THE BLOG

Protect Your Online Reputation: an Issue of Presidential Proportions

21/12/2015 15:36 GMT | Updated 21/12/2016 10:12 GMT

Last week someone discovered that those trying to visit JebBush.com were automatically diverted to DonaldJTrump.com, the billionaire Republican candidate's registered campaign domain.

Bush's real presidential campaign website is found at Jeb2016.com, meaning someone bought JebBush.com (for £167,000, I might add) with the intention of taking people to Trump's site. Nobody yet knows why, but it may have done damage to Bush's reputation. Perhaps, to quote his competitor, he got Trumped.

Of course, reputation is important to these candidates, much like it's important to businesses. This is a lesson for business owners who want to help maintain control of how people perceive them. Domain names act almost as a quality-control filter; professional links will resonate well with potential customers who want assurances when looking for services or products online.

If, like Jeb Bush, someone pretends to represent your brand and purchases a similar domain name, you risk losing customers who will be unimpressed with being taken elsewhere - if they even realise, that is. Diversifying domain names acts as a shield that helps to stop other businesses from purchasing similar ones that could try to steal traffic. Buying variations of your domain name that you think your competitors might want, helps to keep you in greater control of your brand.

Donald Trump and his team are masters at safeguarding against what they call "predatory people" - those who might want to register domain names that attack the current presidential hopeful. In fact, as of August 2015, Trump Organization has 3,153 web addresses registered - including TrumpNetworkSucks.com, DonaldTrumpPonziScheme.com and ImBeingSuedByTheDonald.com. By owning these, Trump reduces the possibility of others registering them to shed him in a negative light. If you're a small business owner you won't need to register nearly as many as Trump, but it's worth considering buying a few domains you wouldn't want your competitors to own.

For larger brands, it can be tough to stay on top of their online identities; Taylor Swift had to threaten legal action when her childhood guitar teacher registered ITaughtTaylorSwift.com. Kanye West and Kim Kardashian will likely have to fork out a large sum if they want to own SaintWest.com on behalf of their newly-born son - that domain was recently registered by a production company.

It's worth registering other domain names in case your business expands into a different market, meaning you can keep consistency across your brand. For example, Donald Trump also owns addresses for businesses he may start in the future, including TrumpCoffeeBeans.com, TrumpIceCreamParlor.com, and TrumpDoll.com.

My advice to small businesses is to claim your digital identity by following a robust strategy that covers you now and in the future. For example, even if you may not plan to use certain social media platforms right away. However, you may want to consider creating a Facebook page or a Twitter page to help avoid someone else impersonating you or your business online; a small time investment might save you in the long-term.

If you're based in the UK and have a .co.uk domain extension, look at registering .uk., too. Again, this can help to protect your business from others using your name, and buying a .com extension is vital in case you eventually expand beyond the UK. Really, no small business has to go out and buy hundreds of domain names across their brands to help protect themselves. You may want to think about what domain names you would not want your closest competitor to have, and register those handful of names. A small investment of five to seven domain names could be sufficient to help ensure your core brand territory is covered. A small extra cost can also help protect your personal data, in an effort to help keep it inaccessible to competitors. The trick is to start small by focusing on your core online presence, and then protecting adjacent brand spaces such as on social media.

He may be a controversial figure, but if there's something all business owners should follow The Donald's lead on, it's protecting their online brand.