perfect sense, until you consider these 2 things:

laptop, wordpress, wordpress design-593673.jpg

2 Problems With Search Engine Optimized Domain Names

1. They’re weak trademarks 

SEO domain names are awful trademarks. (And if you didn’t know already, it is possible to  trademark a domain name. Amazon.com is pretty famous example of a domain  name with a  federal trademark.)

What’s a trademark, and why should you care about it?

Trademarks are brand identifiers that are protected by the law. They tell people who’s behind a product or service, whether it’s being offered online or elsewhere. Examples of trademarks include names, logos, and slogans.

Being protected by the law means that trademarks function as a sword and shield. As a sword, trademarks can be wielded to prevent others from using confusingly similar brand identifiers. As a shield, trademarks demonstrate your legal rights to use your brand identifiers without interference.

In the United States, there are different kinds of trademarks: common law trademarks, state trademarks, and federal trademarks. But federal trademarks are most important for online businesses because they’re the only type of trademark that provides nationwide protection.

To register a federal trademark, you’ll need to file an application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, showing (among other things) that your brand identifier doesn’t just describe what you do.

Think about it: trademarks are supposed to be a sword, so if the USPTO approved descriptive trademarks all the time, the first company to get a federal trademark for describing what it does could prevent all its competitors from describing themselves the same way. That first company would shut down its entire industry, and that wouldn’t be good.

That’s why the USPTO thinks that descriptive trademarks are weak trademarks. It is possible to convince the USPTO to give you a federal registration for something that’s descriptive, but only after you’ve been using the mark for 5 years and can show that the mark has acquired distinctiveness: in other words, you’ll need to prove that people recognize the mark as identifying a particular company instead of just describing a concept.

Examples of descriptive marks that were eventually able to get federal trademark protection include Sports Illustrated® and TV Guide®

 

But it’s not at all easy to prove acquired distinctiveness. And you’ll spend a lot of time and money trying to convince the USPTO to see things your way because no one is entitled to a federal registration for a descriptive mark.

Maybe you’re thinking to yourself: “So what? I’ll never apply for a trademark for my domain name anyway. I’d rather improve my search engine rankings with an optimized domain name.”

Whether you apply for a federal trademark or not, start out with a distinctive name and build your brand around that. New online businesses pop up everyday, and you need to make yours stand out from the rest – otherwise no one is going to remember you.

So think carefully about how to make yourself memorable. Your brand identifiers should tell your unique story that draws your target market to your brand. This includes choosing a domain name that isn’t descriptive.

  

2. They can be confusing for customers 

Sometimes, a company will choose a business name that is unique & could be a strong trademark, but use a descriptive domain-name for SEO purposes.

Seems smart, but this could ultimately backfire. Most of us think that the name of a company and its domain name are the same. So imagine the confusion when your users click on the SEO domain name and but then see a different name (your company’s name) on the website. They might not be sure they’re in the right place. Some people might investigate a little, but others will just go back to search results and choose another website. Is it worth it to lose those potential customers?

Plus, if someone is looking for your website in a search engine and the SEO domain name keeps coming up instead of a domain name that clearly identifies your company, that’s another potential way to lose folks. Of course, you could maintain two domain names (the SEO domain name and a domain name that reflects the name of your business) and redirect users from the business domain name to the SEO domain name. But you’d be complicating your life unnecessarily & still potentially confusing people. Keep it simple!

Wrapping It Up

Instead of using an SEO domain name, here are 2 ways to optimize your website for search engines:

  1. Create lots of quality content that incorporates long-tail keywords organically. Long-tail keywords are those that contain at least 3 words which are very specific to what you’re selling (e.g., “elegant dresses for formal events”). One great way to incorporate long-tail keywords is by posting a regular blog that answers questions or discusses topics that your target audience wants to read about anyway. The more often you post to your website, the more search engines will trust your site & the higher your site will rank in search results.

  2. Get backlinks. Interact with others on the web who are doing something similar to what you do and build relationships with them. When you post quality content, the people/companies that you have relationships with may link to your posts or pages on their website. This is called a backlink. The more backlinks your website has, the more search engines will trust your site & the higher your site will rank in search results.
 
I’m no SEO expert – just a lawyer who runs an online business & understands the challenges of growing one.

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About The Content Creator

Faith Mitton, Esq.

Faith is a lawyer on a mission to simplify legal stuff for entrepreneurs so that they don’t have to stress about how to protect themselves & their businesses. She’s the founder and managing attorney of Mitton Law Firm, PLLC – a boutique law practice based in NYC that helps small businesses nationwide to protect their intellectual property with trademarks and copyrights. When she’s not practicing law, you can usually catch her jamming to classic soul music, taking long walks, or rewatching The Office for the millionth time.

About The Content Creator

Faith Mitton, Esq.

Faith is a lawyer on a mission to simplify legal stuff for entrepreneurs so that they don’t have to stress about how to protect themselves & their businesses. She’s the founder and managing attorney of Mitton Law Firm, PLLC – a boutique law practice based in NYC that helps small businesses nationwide to protect their intellectual property with trademarks and copyrights. When she’s not practicing law, you can usually catch her jamming to classic soul music, taking long walks, or rewatching The Office for the millionth time.

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