When someone buys a domain on the aftermarket instead of hand-registering one, it is expected that an old domain has some advantages over a newly registered one. It has a better name, has some backlinks so it might have better search positions or maybe also have some relevant referral or search traffic. However, many of the listed domains suffer from some health problem and indeed this is the reason why those are listed for sale or let expired. Building success on these domains can be much harder than starting on a fresh domain.
Since the online success is strongly dependent on what Google think about the domain, the most important health issues to check are all related to Google. What and how to check are summarized below.
A typical reason why a previous owner let the domain go that it got banned from Adsense. It is very straightforward to check if a domain is banned or not, go to an Adsense sandbox and check if ads appear for the domain or not.
There are three important questions to answer at this point:
- Why was it banned?
- Is it something you care about?
- If it is important to you, how difficult can be to lift the ban?
The most typical reasons for a ban are the followings: i, adult content; ii, spam or very low quality content iii, trademark issues. The problem is that even if you don’t plan to use Adsense on the newly built site, there is a note in Google’s databases that they don’t like this domain for some reason. So you might suffer with such a domain without realizing exactly why.
Deindexed by Google
Check this property using a site:example.com search in Google. If a domain has backlinks but no hits in Google for a site search, that is the most serious penalty. There is always a critical issue when Google decides to apply this penalty, so they will be very careful before lifting the penalty. You have to communicate with Google within Webmaster Tools and it will be a slow and painful communication and months of work. Most probably, at the end, you will get a domain with no backlinks at all, so you can have a fresh start on it. Consequently, there is no reason to buy such a domain for SEO purposes.
Since deindexed domains are generally sold cheaper, there can be situations when even a deindexed domain worth the huge work: if it has exceptional name or very high referral traffic.
No hits for info: search
It is not very common to check a domain with info:example.com search although it is really useful. If there is no hit for such a search, it always has a reason. In most of the cases one of the two things happened:
- the domain got a “soft” Google ban;
- the domain is properly redirected.
While redirection is not a penalty for the redirected domain, it can lost all the backlinks and strength after a successful redirection. This info: penalty is often automatic and the easiest to get rid of. Still, it might have a negative consequence on search positions even with a fresh content. When a website traffic starts decreasing, this is always my first check for a hidden penalty.
Banned from parking
Even if you do not plan to park the domain you are going to buy, it is useful to check if the domain is allowed for “Tier 1” parking, which is practically Adsense for parked domains. Bodis has a domain status tool for such search. If the domain is banned, it is a clear indication that it violates or violated the Google Webmaster Guidelines. This is almost an irreversible penalty, which is only important if you would like to park the domain, however the spam flag in Google’s database can harm even a newly built website on the domain that has nothing to do with domain parking.
Marked as adult
The Bodis tool mentioned previously will reveal this property, too. This is a serious issue in monetization with Google, the only exception is if you really want to build an adult website on the domain.
Relationships among the different penalties
The most interesting part is that although the penalties are more or less always the consequence of the violation of Webmaster Guidelines, the correlation between the penalties are low. Check a “penalty matrix” below what I mean:
|Domain name||Adsense banned||Deindexed||Tier 1 Park block||Marked as adult|
where 0 means not banned and 1 means banned. As can be seen, practically all ban combinations are possible, so checking only one or two properties is not enough to be sure that the domain is healthy.
Of course sometimes these bans are not important if the buyer have plans where the specific ban does not influence the potential success. E.g. ironically, for a private use a deindexed domain can be even preferred. Still, since the bans influence the expected sales price of a domain, it is always important to carefully investigate these issues. And sometimes even these will not give a complete picture what Google think about a domain.