Online Marketing Perils

by SMD 

A common strategy for online businesses is to optimize pages to capture search engine traffic on specific keyword phrases. On another one of my sites I have done that, optimizing for the name of most of the major car rental companies. Last week I received the following in my inbox:

To Whom It May Concern:

It has come to our attention that your site [] is using our company name to increase your rankings. If you would like to continue to use our name, we ask that you link any text which refers to XXXX Car Rental to our site []. If not, we request that you remove all mention of XXXX from your domain. If neither is done within 30 days, we will turn this issue over to our legal department. If you have any question, feel free to contact me.

Being a former hockey player, my first reaction was; I’ll show you and set up some kind of googlebowling campaign. You know, what bugs me is not that they don’t want me to optimize pages using their name, that is completely understandable, what bugs me is the threat of the ‘legal department’. And also, the idea that it’s okay to do something bad enough to involve the ‘legal department’ but it’s completely okay if we can squeeze a backlink or two out of it. So, your lawyers are willing to look the other way if they can get a bit of SEO juice out of the offense?

I headed over to Web Master World and started this thread to see if any other web marketers have had the same experience. This reply by HttpWebWitch was probably the best:

…had the same thing happen to me, or rather, to a former employer. A major pharmaceutical company made a similar request. They wanted us to remove all references to their drug.

I’m sure what sparked it was that our page – a medical article written by a prominent surgeon – was ranking higher in Google than they were.

We did not remove the drug name or company’s name from our page. nor did we even offer to link to their site. Instead we put an asterisk* beside their name in the copy linked to a footnote showing the proper trademark citation. Having made those changes, we replied to their lawyers and asked them to review the site again. They never replied. The matter went away.

* CorpoDrug is a registered trademark of ABC Pharma Inc

Another reponse that was interesting suggested that it could be trademark violation to add a company name to your site’s meta tags.

After I cooled down a bit, I just removed all the references to XXXX from the site and moved on with business. It’s clearly not worth any type of fight for me on this issue. My site has had very little traffic from their name as a keyword. It isn’t even worth a reply email pointing out the silliness of simultaneous legal threat and link mongering. I didn’t remove all the other car rental company names or other company names from other sites. I figured there are too many companies who don’t care or won’t bother, for me to remove all of them without being asked.

In general it has been a big-time heads up about doing business online. In general my approach to legal matters has always been the, severely naïve, belief that everyone was reasonable and fair and if I was too then nothing bad would happen. But I can’t help thinking, what if they didn’t send a warning letter? What if they just launched a law suit and I was under the gun for something without even realizing that I had done anything wrong?

That would be pretty scary, especially since all of my online businesses and assets are in my personal name. I’m begining to get why Robert Kiyosaki says that the rich don’t want to own anything, they want to have control of companies. As my online business continues to grow, it is only reasonable to expect this kind of thing to happen again.

Watch for my next article when I’ll tell you what my partner and I did to prevent being in a vulnerable legal position like this again. If you have a business, especially an online one where you could get sued from so many different directions, you’ll want to follow step.

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2 Responses to “Online Marketing Perils”

  1. WW on June 12th, 2007 4:08 pm

    As someone who runs a store online, one of our issues with other sites ranking hire than ours for our brand is the perception by tech novices that that website is the company or has some close affiliation. Most of the issue for us is protecting the brand.

  2. mysearchis on June 12th, 2007 4:08 pm

    EXCELLENT articel! This is very important. I should probably go back through my site and make sure I have all the trademark info up. I normally do link to the companies that I use meta tags for though. I wish you had a trackback for this article. Also my name would not fit in the name section.

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