Thursday, January 10, 2013

Investing in a Pre-Existing Domain? Be Sure to Look Under the Hood!

by Nick Stamoulis

I was speaking with a website owner a few months ago who had recently purchased a pre-existing domain. The numbers looked pretty good; especially with regards to the revenue the site was pulling in each month, and seemed like a worthwhile investment. The site was already built, decently optimized, driving a good amount of traffic and turning a profit--what could possibly go wrong? A lot, actually. Shortly after purchasing the pre-existing domain from the first owner the site was de-indexed by Google and this new site owner was left facing a very uphill battle in order to help the site recover and earn the investment back.

Unfortunately, this is not the first time in my career that I have heard a story like this. I've spoken with several site owners over the years that purchased a pre-existing domain they thought was a "sure thing" only to have it bite them in the you-know-what shortly thereafter. If you are thinking about buying a pre-existing domain (either taking over the brand completely or leveraging the SEO value of that site in some other way) there are a few things you need to double check before signing on the dotted line.

1. Do a complete link audit.

Once you purchase a pre-existing domain you inherit all of that site's inbound links--the good, the bad and the ugly. It doesn't matter if you built them or not, those links are now your problem and you have to deal with any fallout they may cause. Before you invest in a pre-existing domain it's essential that you do a complete link audit and see what you are getting yourself into. What kind of inbound links does this site have? Are a lot of them paid links? If you want to keep those links you'll have to ante up the money because the former site owner certainly isn't going to pay to keep those links alive anymore. You don't want to wake up one morning to find half of your link profile has vanished!

Don't just look at how many links your new site has, but also where they are coming from and how they were built. Are they online PR links? Blog comments? Links earned from content marketing efforts? Or are they links from blog networks, free directories and link exchanges? Does this site's link profile look like something that is just waiting for a penalty? You don't want to purchase a pre-existing domain that is headed for catastrophic failure.

2. Ask to see the analytics.

Numbers and site analytics can be made to say just about anything you want, so be sure to get your hands on the raw data. Sure, the site might be driving 10,000 visitors each month but if 9,089 of them are from PPC ads you need to know and prepare for that reality. Where are visitors to this site coming from? What keywords are they using to find the domain? How well do those keywords convert? 10,000 visitors are fantastic but if only 100 people convert is it really worth investing in that pre-existing domain? Is it possible that only a small fraction of those 10,000 visitors are actually the right kind of traffic and the rest is junk? How much work is needed to improve that conversion rate? How long is the average visitor staying on the site? How many pages do they visit?

You want to ensure you are getting as complete and accurate a picture of this pre-existing domain as possible. Is traffic trending down or up? Are there any unusual spikes or dips that can't be explained by seasonality? Ask questions and get answers so you aren't surprised later by how well (or poorly) the site performs.

3. Check out the site's reputation.

This one should be a given but it's still important to mention--a simple search will reveal the site's online reputation fairly quickly. One or two bad reviews is no big deal, every company has them, but are there any serious consumer complaints or fraud reports associated with this pre-existing domain and online brand? What is the general opinion of this brand by its customers? Remember, when you buy a pre-existing domain you inherit any and all messes associated with it so do your due diligence and make sure there aren't any ghosts in the closet before you open up your wallet!

Some people buy a pre-existing domain with the intent of continuing the brand. Others buy it to leverage its trust factor and link profile to help another site (maybe with a 301 redirect). Whatever reason you are looking to invest in a pre-existing domain make sure you do your homework first! Know exactly what you are getting yourself into so you won't be caught off guard.

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Mauricio Novis Botelho Kenneth W. Freeman Michael Pragnell Thomas P. Mac Mahon Frank O\'Halloran

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