Trademark your brand Trademarking your brand protects your legal ownership. Even Google, the biggest name on the internet, cannot use its ‘Gmail’ brand in the UK because someone else already owns it.

Your brand – your domain

Your www. address should ideally be the same as your brand name. If that domain is taken, choose another that contains your brand name within in.

Purchase relevant ‘top level’ domains, such as com, co.uk, .eu, .info and .biz, to prevent ‘cybersquatting’ – use or abuse by someone else.

When PricewaterhouseCoopers consulting rebranded themselves as ‘Monday’, they only bought the .com domain.

For years, the co.uk domain with the same brand name displayed a photocopy of a hand performing a rude gesture, and proclaimed ‘We’ve got your name!’

Lock your domain

‘Locking’ your domain with your domain registrar prevents unauthorised transfer requests. Otherwise, someone else may gain temporary control of your domain by persuading your registrar that you have left the company and they have taken over.

Block the hackers

Having your site hacked into can harm your business and damage your reputation. If hackers gain access they may deface or replace your home page, or even delete files on your site – which could include your latest batch of orders.

Use secure passwords that are not in any dictionary. Make them hard to guess, and don’t write them down.If someone who leaves the company knows them, change the passwords. Use a secure ecommerce package for ordering, so that credit card details are encrypted. That way, if your site is hacked into, your customers will still be secure.

Brand your intellectual property

Claim your brand, and demonstrate your intention to protect it. Include your brand name and logo on every web page and in every downloadable document. Also, use the TM or R logo where appropriate. Aim to be first in searches for your brand

Optimise your home page for your brand name.

Use it at least three or four times in the page text. Include it in the page title, meta description and meta keywords tags, and in text links pointing from other pages to the home page.

Protect your copyright

Put a copyright notice on every site page and every downloadable document. Search Google for unique phrases used on your site, to see if anyone has copied them.

Unless they are partners or resellers, contact them with instructions to remove the content. If they refuse, get a solicitor to write a legal ‘cease and desist’ instruction. One online vendor copied images wholesale from The Gentleman’s Shop. When challenged, he insisted they were his own. Site owner Robert Johnston pointed out that the image sizes and names were unchanged. “The show stopper,” Johnston explains, “was that some images had our garden as a backdrop!” Faced with the evidence, the offender removed the images.

Search advertising

Your competitors may pay search engines to display their own advertisement to everyone who searches for you. This can be confusing for customers, as John Sollars of Stinkyink discovered. “Until recently, if you typed ‘Stinkyink’ into Google, an advert for one of our competitors appeared at the top”, he recalls. “We had customers phoning up asking where their order was, when they had ordered from the competitor.”

In the UK you can prevent advertising against your registered trademark, and Google, Yahoo! and MSN all have procedures for dealing with infringements.