‘The domains were available’

A local general contractor has taken an unusual step to make sure his firm’s website comes up at the top of online search results. But although the move might be a savvy web strategy, it has riled other contractors who say it violates the spirit of fair competition.

Classic Kitchens of Virginia, a Goochland general contracting firm that remodels kitchens and other rooms, has registered domain names of competitors with more obscure extensions instead of the typical “.com.”

For example, www.gracestreet.biz links to Classic Kitchens, not the website for Grace Street Home Renovations. Similarly, www.frankolafratta.info goes to Classic Kitchens instead of remodeler Mark Franko’s website. Classic Kitchens also registered domain names similar to Lane Built and HomeMasons.

Matt Gunn, a vice president and co-owner at Classic Kitchens, said he registered the domains to boost his search engine optimization.

“I found out they were available by searching the domain names, and I was hoping that having the same keywords will help attract views to our site,” Gunn said, adding that he’s registered more than 100 domains. (Not all of those are competitor’s names.)

That’s important because most prospective remodeling clients begin their buying process by researching options online, Gunn said.

He said he does not think potential customers will type in the web address of his competitors and accidentally arrive at his site.

Two competitors have emailed Gunn to express their displeasure, but he said he is not disabling the links.

Ed Lane, founder and owner of Lane Homes & Remodeling, said he wants to talk with Classic Kitchen about it but is waiting to assemble some other contractors because he thinks it will have a better impact if they all go at once.

(The sites www.lanebuilt.net, www.lanebuilt.co and www.lanebuilt.biz all bounce to Classic Kitchen’s website.)

“I’ve always appreciated and enjoyed a friendly and honest competitor,” Lane said. “We all talk and share stories, but for somebody to be that desperate – maybe it’s the economy – but just to get some additional business and do it in an underhanded way, it hurts that someone would do that.”

Mark Franko, a co-owner of Franko Lafratta Construction, isn’t pleased, either.

“It would seem that a bit of their M.O. is brand confusion,” Franko said.

When asked whether the move was just a savvy maneuver by a competitor, Franko said no. “This is clearly not what I would expect from a professional organization.”

The strategy is probably legal, as long as customers are not trying to get to one company’s website and accidentally ending up at another, said Chris Gatewood, a lawyer who works on copyright and trademark issues. But courts are still working through such issues, Gatewood said, including what the online industry calls cyber squatting.

“It’s certainly a relatively bold SEO strategy, and something I think is not commonly done,” Gatewood said. “How it plays out depends on whether people are confused or not. … If someone is looking for one company and unwittingly ending up at another, and had a search diverted by that, then there may be some consumer confusion.”

Aaron Kremer is the BizSense editor. Please send news tips to [email protected]

A local general contractor has taken an unusual step to make sure his firm’s website comes up at the top of online search results. But although the move might be a savvy web strategy, it has riled other contractors who say it violates the spirit of fair competition.

Classic Kitchens of Virginia, a Goochland general contracting firm that remodels kitchens and other rooms, has registered domain names of competitors with more obscure extensions instead of the typical “.com.”

For example, www.gracestreet.biz links to Classic Kitchens, not the website for Grace Street Home Renovations. Similarly, www.frankolafratta.info goes to Classic Kitchens instead of remodeler Mark Franko’s website. Classic Kitchens also registered domain names similar to Lane Built and HomeMasons.

Matt Gunn, a vice president and co-owner at Classic Kitchens, said he registered the domains to boost his search engine optimization.

“I found out they were available by searching the domain names, and I was hoping that having the same keywords will help attract views to our site,” Gunn said, adding that he’s registered more than 100 domains. (Not all of those are competitor’s names.)

That’s important because most prospective remodeling clients begin their buying process by researching options online, Gunn said.

He said he does not think potential customers will type in the web address of his competitors and accidentally arrive at his site.

Two competitors have emailed Gunn to express their displeasure, but he said he is not disabling the links.

Ed Lane, founder and owner of Lane Homes & Remodeling, said he wants to talk with Classic Kitchen about it but is waiting to assemble some other contractors because he thinks it will have a better impact if they all go at once.

(The sites www.lanebuilt.net, www.lanebuilt.co and www.lanebuilt.biz all bounce to Classic Kitchen’s website.)

“I’ve always appreciated and enjoyed a friendly and honest competitor,” Lane said. “We all talk and share stories, but for somebody to be that desperate – maybe it’s the economy – but just to get some additional business and do it in an underhanded way, it hurts that someone would do that.”

Mark Franko, a co-owner of Franko Lafratta Construction, isn’t pleased, either.

