Consider this both a tip and a cautionary tale.
While not exactly a competitor, a company in a very similar line of work on the other side of the country started to run radio ads for their service. The registered a special URL just for the ad that redirected to the offer page on their site.
Except that, when confused buyers put that URL into their search box instead of their address bar, the combination of keywords made a page on our website rank higher then the website for the company that actually was paying to run the ads. I’m sure this wouldn’t have happened if this has been their “real” domain but, as it was just a redirect, it’s been repeatedly happening for several weeks now. If you Google the URL in the radio ad, our page is one of the first results.
For us, it’s a mixed blessing. We’re getting their traffic and customers without paying a dime for advertising. But we’re unfortunately becoming associated with this random company we have nothing to do with and are getting their complaint and customer service calls. Even after explaining that we have nothing to do with the other company, irate customers still demand to know why we won’t help them anyway as if their issues were still within our power to fix even though they contacted us in error.
For the other company, however, this is a big problem. They’re wasting part of their advertising dollars on sending traffic to us instead of their site. If we were a true competitor, we could easily be poaching their customers. In the same way, because our brands are being confused, any trouble we start with their customers could hurt their brand.
So, the next time you run a print or radio ad, anything where you have to trust your customers to type your URL or company in, just double check where that Google search actually takes them. Check common misspellings and other commons errors as well.
By the same token, if you notice your competitor running a print or radio ad, a little creative keyword tweaking can net you some of their customers.