Surviving Website Identity Theft

by: Greg Scowen

Every now and then you read about identity theft. I am not talking about the theft of you personal identity, sure that happens too, I am talking about the theft of a website’s identity. The big question is: What should you do if somebody with deeper pockets and more push creates a website similar to yours, stealing your limelight, and your hard earned visitors? Let me answer your question from my own experience.

Firstly, it is important to note that the actions I took when one of my sites identities was stolen worked for me, but may not be the best solution in your case. Please, always consult a professional for a second opinion before making ‘wallet bulge changing decisions!

In October 2004 a new tourism information website called ‘New Zealand Focus’ was launched and a reasonably sized effort was made to market the new site online. The results were surprisingly good, and very quickly the new site proved to be useful to New Zealand tourists and businesses in the New Zealand tourism industry alike. Within two short months visitor numbers had dramatically increased and over 300 businesses had registered in a free directory on the website. Many an hour was dedicated to the development of the site and translators were called in and started to translate the site into German to reach out to a secondary audience. The overwhelming success of New Zealand Focus led me do broaden my original idea and in early 2005 work was started on the development of an Australian Tourism Guide which would be a sister site to the original. Intentions were to create a site for as many countries as possible… but then disaster struck.

A very powerful, influential, and deep-pocketed organization started making press-releases about their upcoming project. A huge centre was wo be developed in a major Asian city, promoting New Zealand products. The centre would be accompanied by a website and it was quickly made obvious that no expense would be spared. The whole project was to be called ‘New Zealand Focus’! As I watched domain names with one character difference being reserved, and press-releases flying around me left, right and centre, I also started making contact with lawyers. I had to protect my hard work… or at least I though I did.

Unfortunately, in this crazy world of Internet-Ideas and Internet-Failures, I had not registered a Trademark for ‘New Zealand Focus’. Granted, the law still protected me to the same extent without the Trademark because I had an established history. What had to be weighed up in my mind was: Can I possibly fight such a powerful, rich group? Even if I do fight, is it worth it? And what would the consequences be if I won, or lost? The effort I had made to successfully establish a site in a very competitive field was flashing before my eyes. As questions whirled around my head I considered decisions I had earlier made regarding SEO, keywords in domain names rather than branding, colour schemes, carrying the same designs into other tourism sites, all of the work I had done was now in question. So what did I do? Did I fight? Well… Yes, and No!

Rather than risk losing hundreds in taking the case to court, the decision was made to stand down and let the intruder take the name. Yes, you read that right… I counted my blessings and moved on. And the most interesting part? It has been a huge success! Here is what happened.

A new name was created for the site. The new name is purely a brand name: ‘Pleppin’. I had turned against the many self-proclaimed SEO experts that say a website should have keywords in its domain name and instead bought the domains and .com. The risk was huge, to try and re-brand an entire site overnight and relaunch without causing a stir or a loss in traffic. Did I mention that the site had over 3500 pages at the time? Content is King!

All logos were replaced, all references to the old name was replaced, a page informing visitors of the change in brand and address (with our reasons) was introduced, and a 301 redirect was added making sure that all visitors to the old site went straight to the new version. All of this worked wonders, but the icing on the cake was strategic press releases. The media love a story that goes a little differently, and this was it. New Zealand media quickly picked up on the story about the little guy being ‘pushed around by big boys’ and were intrigued that we had taken the decision to stand down and let them have their fun. The following morning the release had been printed in New Zealand’s leading newspapers and on over 40 important news websites. Traffic to the site didn’t dip, but instead tripled within 48 hours and has continued to increase at a faster rate ever since.

The moral of the story? There is a couple: First of all, do not be afraid to break out your new site with a brand name. Pick something catchy and give it a try. After all, a name like ‘Pleppin’ which no-one generally knows what it means, looks a whole lot more professional than a name like ‘New Zealand Focus’. Sorry to all keyword domain name fans, they just don’t look all that professional. Oh, and the branding really works. People are starting to remember it and it is even being searched in Google, Yahoo, and MSN now.

The second lesson is this: No matter what you have thrown at you, and what obstacles you come across, don’t give up! Use press releases to your advantage, take the opportunity to learn new technologies, fine tune your work, and come back bigger and better than ever!

About The Author:
Greg Scowen is the developer of various websites, including the Pleppin New Zealand Tourism Guide ( which successfully bounced back from an incident of website identity theft. In his spare time Greg doesn’t really do much, because he has so little of it. GoArticles