Wednesday, December 28th, 2016...6:33 pm

How to Research a (New?) Domain before Purchase to Avoid Past Penalties

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While researching an aged domain before buying typically goes without saying, most people seem to be more relaxed about buying new domains – and sometimes come to regret it later. While the idea of unknowingly “inheriting” a previous owner’s problems is nothing new – I’ve had a client ages ago who bought a domain they had thought was new back in 2004 and struggled to rank it, thinking it was “sandboxed” when infact it had acquired a penalty under a previous owner before expiring and this penalty lingered through the new ownership for some time – as of today, making sure you’re not buying somebody else’s Penguin or Panda reject is even more important.

Think of this: why does a domain owner normally let their domain drop? Either the domain has never been a success and the owner lost interest in developing it, or it’s had its heyday and then lost its rankings. While there’s not much wrong with the former, you definitely want to stay away from anything like the latter.

How do you go about checking a domain’s history?

  1. The only way to know if a domain has ever been registered before is, well, to checkĀ  if it had been registered and dropped before. Of course registrars won’t tell you this, unless you are buying dropped domains in an auction. Use this domain history tool to see if a domain has a previous history – here you can see all its nameserver changes including domain drops. If the domain’s TLD is not supported by WhoisRequest, try Domaintools’ WHOIS data – what you’re looking for is WHOIS history (disregard the salesy pitch about the domain being on sale that sometimes appears there), but before you part with your $49 for a report (which could be a worthy investment if you’re only researching one domain but if not doesn’t it add up quickly?) just go to https://domainreport.domaintools.com/[yourdomainname.com] and you will be able to get quite a bit of data as a free preview.
  2. Wayback Machine is your best friend and should totally be your next step if you discover your domain candidate has been registered before – check it there to see when the domain has been active as a live site and what was on it. However, some domains disallow WaybackMachine’s robot from crawling their sites so sometimes you won’t be able to see anything.
  3. Invest in a SERP / online visibility tracking tool such as SISTRIX (my personal favourite, other options being SEMRush – although with a more limited coverage, SpyFu – excellent tool but only good for US and UK SERPs, and SearchMetrics) and use it to see a domain’s ranking history – has the domain ever ranked? have there been any sharp drops? Do they coincide with any known updates? (Hint: they do not have to, in case of a manual penalty it can happen anytime) Ideally, verify the historic ranking data via more than one source.
  4. Head over to Majestic and check the domain’s link profile. If nothing shows up currently don’t forget to check the historic link profile too. Are these the links (and/or anchor texts) you would be comfortable with? Do they look like something that can cause a penalty?

Hopefully these few checks will save you some headache later.

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