You may want to investigate the history of a used domain before spending big bucks on it. Getting that “perfect” domain can cost thousands of dollars, so why wouldn’t you do some investigating before you make that kind of investment. You’d look under the hood before you bought a used car, right? Then do the same thing for a used domain, especially if it’s going to cost you a pretty penny. Otherwise you could be pouring thousands of dollars down the drain.
What are the dangers of used domains?
It was previously used to spam people
The last thing you want is a domain from a website that was previously used to spam people. No wonder they’re selling it. A domain used for spam could be red-flagged by Google, mkaing your SEO efforts super difficult.
Is has spammy links
You don’t want a domain from a site who hired a shady SEO company who built shady links. Removing those shady links will be a nightmare, making it extremely difficult to rank for anything.
It was banned or penalized in Google
Make sure you do your homework on your domain. (see below) Double check that the domain your trying to buy hasn’t been penalized or even worse banned from Google. You can’t call 1-800-google to fix the situation. You are on your own! So, it’s just not worth it.
You have to remove links manually
Let’s say you buy that awesome premium domain only to find out that someone linked spammy websites to it in a poor SEO effort. Well, Google recommends that you contact all those spammy websites and ask them to remove your link. The world is a very big place and spammy SEO people often outsource to other spammy SEO people, who outsource to more spammy SEO people.
You have to disavow links
Disavowing links can be a nightmare. Matt Cutts of Google warns that this should be the last method of removing spammy links. However, Google does have a process for this, but one you don’t want to go through.
What are the benefits of used domains?
The age of domain
Older domains kick ass in SEO. Time after time, I have personally seen older domains do so much better with search engine rankings just because they are older domains, and therefore are more reputable in the eyes of Google.
No Google sandbox
Google sandbox is the mysterious (and unverified) label your domain gets when it’s new. Sandbox indicates that your domain is very new and can’t possibly have good enough information worth ranking high, yet. Sandbox can last months, and up to a year. Therefore, your SEO efforts may be more difficult. Used domains don’t run this risk.
Google sandbox is unverified, and theory amongst SEO professionals.
It has a great link history
Just like you could have bad links you may have the opportunity to buy a used domain with awesome links. An easy way to tell if a domain has awesome links is that the owner will tell you it has awesome links. It’s like selling a used car and bragging about low milage.
It has a great share history
Like a good link history, the used domain your considering buying may have a great share history as well. Maybe it was shared a few thousand times, giving it more authority in Google and Bing. Test it out by running it through the website analysis tool on MySiteAuditor.
It has a high PageRank
The only way to get a high PageRank in Google is to have other web pages with higher PageRank link to yours. It can take years to accomplish this. But a used domain may already have a great PageRank, saving you the trouble.
How to perform a background check on a domain
Matt Cutts just recently launched a Google Webmaster video about this exact topic. I highly encourage you to watch it. I took some notes, and listed them below for you as I watched this very informative video.
Do a (site:yourdomain.com) search in Google for the domain
Matt says to do a “site:” search in Google before buying any used domain. To do this, go to Google and search site:YourDomain.com. This will list every page of the domain currently indexed by Google. No results are usually very bad results. It could mean this domain was banned from Google.
Do a regular search for the used domain
Also, just do a regular search in Google. I would try the search with quotes and without. This should bring up all of your domain name mentions from websites around the world. No results means a low value domain because nobody is talking about this domain or linking to it. If you get lots of results get your hot pocket and a glass of wine ready. You’ll need to start digging through these sites to see if they are spammy or not.
Use Internet Archive
Matt had a great suggestion that you should look through archive.org. I love this site. You can see any site and how it looked over the last 20 years. You can also see what the older site on the used domain your purchasing looked like. This is a great way to see if anyone previously used your site to spam people.
Check the domain’s age
Matt didn’t mention this, but I will. Check out the age of the used domain. Remember what we said earlier; older domains perform so much better in search engines. Anything 10 years or older is pure gold!
Ask the seller to see the domain’s analytics. Look for sudden drops of traffic and investigate the reasons why. It could be the sign of a penalized domain.
Check Google Webmaster Tools (look for drops in links)
Ask to look through their Google Webmaster Tools so you can see any messages from Google. Google is great about letting you know if your site has problems or has been red flagged. And if the seller says no, that’s a red-flag itself.
Be careful that the links may not carryover
Google doesn’t guaranteed that the links will carry over to a new site or a new domain owner. So, tell the seller to ease up on the price a bit. Those links are great but are not guaranteed.
I’ve bought premium domains, used domains and new domains, so my recommendation on whether to buy new or used would be different for every situation. If your buying your company domain, then paying a premium may be worth it. If you’re launching a new company I urge you to obsessively look before paying for a premium or used domain.
In November of 2013, I was looking a domain for my free checklist site. After weeks of looking I stumbled upon checkli.com. (Pronounced check-lee). It was perfect! Oh, and it was new and only $12.00 from Godaddy.