By Stina Pilotti
Every minute, more than two million searches are made in Google. Appearing high in search rankings therefore becomes very important for companies in the struggle to reach customers and build their brands.
In the second installment of our three-part series on digital rights enforcement, Stina Pilotti, CSC’s Head of Digital IP Advisory Services, examines how brands can enforce their rights in online search.
With searching still the most popular activity online, your brand’s position in search results remains of paramount importance in the struggle to reach customers. What’s most important in search is how highly you are ranked and, of course, that you rank higher than competitors. Statistics show that 95.3% of search engine users never look beyond the first page of search results. If you’re on the second page you are, in effect, invisible. And because most people don’t scroll down but only look at the top part of the page, even a low placement on the first page gives a company a great disadvantage compared to listings “above the fold.”
Companies have spent years developing search engine optimization skills and keeping up with the latest algorithm updates. At the same time, fraudsters have also been honing their SEO skills and have succeeded in diverting traffic away from many legitimate sites to questionable and often bogus platforms.
What are your options if someone is infringing your brand in search? It depends whether the problems are in the search results or in sponsored/paid-for listings.
Search results. If people use your trademarked terms in keywords, there is little you can do to stop them. Google will not investigate or restrict the use of trademark terms in keywords at all, even if a trademark complaint is received. Microsoft will only investigate in certain jurisdictions, specifically Australia, Brazil, France, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Italy, New Zealand, Republic of Ireland, Singapore, and the United Kingdom. The way to fight back is to improve your own SEO performance, which is good brand-building practice anyway. Currently, the Google search algorithm gives increasing weight to your social media presence. So as well as traditional optimization, ensuring that you have a presence on channels like Twitter, Facebook and Google+ can also improve your rankings. Regularly posting material that’s relevant to your keyword can help push offending listings below the fold.
Sponsored and paid-for listings. The removal of sponsored listings in search engines is still a very hotly debated issue. There is a clear distinction in case law between the use of a competitor’s trademark as a keyword and the use of it in advertising text. This has shaped the way enforcement takes place in search.
The case law that has emerged is reflected in the way online providers have worded their rules and regulations and what they will and will not take action against. Both Microsoft and Google will investigate and may restrict the use of a trademark within ad text. Ads that use restricted trademarks in their text may not be allowed to run. This policy applies worldwide.
There is a difference between search engine liability and the liability of the advertiser who purchased the keyword and is responsible for the content of the ad. While courts have been reluctant to impose liability on search engines, this has not necessarily been the case for advertisers.
Auction sites. Although they have a narrower market than the major search engines, auction sites are also targeted by fraudsters. Platforms such as eBay, Amazon and Alibaba all have straightforward complaint procedures and in some cases protection processes, like eBay’s VeRO program and Alibaba’s Aliprotect. In our experience these sites are quick to respond, and well-founded complaints about infringing listings are usually successful.
Ultimately, enforcing your rights in search engine results is an excellent investment, because it contributes to your brand-building efforts while knocking fraudsters out of the way.
For more information on CSC’s enforcement services or to request a complimentary consultation with an online enforcement specialist, please visit cscglobal.com.
Further reading: This recent article in World Trademark Review explores one of the most urgent issues facing brands today: how do you protect your brand when its “digital footprint” is growing all the time?