Trevor Little

New research has found that typosquatters are becoming increasingly adept at securing the most valuable brand-related domains, with the authors suggesting that many brands “do not know which domains they should target for reclaim”.

Timed to coincide with the Black Friday and Cyber Monday shopping season, brand protection specialist FairWinds Partners sought to ascertain the impact of typosquatted domains in terms of traffic patterns and potential lost revenues for internet retailers. For its research, the company selected 50 brands – whose names were not based on generic terms and did not represent houses of brands – from the Internet Retailer’s Top 500 Guide. The list, which focused on companies associated with holiday shopping and included such names as Abercrombie & Fitch, Amazon.com, Costco, Disney Store, Foot Locker, Home Depot, Nordstrom, Ralph Lauren, Staples, Target, Tory Burch, Toys ‘R’ Us, Under Armour, Urban Outfitters, Victoria’s Secret, Walgreens and Walmart. It then used DomainTools’ typo generator to create a list of ‘.com’ typos and, amongst other criteria, it discarded domains containing root terms that did not receive more than 1,000 Google searches a month or boast an Alexa rank or traffic score within a defined threshold. At the end of this analysis, 18% of the initial typosquatted domains were deemed of enough value to study.

Of the remaining set of high value ‘.com’ typosquatted domains, the headline finding was that more than 80% receive significant levels of traffic and contained phishing scams, malware, or pay-per-click advertising. Drilling down, 54% of the domains were pay-per-click sites, while 39% contained malware, ransomware, phishing, or all three. Only 8% contained relatively inconsequential content.

Worryingly, the report contends that a number of brands are playing catch-up in terms of ownership of key typosquatted domains. FairWinds Partners states that typosquatters own two-thirds of the pool of typo domains that are most valuable – while 34% of total observed traffic to typosquatted domains is routed through brand-owned typos, 66% is via third party-owned typos, “meaning that typosquatter-owned domains receive more traffic than the misspellings owned by brands themselves”. Nine of the studied brands did not own any of the typos that met the study’s criteria, including Nasty Gal, Rue La La, and Kate Spade. And while 14 brands, including Amazon.com and Bed, Bath & Beyond, owned more criteria-matching domains than squatters, the majority (33) owned fewer.

Of course, the criteria is somewhat subjective but it was designed to hone in on those with higher-traffic potential, as indicated by the number of Google searches, Alexa rankings and traffic scores. Based on this analysis, the report contends: “The likely issue is that brands do not know which domains they should target for reclaim.”

This then has a knock-on with respect to UDRP actions, the research noting that only 10% of domains awarded via the UDRP meet the study’s criteria for the most valuable typosquatted domains. It concludes: “The majority of domains targeted via UDRP are not worth the effort, time, or money involved in the reclaim process.”

The result adds up to a significant loss of potential revenue. Utilising the “average order size” and “conversion rate” statistics provided by the Internet Retailer for brands in question, the study estimates that the value of the traffic to the typo domains that are having a measurable impact is over $50 million dollars (a measure that does not take into account the cost of lost impressions, negative experience, and lost trust).

If the above is indeed the case, it makes for depressing reading for those tasked with fighting typosquatting. However, there are some positives that can be taken from the study.

The first is that a significant number of the domains studied (82%) did not meet the ‘valuable domain’ criteria used in the study. This suggests that the majority of typosquatted domains are not of significant consequence, enabling brands to more effectively target online brand protection spend if a similar analysis of traffic and web rankings is adopted. By doing so, counsel can ensure that efforts and resources are focused on the sites that really matter.

Such an exercise could also be a way to evaluate current defensive registration portfolios. Taking one example, Bed, Bath & Beyond, one of the companies boasting the most criteria-matching domains, also owned more than ten times the number that did not. Of course, the company may have taken a conscious decision to build up a significant portfolio in the face of rampant brand misuse, and may also have an enviable budget for online enforcement. However, for some a review exercise using this criteria may be an opportunity to free up spend for other areas of enforcement activity.

Finally, for those that currently do have strategies that enable them to target and recover the most impactful typosquatted domains, data backing this up (and the study estimates that the average value of a criteria-matching, third party-owned domain is $100,000) will prove a valuable tool when seeking budget or justifying current investment levels.

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