“It would seem that a bit of their M.O. is brand confusion,” Franko said.

When asked whether the move was just a savvy maneuver by a competitor, Franko said no. “This is clearly not what I would expect from a professional organization.”

The strategy is probably legal, as long as customers are not trying to get to one company’s website and accidentally ending up at another, said Chris Gatewood, a lawyer who works on copyright and trademark issues. But courts are still working through such issues, Gatewood said, including what the online industry calls cyber squatting.

“It’s certainly a relatively bold SEO strategy, and something I think is not commonly done,” Gatewood said. “How it plays out depends on whether people are confused or not. … If someone is looking for one company and unwittingly ending up at another, and had a search diverted by that, then there may be some consumer confusion.”

Aaron Kremer is the BizSense editor. Please send news tips to [email protected]

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Cindy
Cindy
11 years ago

Someone with ethics like that will probably stick it to the homeowner, so thanks for the warning. I only patronize highly ethical companies with my hard earned money.

Greg
Greg
11 years ago

So these competitors are upset – why? Because they did not want to go to the expense of securing their marketing on the internet. And what is the next step? A law suit because of their lack of forsight and/or because they don’t want to spend money in a competitive enviornment? What a travesty – because some lame judge may one day rule they have a case. Just be careful what you wish for. Property rights are being distinguished because of greedy (yes – GREEDY) short sided business owners who can’t see the forrest for the Trees. The end result… Read more »

D. P. Bullington
D. P. Bullington
11 years ago

I have recently worked with a few local construction companies in establishing paid search advertising based on keywords reflecting the competition. I have even spoken at regional software user groups on the subject. It has worked very well in driving web site traffic. It is my personal observation that the construction industry lacks in Internet/social media expertise and it leaves the door open for those in the know or those who fall into a good idea. The problem with domain names is that it could open up the entity to trademark litigation or dispute resolution with ICANN. See http://www.icann.org/en/udrp/udrp.htm for… Read more »

Tom Lawrence
Tom Lawrence
11 years ago

There is certainly a distinction between cyber squatting, link aggregation, use of domain names as directed competition, and a useful search-optimizing domain name strategy. Cyber Squatting would certainly apply if the Classic Kitchens intended to capture to domains in an attempt to crowd-out their competitors or exact speculative profits from the purchase. Link Aggregation for search engine optimization by cross-connection or by accidental typing would apply if the domains didn’t forward to the Classic Kitchens site. Using domain names like kitchenremodeling.com (or other top-level domains) or richmondkitchens.com or whatnot would certainly be something everyone could understand. Capturing the domains at… Read more »

Andrew Miller
Andrew Miller
11 years ago

As D.P. said, multiple domains showing the same content will ultimately harm your search engine rankings because Google (or your search engine of choice) will be forced to decide which copy of the content is the “most relevant”. The other copies will be filtered out of the search results quickly. It’s not a winning strategy in the long run That being said, Classic Kitchens did implement the redirects in such a way that duplicate content is not an issue here. Because there is no unique content (or any content, for that matter) on any of the squatted domains, they will… Read more »

OldContractor
OldContractor
11 years ago

I have to agree with D.P. Burlington. The use of paid keyword search seems more appropriate. Using your competitors name in keyword search results and offer yourself as their better competitor is the basis for comparative shopping and not squatting as with a top level domain. Even more bold would be to optimize some pages using your competitors name that would yield generic search results as comparison. Snaking top level domains because your competitor has failed to secure them may be clever, but the major search engine algorithms might just discover the ploy and ban the main site. A high… Read more »

Bill Brown
Bill Brown
11 years ago

From Wikipedia (which is correct on this issue):
“Cybersquatting (also known as domain squatting), according to the United States federal law known as the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act, is registering, trafficking in, or using a domain name with bad faith intent to profit from the goodwill of a trademark belonging to someone else. ”

I suggest the offended businesses each contact their attorneys to determine their exact rights and available alternatives.

