Before You Buy: Evaluating the SEO Health of a Potential Domain Name

Travis Bliffen
by Travis Bliffen 30 May, 2017

Have you ever gone online and searched for a domain name to see if it was available? While the perfect domain may be available, its history could present quite the SEO challenge.

If you have ever searched for and registered a domain name, you could have unknowingly bought a domain name that was used for a private blog network (PBN), gambling site, adult store or a low-quality, spam site.


Everyday businesses close and domain names come available. As a matter of fact, the large number of established domain names that go up for sell each day is what has allowed PBN link building to effectively manipulate search results for the past several years. If you are an experienced domain buyer and you know what to look for, you can find powerful domains at an affordable price.

If on the other hand you are opening a new business of your own and are looking to secure the perfect domain name, you may end up with a domain name that will make it tough, if not impossible, for your new website to rank well in Google. Or, pay a steep price for your first, second or third choice of domain names.


Today, we are going to cover the areas you should review before buying a domain name for your business so that you don't end up with a spammed out, abused and left-for-dead domain name holding your website back.


What type of website(s) was on the domain name before?


Visually inspecting a website is one of the easiest ways to find out what it was about and how it was used. The Wayback Machine is a free online tool that will let you view past versions of the websites hosted on the domain name you are interested in.

While it doesn't have every site indexed, they do have a huge database. Go back in time and see how your domain has been used, you may be surprised. While checking, you should look for obvious things like adult content, spun content, and pages loaded with outbound sidebar, footer and text links that aren't topically similar.


Does it still have indexed pages?


If a website has just recently gone offline, there is a good possibility that it will have indexed pages still in Google. If the site is currently being used it should also have indexed pages. In order to check, all you have to do is go to Google and type site:URL, for example and it will return a list of indexed pages. While not having indexed pages doesn't necessarily make a domain bad, especially if it has been offline for a while, this is another quick and easy way to get an idea of the domains health.

Does it have inbound links?


PBN domain buyers look for domain names that have strong, quality links pointing to them. While your intent is not to build a PBN, understanding the number and quality of inbound links to a potential domain name is important for you too. There are some free tools you can use to review the link profile of a domain name but for the most accurate results, Ahrefs or Link Research Tools are your best two options. Once you decide on a tool, you are looking for the following information:

  • How many backlinks versus referring domains does it have? 

    A referring domain represents the total number of unique websites that link to your prospective domain. Backlinks represent the total number of times your site is linked to. So, if a single site links to your 25 times, you would have one referring domain (RD) and 25 backlinks. While there is not a set ratio of backlinks to RDs, if you notice a major discrepancy between the two (e.g., five referring domains, 2,000 backlinks), it is a good idea to look closely at the source of those links. Do the sites linking to your domain use spun or low-quality content? Are they linking to you from the footer of every page? Is your link in a sidebar next to a handful of other unrelated sites?

  • Are the backlinks topically relevant to the old site or yours? 

    In response to PBN builders manipulating Google, the search engine has started looking more closely at the past and present topic of the website on any given domain. If you buy a domain and build a site completely unrelated to the past topics you will not necessarily be penalized but you also shouldn't expect to get much of a boost from the pre-existing links either.

  • Does the anchor text profile look healthy? 

    In the past, the best way to rank for a certain phrase or keyword was to build as many links as you could to the site using that exact phrase as the anchor text. As a result, many potential domain names have anchor text profiles that are harmful today, after Google updated their expectations. Whenever you look at the anchor texts, you don't want to see individual keywords or phrases representing more than about two percent of the anchor text. You do want to see naked URL links, branded links, and brand variations links. Aside from keyword over usage, you also want to look for known spam terms in your anchor text (e.g., adult terms, cheap + pharmaceutical name, etc.). What's more, foreign language anchor texts are not necessarily harmful, but be sure to translate them to make sure they aren't over-used keywords or spam.

Reviewing the areas above will not guarantee that you are getting a healthy domain name but, it will weed out a lot of low-quality sites and greatly improve your chances of success when buying.

If you plan to buy an expensive domain name, it never hurts to have a professional review the domains history beforehand, it could save you a lot of time, frustration and money.