Why is Merchant Circle buying up thousands of trade name + locale domains?
Over the weekend Nick Reese contacted me to explore what appeared to him, and to me, very unusual domain activity by Merchant Circle. It appears that Merchant Circle has purchased as many as 10,700 domains. These domain purchases have been going on for a number of months and are often in the format of localbusinessnamelocale.com. MC has gone on to create a website for the business based on the unverified Merchant Circle record and appears to have done so without permission or engagement of the business.
Here is an example of an MC purchased domain that shows up on a Google OneBox result – Art & Faux, San Jose Ca:
The whois records show MC as the admin of record for all of these domains.
Many searches on these trade name domain with locale show the MC result in the One Box (due to Google assigning it to unclaimed records) and in positions one and two on the main results page.
I called several of the business owners, including Art & Faux, to determine whether any had in fact authorized MC to purchase the domain on their behalf. The three owners with whom I spoke indicated that they had not given them any authority to purchase domains in their name nor had they paid MC for a domain.
Is this MC’s newest SEO strategy to gain additional footing on the first page of Google? Are they taking cybersquatting to a new level to gain Maps traffic from the new local focused Google SERPS or are they just giving away domain names to businesses that “forgot” to buy them? I am trying to understand why MC would spend $70,000 on domain purchases, many of which have include the trade name for local businesses.
Here is another interesting example of an apparently unapproved domain: www.terrydonsplumbingllc.com. It shows up as the number one organic listing on the search Leak Detecting Service in Sarasota, FL and it takes you to a link farmy type page with a PR2 that links to 20 additional MC listings. Here is the Site Explorer Link from Yahoo for the domain. Does Google still allow this stuff?