Evan Owen
Evan Owen
11 years ago

Andrew, you are absolutely correct. 1.) A simple redirect will not boost search engine rankings. Content is king when it comes to getting high quality SE rankings. It is estimated that there are well over 100 variables to determine your ranking and that doesn’t even take into account algorithm variables associated with content groups. Google Instant has also thrown in another level of complexity as search engine results can be different before and after clicking the “Search” button. 2.) It is unlikely that anyone would manually type into their browser lanebuilt.co or lanebuilt.net for that matter thus the likelihood of… Read more »

Chris Leone
Chris Leone
11 years ago

Buying up a bunch of domain names and redirecting them to your site will have zero effect on your search rankings UNLESS they were established domains – meaning they had content and links pointing to them. If he’s simply buying brand new domain names that were never used before, they won’t have any impact whatsoever on search rankings. The reason is simple: it’s just way too easy to spam and take advantage. At $8 a domain/year, a medium or large company could easily afford to buy thousands and thousands of keywords rich domain URL’s and just have them point to… Read more »

Doug B.
Doug B.
11 years ago

Chris is right. Having other domains redirect to his main site isn’t going to improve his search engine ranking. He’d do a lot better with a link building campaign, and listing his site with Google Local and Yahoo Local. I don’t even see his site in the first 5 pages of Google Local’s listing for the term “richmond remodeling”. He thinks he’s found a shortcut to high rankings, but there’s no magic bullet. You have to put in the effort and time to get your rankings up.

ileneg
ileneg
11 years ago

Forgetting about SEO and whether or not it is “the right” or “nice” thing to do, it is an interesting article w/a few learning opportunities for those of use who or advise business’ on purchasing domain names. Assuming the other companies have trademarked (or whatever you have to legally do) their business names, I’d call my lawyer w/a cease and desist letter in mind. I mean assuming they have themselves protected it’s no different than using a big companys’ name, right? I’m not sure “trademark” is the right word but what I’m trying to say is that we can’t buy… Read more »

Andrew Miller
Andrew Miller
11 years ago

CKV already has a nice looking site, but I can think of a lot better ways to spend $800 (100 domains * $8 each) which is a conservative estimate I’m sure: – Hire a quality copywriter to write a series of how-to articles or other useful content for your site or to guest post on another respected site. – Hire an analyst to test and refine different landing pages for Google AdWords traffic. – Hire an email marketing specialist to develop a regular client newsletter with useful info. – Buy targeted advertising on local, relevant sites (like YoungHouseLove.com or a… Read more »

Richard Coughlan
Richard Coughlan
11 years ago

Aaron,

Thank you for the case study. I’ll integrate into the discussion going on in my business ethics class at UR this semester. It will be interesting to see what tomorrow’s tech-savvy leaders think about the actions of Mr. Gunn.

Chris Leone
Chris Leone
11 years ago

Richmond business owners need to be made aware that this approach will not only bear no fruit, but it risks getting your site banned from Google altogether (it is, after all, a common spam strategy and Google knows how to look for it).

Tread carefully…

Bob Richmon
Bob Richmon
11 years ago

I really don’t think Mr Gunn intended any intentional harm, as this company is a 1st class organization who have worked very hard to get where they are today. It might be a good idea not to use the names which are close to the contractors he may want to work with in the future.

Andrew Miller
Andrew Miller
11 years ago

Bob, I’m not sure I agree that harm wasn’t intended. Domain squatting is similar to buying a yellow pages listing using your competitor’s name and listing your phone number instead. It causes confusion among consumers and doesn’t just happen by accident. We dealt with hundreds of cases of trademark infringement via domain squatting at a previous job. Our in-house counsel sent dozens of cease and desist letters and we slogged through a handful of ICANN proceedings to get control of domains that spammers and scammers had bought to trick our customers. It’s a big business for spammers and is impossible… Read more »

jay moreno
jay moreno
11 years ago

Seems like a waste of time/money to me – they would have been much better off creating micro optimized sites targeting specific geo-targeted keywords.

This strategy is far from savvy – it wont generate traffic from Google unless the the setup is configured differently – the only traffic they will see them getting is low conversion/high bounce rate traffic being generated from the small amount of media coverage they are getting right now.

Jeff Miller
Jeff Miller
11 years ago

As someone who has known Matt Gunn on both a personal and professional level for the past few years, I find it hard to believe that Classic Kitchens would not have a high sense of fair play. Anyone who has visited their place of business would quickly surmise that they are quite successful and is a company that does not have to resort to “legerdomain” to be successful.

Jeff Miller
Jeff Miller
11 years ago

I have known the people at Classic Kitchens for several years and find them both highly ethical and quite successful at what they do. They have no need to employ any form of “legerdomain” to gain a competitive edge.

Kevin Anderson
Kevin Anderson
11 years ago

What a joke. So we have concluded that what Classic Kitchens essentially did is pay around $1000 for some negative publicity for the owner and will actually have no benefit to him as these sites will never show up in a Google Search. This has to rank in the top 5 of idiotic Richmond business decisions of 2010 along with French hiring the graffiti artist and the think-tank “to ponder the problems of Richmond” started by Eugene Trani.

