So, you’ve got your eyes on a great domain name for your business. Someone else owns it, but you’re negotiating a purchase price and it’s within reach. Before you agree to a deal, it’s important that you do some due diligence on the domain name. You will want to make sure it’s a clean domain that won’t negatively impact your future business. Think of it the same way you would when purchasing a new car or home. You want to inspect it and ensure there aren’t any major problems. Is there any previous flood damage? Were repairs done correctly? These same concepts apply to a domain name just like they would any other asset you were paying good money for. A domains history can negatively impact your future use of it.
There are two common problems people run into when developing an existing domain name.
1) The first issue occurs when a domain is connected to “black hat” search engine optimization. This can include trying to manipulate search engines by obtaining low-quality (and sometimes very spammy) backlinks. If a previous owner engaged in black hat tactics, Google might have penalized the domain which greatly affects search rankings.
2) The other issue occurs when a domain was previously used for something unsavory. Perhaps it was used for an adult website or casino that you don’t want your company being associated with. Even though that usage is in the past, it can impact your future use.
Doing An Inspection
Think of checking a domain name’s history like doing a home inspection. You need to look at its history to make sure you’re buying something that won’t be a problem in the future. It might take some work, but there are several helpful tools to help you understand a domains history.
Internet Archive – The internet archive is a non-profit library of websites, software, books, and more. What’s most useful for domain investors is the Wayback Machine. Simply insert a domain name into the Wayback Machine and view historical captures of the web page. This lets you easily see what was developed on a domain one or several years ago.
SEMRush – SEMRush is a suite of search engine optimization tools. You can use SEMRush to view a domains backlink history and find spammy or off-topic links which might indicate black hat SEO. The backlink audit is one of SEMRush’s free services. It evaluates all of the incoming links pointing to a domain name and separates them into three toxicity levels: toxic domains, potentially toxic domains, and non-toxic domains. Review the ratio of toxic domains to non-toxic domains. Also, look at the toxic domain links to see what they are and if they could be problematic.
Be A Safe Domain Buyer
You can’t guarantee that an existing domain you’re buying is going to be completely safe. Just like you can’t be 100% sure that there is nothing wrong with the house you’re buying. But, the two different tools above can help you discover issues that should be investigated further. Ask the current domain name owner what they know about the names history. How long have they owned it? Did they buy it from someone else? How did they use the domain?
It’s also worth pointing out that the historical usage of a domain name can actually be very helpful to your business. If a previous owner created a website over the same topic you will be using the name for, any quality backlinks they generated could give you a leg up when you start developing your site. One thing is for sure: doing the appropriate due diligence is important to feel comfortable spending a lot of money on your new domain name.