Buying a pre-owned domain? Check these 10 things first
Purchasing a previously owned domain can be risky, but columnist Stephanie LeVonne has some tips to help you vet the domain and ensure a smooth site migration.
With over 1 billion websites on the World Wide Web today, it comes as no surprise that the domain name you may want to use is already owned by someone else. Luckily, in some cases, the current owner might be willing to part with it — for the right price.
Acquiring a pre-owned domain can have a drastic impact on your SEO efforts, so it is important to approach such a purchase with caution. It is recommended that you do your due diligence — it’s not uncommon for a domain name to have changed hands many times, and just like buying a used car, it’s often difficult to get the full history.
While examining the SERPs and scanning for any spammy links may be a good first step, it’s important to conduct a thorough assessment to ensure that the domain does not have a manual action penalty or warning from Google. There are many small issues that may not initially be cause for concern; however, in aggregate, these problems can seriously hamper your domain’s ability to rank.
If you’ve bought, or are looking to buy, a pre-owned domain, read below for 10 things you should check before proceeding with a site migration:
1. Google Search Console
Obtaining access to the Google Search Console account is critical for analyzing the health of the domain you’re looking to acquire. If you don’t have the credentials to this account, it’s worthwhile to reach out to the current admin and request access. Likewise, if this property hasn’t been set up, you can request for it to be done at this time.
Once logged into the Search Console account, you’ll want to go to Search Traffic > Manual Actions and look for any notes on the account.
You can also click on Security Issues, which will notify you if Google suspects that your website has been hacked.
While you can still make a valid assessment about the domain’s health by performing other checks, it’s highly recommended that you access Google Search Console if possible, since this is the only way to see manual action penalties on the domain.
2. Google Analytics & Bing Webmaster Tools
If you have access to Google Analytics (GA), poke around the account and make note of any abnormal traffic patterns or unusual URLs receiving organic traffic. You can also look at referral traffic to determine if spammy websites are mainly responsible for driving traffic to the site. If the site does not have GA set up, you won’t be able to backfill the data, therefore making this check null and void.
Similar to Google Search Console, Bing Webmaster Tools has a site security section that will alert you about malware, phishing attempts and changes in your sites SSL certificate status. You can also visit the “Page Traffic” report under Reports & Data to assess the top landing pages, much like GA.
3. Site indexation (SERP analysis)
Use the site search operator [site:yourwebsite.com] to conduct a Google search, and check for any spammy or malicious landing pages in the SERPs. You can also add on the search operator [inurl:keyword], replacing “keyword” with red flag terms like “online games,” “gambling,” “porn” and so on.
While Google typically displays a warning in the SERPs when it detects a hacked site, not all content may be flagged. Read here for a more comprehensive look at a hacked site.
4. Blacklist status
Your domain may be blacklisted if there is a history of sending spammy emails, which may in turn lead to your email server’s IP address getting blocked. You can check the Blacklist status of the domain you seek to acquire by using Site Securi.
5. Internal & external linking
One telltale sign of domain misuse is link manipulation. A compromised domain may use overly specific anchor text phrases to link out to other spammy content. In some cases, when hackers want to remain even more elusive, the anchor text will remain unchanged, making link manipulation even harder to detect.
Fortunately, you can use a tool such as Screaming Frog, which allows you to crawl up to 500 URLS for free. Once in the program, click the “outlinks” tab at the bottom to see what a specific URL links to.
When looking at external linking, you can use a tool like Majestic to get a snapshot of the backlink profile. From here, you can take a deep dive into other off-page factors, such as the referring domains which send the most backlinks to the site.
You can even get as granular as seeing which TLDs (top-level domains) your backlinks are coming from. For example, if you have a US-based website and notice that 90 percent of your backlinks are coming from Taiwan, that may be cause for concern.
Similarly, having a disproportionate amount of backlinks coming from one or more sites that may imply that the domain used a pay-to-play strategy to acquire those links, or perhaps the site has been the unfortunate recipient of negative SEO.
6. Anchor text usage
Another important but often overlooked off-page factor is anchor text usage. Anchor text is simply a word or phrase that is hyperlinked and takes a user to your website. Anchor text signals topical relevancy to Google — for example, if you have a page about women’s fleece pajamas, it would be ideal for other sites to link to that page using that phrase or something similar.