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Why You Should Care About the SCOTUS Ruling on Booking.com

Andy Macleay
Andy Macleay

Generic terms have never been more advantageous to a brand. A recent SCOTUS ruling has changed the game on URLs, making it easier than ever to stand out online in a sea of dot-coms.

Giving your company a great website name, or URL, can help you ensure your customers know where to look for the best products and services online. A recent Supreme Court decision has provided more options – and more opportunity.

Learning from the Booking.com case

The U.S. Supreme Court decided in an 8-1 vote June 30 that because "Booking.com" is not a generic name to consumers, the company's name merits trademark protection. Rather, consumers perceive the brand name as presenting distinct goods and/or services.

The ruling has potential for big changes and opportunities for companies. It makes it easier for businesses to outshine their competitors in e-commerce. It calls attention to branding. And it couldn't come at a more critical time.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, the spotlight is on e-commerce, which had already been steadily building all along. Business leaders need to protect, defend, and promote their companies in a way they may not have previously prioritized.

Why?

The pandemic may have closed physical storefronts, but it opened up an entirely new set of opportunities for businesses online that are willing to hoist themselves up to be the leaders in their industries when they commit to learning how to forge new ways to compete, deliver goods and services expediently, attract new customers, and enter new market segments. With the expansion of consumers' options, in turn, businesses face new competitors that previously were outside their territories, and management needs to take on this challenge or suffer revenue.

If a business hesitates to develop and refine its online marketing and branding strategy, it could end up on the second page of a Google search, which everyone knows is the best place to bury a body.

So, back to the Booking.com ruling. Website addresses using top-level domains that add meaning to the root term are trademarkable, the majority of the court held. Booking.com is no longer an unprotectable generic term because of the way consumers perceive the business. Booking.com presented in 2016 court proceedings as evidentiary support a survey that reported that 74.8% of respondents identified the it as a brand name.

The domain name, therefore, of a URL tacks on boundless value for a business's branding – especially when it is carefully selected.

Helping your customers find you

Right now, you should be asking yourself two questions: What is my company's URL? How do consumers perceive my business?

Appropriate selection of a top-level domain (TLD) can help a company stand out as a power player. The .com domain approach has largely gone unquestioned, with most companies assuming that's the best or only option for a URL. However, because there are more than 140 million .com domains, there are limits to creativity and relevance.

In fact, 85% of the top 1,000 companies use the TLD of .com, according to dofo.blog's May 2020 analysis of the Crunchbase Rank ranking system. The TLD of .com doesn't help a company proactively respond to the inevitable need for the internet to categorize itself. Instead, most companies expect Google to sort it out.

Google does a stellar job of finding and steering shoppers to websites and relevant content – for the most part. Google has to build the AI, algorithms, and human power to sort a domain name from the millions of businesses such as florists, cell phones, OEMs, shoes, books, and real estate. Having businesses stand out from their competitors is just one part of that mammoth operation.

Individual companies are too quick to hand over the reins to Google and thus lose control over their own hard-earned branding or location-based identity. There is a natural inclination for companies to rely on Google – which earns competition through companies' advertising spend – to direct consumers to their website.

Is this as good as it gets? Nope.

Using a TLD can encourage Google search results to lead to the company and make it easier for customers to find the website. After all, it's what Google does for itself! As one of the world's largest and most influential organizations, Google is actively buying and using new TLDs for its own business units. Examples include https://abc.xyz/, https://docs.new, and https://domains.google.

The internet is an endless galaxy of content, and the categorization of its content is inevitable; it will be imperative for businesses to further define what commercial or noncommercial segments each URL resides in. Some forward-thinking, well-prepared brands are already differentiating themselves with a URL that defines their commercial or noncommercial segment.

Security is also another reason to consider a TLD. From sophisticated phishing scams to imposter sites, everyone is a target, and users get fooled by imposter branding. It's critical a site signals that it is the company it says it is. (If people become victims of a website that is mimicking your business name, it will sink your brand.) Businesses should prioritize protecting themselves and their customers by making sure everyone is literally on the same (URL) page.

