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Trademarks, Copyright & SEO

seo trademarks(This is not legal advice, just observations and guestimations from an SEO insider.) While 2012 was a historic year for search optimization (read about Google Penguin), there has been just as much activity offline – yet underreported to say the least. In short, Google has taken down more websites and web pages than ever and is not slowing down.

Are you a trademark or copyright owner? The good news is that the search engines are really starting to take notice. And it makes sense. The Internet is essentially an electronic collection of words. Even content that is not word-based (such as an image or video) is tagged with words so that the search engines can find and index it. If the Internet is made of of words, and Google ranks sites based on word searches, then it makes sense they would start to pay more attention to the rights and protections associated with specific words and phrases.

Not long ago, Google and the USPTO entered into an agreement to make many USPTO products available to the public, including Patents (grants, published applications, assignments, classification information, and maintenance fee events) and Trademarks (registrations, applications, assignments, and TTAB proceedings).

Further, as the above chart illustrates, Google has reported a huge spike in the number of removal requests related to DMCA takedowns. Google has been noted by many in the industry as being as being extremely compliant with removal requests. So MANY searches have been affected that its becoming common place to see the Chilling Effects notices at the bottom of many competitive search results.

Are you seeing the big picture here? With Google offering USPTO management, complying with takedown requests and going as far as imposing an SEO penalty related to DMCA takedown requests. If sites are getting penalized for infringing on intellectual property, can a site get SEO credit for being registered with the USPTO – we guess probably so. In fact, we already know brand name anchors were part of the Penguin update(s).

At the end of the day, no matter how Google ends up getting there, users expect to see the brand owner’s at the top of the search results. For example, when we as consumers search for Rosetta Stone, we expect to see the manufacturer’s site to show up first, not affiliates or competitors’ sites. It just common sense.

With the Intellectual Property considerations now being weaved into the search engine algorithms, trademark and copyright issues should be a major concern for businesses at every level. As an SEO and Internet marketing agency, we have seen an uptick in the number of cease and desist letters sent and received by our clients. The bigger concern, however, is with the search engines. Imagine a competitor filing a DMCA complaint with Google, then Google complying and have a client web page or entire site “taken down” for important search results. If it’s happening to millions of web pages every week, it can happen to yours. Trademark Stuffing (phrase coined here folks), a particularly risky form of keyword stuffing, may be one of today’s riskiest forms Black Hat SEO techniques.

Here is the question of the day: Should you consider trademarking your brands? Yeah, you should! It’s a good idea for your business and may be once on the most important elements of your SEO strategy.

What are the takeaways / considerations here?

  1. Do not use Copyrighted material on your site without the proper permission.
  2. Research your targeted keywords – make sure they are truly keyword’s and not 3rd party brand names or Trademarks.
  3. Don’t stuff Trademarks in page titles with the intention of tricking or confusing users or the search engines, or would otherwise infringe on the Trademark owner
  4. Don’t stuff Trademarks into meta descriptions
  5. Don’t stuff Trademarks into your page text
  6. Pay extra close attention to Trademark usage in your pay-per-click campaigns
  7. Take steps to build and protect your own brand(s)