Mary
Mary
11 years ago

Legal, yet dirty and shameful. Classic Kitchens should go sit in the corner and think about what they’ve done.

Will
Will
11 years ago

Sounds like they are in desperate need to make payments on their monstrosity of a building if they are stooping to this level.

Evan Owen
Evan Owen
11 years ago

I’d highly encourage Matt Gunn voluntarily do the following:

1.) Transfer ownership of the domain names in question to his competitors.
2.) Issue a sincere and public apology / press release.
3.) Hopefully have Richmond Biz Sense pick up these actions and report on them

There is a way to turn this negative into a positive.

Gardner Meadows
Gardner Meadows
11 years ago

If someone was online and got redirected to Classic Kitchens then they’ve been done a favor. I’ve dealt with Classic Kitchens, their people and finished product is second to none. Anyone in the market for a kitchen remodel will end up having quotes from mulitple contractors anyway.
Stop all the whining. If your business had any online presence that was generated revenue then you already would have these domains registered.

Bobby
Bobby
11 years ago

Blah, blah, blah. Bunch of wining little snits. They should be flattered that they think enough of their competitors to employ that strategy and embarrassed that they did not have their own well thought out internet marketing strategy to anticipate and prevent this from happening. It is an aggressive strategy, but it is not unethical or shameful. No apologies necessary Mr. Gunn. Careful taking free advise from consultants who don’t have a job. Maybe if their employers where more agressive in their marketing efforts they would still be gainfully employed.

Kevin Anderson
Kevin Anderson
11 years ago

No one is saying Classic Kitchens does bad work. I know from first hand experience that they are quite good at what they do. However, that doesn’t change the fact that doing this was a waste of time and money, as well making them look foolish. Good marketing strategy? Hardly, it would be a good marketing strategy if the sites actually showed up in a search–but they don’t. Not one customer will be gleaned from this. How many people out there looking for a kitchen remodel are going to type in “www.frankolafratta.info?” How many people out there EVER go directly… Read more »

Catherine Todd
Catherine Todd
11 years ago

Those competitors could have and should have purchased all the derivatives domain names that related to their businesses. How can you fault someone for buying what is available? I own almost all derivatives of my business names and cheerfully pay the price without complaint. I was asked to pay $2,000.00 for a derivative of one of my first domain names and I learned the hard way. I didn’t pay it, but since they are “squatters” they don’t show up in the search engines, I do. Paying annual fees for domain names is a cost of doing business. Mine cost me… Read more »

Catherine Todd
Catherine Todd
11 years ago

After reading through many of the comments, I think the one from Andrew Miller is probably the best. (There were others that appeared to be written by real lawyers or analysts, that I couldn’t quite undestand, but they too were good). I will use some of the techniques. He’s also quite a peacemaker. Wish he were part of my team. Andrew, thanks! What kind of work do you do? [email protected] PS: I will still buy all the domain name derivatives of my company names. Andrew Miller on September 14th, 2010 10:03 am CKV already has a nice looking site, but… Read more »

Catherine Todd
Catherine Todd
11 years ago

Sorry, I meant I will do *some* of the items listed on Andrew’s comment. “Cease and desist” what? That’s ridiculous. No need to hire an attorney to respond to those letters” that the contractors will probably never send. And for what? All one of them did was purchase a domain name that was available. All these people saying “hire an attorney” must BE attorneys or not know the COST of attorneys. If the guys wouldn’t cough up $8.00 for domain name derivatives, what makes you think they will “hire an attorney” to write a letter? LOL, contractors use hammers, not… Read more »

manderson insurance company
manderson insurance company
11 years ago

Jeanine FAIL?!

Sternn
Sternn
11 years ago

It appears we have a large group of posters here who are not up to date on the current law regarding this very practice. First, it will have absolutely no effect on his Google rank. The adult industry used to use this as a common practice, but it has since been sorted by all major search engines. The best he can hope for is someone to type in the wrong address by accident. Then again, that is called cybersquatting (a sub-set called typosquatting to be precise). It is illegal. You can file a complain with either the registrar or Internic… Read more »

timn
timn
11 years ago

Stemn, Personally, I am not up to speed on legal or illegal practices on what was being discussed in this article, as there was never a need to research this. Thank You for the info. Bottom line is they crossed the line and it was unethical. It doesn’t surprise me that it is illegal though. Most shady tactics are. If this is acceptable to the owner of the business that was guilty of such a practice, then what other underlying “unethical” business practices do they participate in? That is the real question in my mind.

Chris D.
Chris D.
11 years ago

It is one thing to buy domains of other companies, but to buy the domains and link them to your own website is not right, it is illegal