Buying a good domain that suits your online business can help boost your search engine rank. Google has said that buying a domain means you’re responsible for any SEO backlinks or content used by previous owners. Before you spend thousands of dollars on a domain investment, use these tips to perform a background check and audit on the domain name.
Looking to buy a used domain name? Maybe you think the domain is new and aren’t aware of its past. If you buy a domain that was previously used by spammers, you not only lose thousands of dollars from a bad investment, but the only way to fix the issue is to clean up backlinks just as if you had created them yourself. Google has stated that if you buy a penalized domain, you’re responsible for the backlinks. Here are some fact-checking tools and tips to ensure the domain you buy isn’t a dud.
Check the Domain in Archive.org
If you were Internet savvy in the 1990s, you might remember The Wayback Machine. The Wayback Machine archived domain snapshots of websites across the Internet. In essence, it was the original crawler and indexer of the web before Google. The Wayback Machine transformed into Archive.org, and it still has snapshots of some of the oldest websites on the Internet. It’s also a great tool for doing a digital background check on the domain you’re interested in buying.
Open Archive.org and type the domain into the text box. You’re given a calendar with circles around the days that have a snapshot of the website and its resulting HTML code. Click on one of the more recent snapshots. Look at the HTML, the site structure, the content, and use some common sense when determining its value.
For instance, was the domain just a bunch of links that point to a third-party domain? Was the content focused on a spammy field such as payday loans, online pharmacy pill distribution, or a medical topic? If the domain looks suspicious, it might have a manual Google penalty. You can’t identify if a domain has a manual Google penalty until you register it in Webmaster Tools. You can file for a reconsideration request as the new owner, but buying a domain with a shady past will put you at a disadvantage with search engine ranking.
Do a Backlink Audit
Spam backlinks are probably the biggest problem with old, used domains. A Google pure spam penalty can be partially wiped when you file a reconsideration request as the new domain owner. However, you can’t do the same with a backlink penalty. Again, you can’t determine if a site has a manual penalty, but you can view a list of the domain’s backlinks and take an educated guess.
The two most popular backlink checker tools are Ahrefs and MajesticSEO. Both of these cost monthly fees, but they have a free version that helps you perform a cursory overview. Look at the backlinks pointing to the site. Avoid the common misconception that high PageRank (PR) sites are good and anything else is bad. Instead, look at the anchor text and determine if the website hosts backlinks for pay or a link exchange. Some examples of low quality backlinks that could earn the domain a penalty include directories, classified sites, ezine article sites, low quality press releases, guest posts or links that look purchased or exchanged [Backlinks from guest posts, directories, etc. could be really great too. So take that with a grain of salt 😉].
Identifying good from bad backlinks is difficult for someone who isn’t familiar with spam and how it’s used in SEO. If the site has several thousand backlinks, you should probably hire someone to perform an audit on the site’s links.
Look at the WhoIs History
DomainTools.com is a great site for doing background checks on domains. Most tools cost money, so you’ll need to invest to perform an audit. The website has a myriad of tools that help you audit a domain including a WhoIs record set that lists the domain’s previous owners. You can then do a search on other domains owned by the previous owner. Most spammers host dozens of domains to create a link farm that points back to the “money site.” Review the owner’s domain history and determine if the domain you want to buy was a part of any backlink schemes.
DomainTools.com also lets you review the IP address of where the site was hosted and any other sites hosted on the same server. Spammers keep a VPS or dedicated server with all of their domains hosted in the same place. You can determine if a site is part of a spam ring if it’s located on a server with similar sites owned by the same person. Note that having a legitimate domain on a server IP that also hosts spam sites is not enough to get a domain penalized. However, it’s a great way to determine if a domain has a shady past, which is what you’re looking for with a domain audit.
What Happens If You Already Bought the Domain?
You probably can’t get your money back, but all is not lost if you bought the domain already. However, it’s a lot of work if there are backlinks issues. The first thing to do is register your domain with Google Webmaster Tools. As soon as it’s registered, a message displays if the domain has a manual penalty. Note that Panda and Penguin penalties do not show in Webmaster Tools. Only manual penalties display.
If you believe the domain had a content, pure spam, or Panda penalty, creating a domain with good content will fix it. If there is a manual penalty regarding content, file a reconsideration request through Webmaster Tools to let Google know that you are the new owner.
Backlink penalties are much more work than content penalties. You’re responsible for cleaning up the links. You must have backlinks removed by webmasters hosting the backlinks, and you need to disavow links you can’t have removed. This process can take months. If the spam is too much, most webmasters choose to cut their losses and buy a different domain. With bad Penguin or manual link penalties (thousands and even millions of bad links), you might benefit better if you buy a fresh domain with no penalty at all and start from scratch.
One tactic you should never use is 301 redirecting the penalized domain to your new, fresh domain. Redirecting a domain with a link penalty transfers the penalty to your new domain. When this happens, you need to break the redirect and file a reconsideration request with Google. Obviously, this is more hassle than what you need with a new domain, so leave the domain dormant or resell it at an auction.
Performing a domain audit before you buy a pre-used domain can save you time and thousands of dollars in a bad investment. Use these tools and tactics to always do a background check before you buy. If you don’t have the experience for a good audit, hire someone to check the domain’s history for you.