Finding your perfect domain name is the first step to a successful website and a successful business. Sometimes, you just can't find a memorable domain that fits your brand that isn't already taken. In those situations, a previously owned domain may be the best solution.
Options include dropped domains or already owned domains. Dropped domains expired but the previous owner didn't renew them. You also have the option of finding an existing, but unused, domain and buying it from the current owner. Either way, there are a few things to consider.
Pros of Using a Previously Owned Domain
Unclaimed short, memorable dot com domains are as rare as rubies. Many new businesses feel forced to use alternate domain extensions like .info or .biz. Otherwise, they choose long domain names that may not be either memorable or brandable. By shopping for a previously owned domain, you may find that precious gem of a domain.
A previously owned domain may, in some cases, offer an SEO advantage. Many SEO experts believe that domain age is a positive factor in search ranking. By purchasing an existing domain, you may benefit from the online reputation and history. On the other hand, your new domain might be a liability…
Cons of Using a Previously Owned Domain
If you purchase a previously owned domain, you should do due diligence and research the domain's history. If the previous webmaster engaged in shady business practices, spam, or malware the taint could follow the domain name to your website.
Try these tips to vet your potential domain before you purchase it. If you love the domain, a skilled SEO consultant may be able to help you clean up the domain.
Tips for Vetting Your Potential Domain
Conduct Google and Bing Searches
Search the site using a search term structured this way:
Also, run a search structured like this:
These searches show everything currently indexed from the site and may uncover red flags. Unless you are buying the content, you may not care about previous versions. But remember, your website will be a continuation of that previous domain.
Check Domain Authority and Page Authority
Domain authority and page authority are proprietary metrics from Moz. Use Moz's free search tool to check these metrics. A high domain authority is a boon, but keep in mind that if you bought a new domain it would not have a DA.
Check to See if the Site is Blacklisted
Check to see whether your domain was blacklisted for spam or other shady behavior. A few services like Sucuri SiteCheck run a free check. Be aware these tools may not always be accurate, but it is always worth checking.
Use Wayback Machine to Learn the History
Study the domain's history using Wayback Machine and Internet Archive. This is one of the best ways to see most of the previous archived versions of the domain.
Check to See if the Domain it is Banned from AdSense
If you hope to run search advertising, make sure your domain is not already banned from Google AdSense. While you may be able to petition to overturn the ban, it is easier to start with a clean domain.
Request Access to Google Search Console
While negotiating with the current owner, Search Engine Land suggests that you request access to Search Console. This allows you to check for manual penalties and security concerns. They also suggest that you request access to Google Analytics (GA) and Bing webmasters tools. At the very least request screenshots.
If you notice any issues on Google Search Console, you can fix the website then appeal to Google.
By researching a previously owned domain, you can avoid buying a domain that will cause problems to your business and reputation. Keep in mind, in most cases you can redeem the domain if you find that perfect domain with a checkered past.