How to Use Other Company and Product Names on Your Site for SEO
Here’s a common SEO scenario: Many of your prospective visitors and customers are searching online for other companies’ names or for the names of products produced or sold by other companies. Can you use these names in your pages? Yes, but be careful how you use them.
Many large companies are aware of this practice, and a number of lawsuits have been filed that relate to the use of keywords by companies other than the trademark owners. Here are a few examples:
A law firm that deals with Internet domain disputes sued web-design and web-hosting firms for using its name, Oppedahl & Larson, in their KEYWORDS meta tags. These firms thought that merely having the words in the tags could bring traffic to their sites. The law firm won. Duh! (Didn’t anyone ever tell you not to upset large law firms?)
Playboy Enterprises sued websites that were using the terms playboy and playmates throughout their pages, site names, domain names, and meta tags to successfully boost their positions. Not surprisingly, Playboy won.
Insituform Technologies, Inc. sued National Envirotech Group after discovering that Envirotech was using its name in its meta tags. Envirotech lost. The judge felt that using the name in the meta tag without having any relevant information in the body of the pages was clearly a strategy for misdirecting people to the Envirotech site.
So, yes, you can get sued. But then again, you can get sued for anything. In some instances, the plaintiff loses. Playboy won against a number of sites, but lost against former playmate Terri Welles. Playboy didn’t want her to use the terms playboy and playmate on her website, but she believed she had the right to, as a former Playboy Playmate. A judge agreed with her.
The real point of the Terri Welles case is that nobody owns a word, a product name, or a company name. They merely own the right to use it in certain contexts. Thus, Playboy doesn’t own the word playboy — you can say “playboy,” and you can use it in print. But Playboy owns the right to use the word in certain contexts and to stop other people from using it in those same contexts.
If you use product and company names to mislead or misrepresent, you could be in trouble. But legally speaking, you can use the terms in a valid, nonfraudulent manner. (Again, this doesn’t necessarily protect you from getting sued.) For instance, you can have a product page in which you compare your products to another, named competitor. That’s perfectly legal.
If you have information about competing products and companies on your pages, used in a valid manner, you can also include the keywords in the <TITLE>, DESCRIPTION, and KEYWORDS tags, as Terri Welles did:
<META NAME=“keywords” CONTENT=“ terri, welles, playmate, playboy, model, models, semi-nudity, naked, censored by editors, censored by editors, censored by editors, censored by editors, censored by editors, censored by editors, censored by editors, censored by editors”>
And there’s nuthin’ Playboy can do about it.
What’s ironic is that firms are being sued for putting other companies’ names and brand names in their KEYWORDS tags, when it has little or no influence on search engine rank these days.