With TLDs like .inc and .dealer – which are generic top-level domain (gTLD) leaders that are more popular than .io and .co – brands and businesses can take advantage of incredibly powerful generic terms that, before the SCOTUS ruling on Booking.com, may not have been considered a defensible trademark in the past. Now, brands can use names that "span the dot," or incorporate the TLD as a part of the brand's entire identity. This is good news for those companies that can move quickly to secure URLs and branding that is recognized globally.

In fact, your online presence is now arguably just as important as your physical presence, and perhaps even more so going forward. The tactics that served you well in the past won’t be sufficient in tomorrow's new normal.

Solidifying your success

How can you get started? Small business owners, these tips will help you future-proof your online game.

1. Create a valuable virtual sales experience that goes beyond being a bandage during COVID closure.

While it is simple to just post your company's services, contact information, and add a form of payment plugin, it won't keep your customers' attention.

It's time to invest in quality so you can draw customers through your website to not simply use your website for now but also to encourage them to bookmark it.

Are your sales teams as committed to impressing your customers online as they are to their in-person sales tactics?

Instead, think about what would your website need to prove to you as a customer to earn your business. Had you had never encountered your company's website, why would you not only make a purchase but also come back? Is there content you can add that showcases your mission? What makes your company different than your competition?

Ask your colleagues to test your website and let you know if there are any challenges they encounter while using it, and then find a way to address those.

2. Learn what attracts your customers.

The digital shopping experience isn't just for a tech-savvy audience anymore. Everyone, across multiple generations, has adapted to doing everything online. The target online audience is everyone on your radar. This is a great time to revisit how well you are representing your target customer in your branding and messaging. 

Reflect on – or ask a focus group - how much technical terminology your target customers would appreciate. Read recent studies, and their highlights, to find out what preferences your target customers have for online content and payment options. There are many surveys that have been conducted that indicate what various generations are looking for, for instance.

3. Optimize your business to meet the inevitably evolving needs of your customers.

Because if you don't ... your competitor will. Consumers are getting accustomed to retailers' flexibility, and they aren't going to want to let go of that when the pandemic subsides. Instead, demands for the continuation of at-home delivery and online services will strengthen. 

Determine through polls or other business forecasting tools and methods what services your customers are most interested in. Knowing what you can cut and what you can expand on to ensure your goods and services are what come to mind first for your customers when they think of the industry is essential.

The expansion of goods and services is a fresh competitive edge and is going to be leveraged drastically. In fact, those offerings, or lack thereof, will likely make or break companies going forward. New competitors are creeping into your territory. Think ahead, think big, and think creatively about maintaining and growing your customer base to meet the evolving needs of the market.

Are there ideas you have heard about in other industries that you might be able to apply to your company? If you could add another service that you believe your customers would benefit from, what would you try?

4. Keep an eye out for imposters and other businesses that lure online customers by mimicking branding.

It is critical that your site instantly signals you're an authorized dealer, and, ideally, that it pops up as the first site when you search for the most relevant keywords.

Spend a brief amount of time every day on the top marketing sites to learn what SEO tactics to focus on. Make sure your website doesn't look like it was created in the 1990s.

Take advantage of the tailwind the Booking.com ruling has provided. Make your company easy to find and easy to identify, and seize your territory of online real estate before someone else does. Keep your domain name consistent and straightforward. A TLD will help you do that.

 

Image Credit: Bet_Noire / Getty Images
Andy Macleay
Andy Macleay,
business.com Writer
See Andy Macleay's Profile
I am a recognized expert on the subjects of Internet Domains, Automotive, Digital Retailing, Digital Advertising, Machine Learning, Programmatic, and Product Strategy. I spent almost nine years with Dealer.com as a market research analyst and leading digital marketing efforts for the $1B company. I've launched a new effort in the domain space to help businesses become more searchable, competitive and protected online, especially as the pandemic has created new levels of competition, fraud, and noise. I have represented my companies in high profile interviews and speaking engagements, and am a widely published contributing writer.