Davey and Goliath

I recently was shown a letter from a national brand to one of its local retailers prohibiting them from using the brand’s name in their site URLs. I am sure most of the retailers would have no idea why they received this letter but for those in the know this is a shot across the SEO bow. To me this was a clear case of a big brand fearing that a little guy is going to outrank them in search results for their key terms.

Besides being nearly impossible to enforce, this kind of aggressive posture can do nothing but backfire. It’s only a matter of time before a pissed off retailer posts a copy of this letter for everybody on the Web to see and give the brand a nice black eye in front of one of its most important constituencies. The thing I don’t get is what’s the difference between a supermarket putting up a URL like www.safeway.com/pepsi and advertising in the paper that they sell Pepsi (FYI Pepsi is not the brand)?

If I were a national brand wouldn’t I want to help my distributors sell as much of my product as possible? Instead of sending cease and desist letters, how about giving your partners some free SEO/SEM advice?

And for those of you still playing the Google Trends game todays Trendy Word of the Day = trojan.win32.starfield

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15 Response Comments

  • David Mihm  December 17, 2007 at 6:31 am

    Even better than ‘backfiring,’ Andrew, I can’t wait for enterprising SEOs who AREN’T retailers for the national brand outranking both the big guy AND the little guy and screwing both of them by monetizing their affiliate program.

    (I am working with a client right now who has the same issue. It’s completely idiotic.)

  • Tim Dineen  December 17, 2007 at 2:38 pm

    Or be nice about it – ASK that the retailer link to the big brand in return for using the brand name.

    A better way to compete for your own name.

  • Andrew Shotland  December 17, 2007 at 2:57 pm

    Tim, I think you have a new blog in your future – PoliteSEO.com…

  • Michael D  December 17, 2007 at 3:38 pm

    Good points brought up. Certainly a better way to go about this. Some big brand SEO training is in order. You’ve got work to do Andrew. 🙂

  • Marc Phillips  December 18, 2007 at 3:13 pm

    Someone forgot to tell the national brand that they should have focused more on a reciprocal link request and encourage the local retailer for SEO.

    Rookie error Mr National Brand.

  • Gab from SEO ROI  December 18, 2007 at 11:56 pm

    Sounds like someone needs reputation management services.

    I like Tim’s suggestion.

    @ Dave: You’d need to be careful with that. In-house aff software is going to get you lots of newbs who link directly and help your domain with link volume. Not sure the affiliates would have an easy time outranking the bigshot in that situation. 3rd party programs hosted at Cj an such are a different story though.

    Finally, as to being impossible to enforce, I’d be careful what I say publicly Andrew. Some fool might take that for a legal opinion (unless it was?) and get you in trouble. Personally, I think trademark and IP law generally could protect your stuff fairly easily. They’re trading on your goodwill and potentially causing confusion for consumers, especially in this era of big brands diluting their stuff across several sites (think Axe’s various viral marketing campaigns). If Axe can have gamekillers.com, then perhaps “awesomeaxe.com” (made-up) is also an official axe site…

  • Miriam  December 19, 2007 at 2:21 am

    I like Tim Dineen’s suggestion. Don’t they call that making lemonade out of lemons or something?

    Andrew, this is my first comment on your blog, I believe. I’m just heading off to add you to my feedreader! Nice article.

  • Andrew Shotland  December 19, 2007 at 3:27 am


    Thanks for the watching my butt legally. I still think it’s impossible to enforce and while I am not an attorney, nor do I play one on TV, I encourage all of my readers to throw caution to the wind and use these brand names in urls if they want. Think about it – I can write a post called “Depends Undergarments” and the URL will be localseoguide.com/depends-undergarments/. Nothing wrong with that but now because I sell Depends Undergarments at my store I can’t do that?

    And what about when the brand names are more generic? Costco sells apples and they sell ipods. So why shouldn’t they be able to use the URL costco.com/apples/ even though with that they may be able to outrank both the local Apple store and the local fruit stand?

    Ultimately this kind of thing comes down to relationships and it seems like if I am depending on a store to sell my product I want to help them all I can. Of course maybe at the end of the day I want to disintermediate the local retailer and in that case maybe that’s what this strategy is all about.

  • Andrew Shotland  December 19, 2007 at 3:29 am

    And thanks Miriam! Welcome to the monkey house…

  • john andrews  December 19, 2007 at 7:39 am

    I’d love to know more, and not just the brand (although that would be good). Like maybe “Has the request been challenged, i.e. did it get confirmed or was it a knee jerk in-house consel trademark notice?”

    If indeed this is an online strategy issue, I am not at all surprised. We are at the junction of the “old” affiliate model and the “new” BigBrand model. If this is not just a trademark issue, it’s an example of what should be expected going forward. Big brands are now starting to spend serious coin online where they used to pay middlemen (affiliates) to take that risk. Part of that spend is search marketing. We should expect the same slow, error-prone appraoch that we see with everything else BigCorporations do.

    Of course everyone needs to come up with some new recipes, but lemonade is a age old remedy for many ills.

  • MariaSeo  December 19, 2007 at 8:02 am

    Great points on the comments. Now, I have a question: do those solutions apply also when your competitor is using that strategy? What will be your suggestions in that particular case? Thanks.

  • Andrew Shotland  December 19, 2007 at 8:47 am

    Let’s say you’re Taco Joe’s and Taco Bob’s, the competitor across the street, has a son-in-law who’s a smart-ass SEO. He sets up a blog for Bob and writes a post about how Bob’s margaritas are better than Joe’s at tacobobs.com/taco-joes-margaritas/. Maybe he even links to this page from his SEO blog with the words “Taco Joe’s margaritas” in the anchor text.

    Nothing wrong with that in my book. Time for Taco Joe to get some extra SEO with that burrito.

  • MariaSeo  December 19, 2007 at 9:03 am


  • boris  December 25, 2007 at 8:32 pm

    Very interesting perspective, as always. Thanks

  • Vacation Rentals  January 4, 2008 at 2:20 am

    Yea, it’s very silly…

    I am actually in that situation right now. A very large firm right here in my home town of Pleasanton is threatening to sue me for trademark infringement because I outrank them for there company name, corporate officers names & hundreds of product names.

    Well I did anyways, until they sent an illegal DMCA notice to my web host, Google, Yahoo, & MSN.)

    Tsk. Tsk.

    There are plenty of court judgments that prove that this is not illegal to do as long as you don’t slander or hurt their company name.

    What they can do is put that stipulation in dealer agreements. What a crappy way to do business.

    I’ll take my business elsewhere & write about the bad experience.

    I remember when one of the big credit card processors screwed SEO expert Brad Fallon ( Either him or his partner) He wrote about it. So all the company ranked for was the crappy article.