There are many reasons that someone might want to invest in a pre-existing domain. For instance, one of my former B2B SEO clients, a large software company, would occasionally buy up smaller companies and enfold that second company's products into their own software line. Eventually Company B's website would be "sunsetted" and redirected to the new product pages on my client's site, giving those new pages a valuable SEO boost. Other companies might have several microsites from past marketing efforts that they want to redirect to their main corporate website, pushing any visitors, links, and SEO value over. And other want-to-be business owners might be looking to invest in a pre-existing domain and business as opposed to building a site from the ground up.
Whatever your reason is for investing in a pre-existing domain you have to ask yourself one question over and over again; "What kind of SEO mess am I getting myself in to?"
At one of my Boston SEO workshops one of the attendees was a woman whose husband had recently purchased a pre-existing domain as a business investment. The books looked good and it seemed like a great source of revenue...until three months later when the site was not just penalized, it was actually deindexed by Google. This woman and her husband were obviously in scramble mode, trying to salvage their investment. Turns out her husband had looked at the site from a finance point of view, but had completely overlooked SEO as a concern. Had he done a little digging I'm sure he would have seen the writing on the wall for this particular site. The former site owner had been in a hurry to sell the site and my guess is they knew what was coming and wanted to pass their mess onto someone else before it caught up with them.
There is nothing wrong with buying a pre-existing domain, either to grow as a business in its own right or to leverage for your own SEO efforts, but it's critical that you do your due diligence and understand exactly what kind of SEO mess you dealing with. Once that site is yours, in whatever form that may be, you are stuck with the consequences.
Here's what Kathy Nielsen, Director of Strategic Alliances at Sedo has to say about buying a pre-existing domain;
It's a smart idea when buying a domain that is already registered to do some background checking. If you are working with a broker or a marketplace, you can ask the seller directly what they have used the domain for in the past, if there are any issues (for example, has it ever been blacklisted by any search engines? Have they received any TM complaints?). You can also ensure that stipulations regarding the domain's "clean record" are in the purchase and sale agreement.
There is also something called the "Internet Archive Wayback Machine", which allows you to type in a web address and see screenshots of the site going back many years. It's a good tool that can give you a peek into the past use of any previously-owned domain.
I would like to point out that redirecting a pre-existing domain that you own and have done nothing with does NOT count as link building, as one of my clients once asked me. Redirecting a pre-existing domain typically can only help your SEO when A) it's a site with good standing in the search engines (no penalties on the horizon), B) it has a valuable link profile, and C) it can help drive more targeted traffic your way. For instance, about a year ago I redirected my personal SEO consulting site over my main company website, which helped those pages jump in the SERPs quite dramatically. However, since it was my personal site I knew exactly what kind of SEO work had gone into it. I was confident in my decision and knew it wouldn't harm my company website in any way, but if you haven't watched the SEO history of a site from the day it was created until the moment you redirect it be sure you do your homework! The last thing you want to do is inherit someone else's SEO mess.
Nick Stamoulis is the President and Founder of Brick Marketing, one of the premier full service SEO firms in the United States. With over 12 years of experience Nick Stamoulis has worked with hundreds of companies small, large and every size in between. Through his vast and diverse SEO, search engine marketing and internet marketing experience Nick Stamoulis has successfully increased the online visibility and sales of clients in all industries.
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