What to check before buying a domain name

So. You’ve decided to create a website. Congratulations! Whether it’s building one yourself, or getting a professional or friend to do it for you, that’s great. Now comes the tricky part – choosing a domain name.

When the Internet was new, choosing a domain name was easy. There were lots of options and almost everything was available. Now, it’s a little bit more complicated; most domain names are either already being used or owned by somebody else.

You need to get creative.

This article isn’t about advising you how to become creative or how to come up with that killer domain that everyone remembers (Amazon, eBay, Uber, etc). This is all about doing some basic research before you buy your domain name.

You’ve thought of a domain name, great! But just pause for a moment – carrying out some simple checks before you buy could save you a lot of money and heartache down the line.

Just because the domain name is available now, doesn’t mean someone hasn’t owned it in the past. Your intended domain name could already have a bad reputation. The previous owner could have spammed Google, penalising your intended domain and moved onto a new name!

It happens all the time, especially in the Black Hat Community (BHC).  Personally, I purely implement white hat techniques. I don’t have anything against black hatters, it’s just something I’ve never tried or really wanted to get in to.

How to check whether a domain name has been penalised by Google

Checking whether your intended domain name has been penalised by Google is easier said than done, but here are a few techniques that will help:

  1. Do a quick Google search for an exact match of your domain search. For example, type “site:example.com”. This will show whether the domain is still active in the Google Index. It’s unlikely if it’s been dormant for a while, but it’s worth a shot. If you search for your domain name without the TLD (top level domain), you should see how it easy it would be to rank for your brand.
  2. Do a Google search for the domain, e.g. “example.com”. This might identify any cases where people have linked or talk about this domain before.
  3. Search your domain name on Ahrefs, Majestic or Moz and see if there are any backlinks pointing into this domain. You’ll have to pay for the software, but most sites offer a 30-day free trial. They’re also great SEO software suites as well.    moz open site explorermoz metrics                majestic metrics
  4. Check Google Search Console (formally Google Webmaster Tools). This does require you to own the domain, but if you’ve already bought it, you can see all the backlinks pointing to your site. Google only tells you if you have a manual penalty and not an algorithmic penalty. Screenshot below showing the Manual Actions Tab in Search Concole.

google search console

If, after trying these techniques, you discover your intended domain name is new and has never been used, go ahead and hit the buy button. If your domain has been used before, it all depends what the data is telling you.

Moz will give you a spam score on a scale of 1-17. If the score is low, you should be ok. But if your score returns anything around 6 or over, I would be wary – you might spend more time cleaning up old links, than building your new brand.

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