How to do Due Diligence when buying a domain
(or new online company!)

Doing due diligence on a domain name before you buy it is obviously highly recommended, else you face years of trouble trying to remove toxic links and a multitude of GOOGLE penalties both algorithmic and manual. Online companies have one massive weak link, they all rely upon search engines for traffic, who at the whim of Google and in one stroke could be set up for years of pain and anguish. There is nothing more dreaded than a notice in Google Webmaster Tools informing you of a penalty.

Penalties are even dished out sometimes by mistake, companies who have never engaged in ‘SEO’ and never tried to manipulate Google have contacted us in the past with clear penalties they have been hit with that were due to mistakes by others hosting content that seemed to Google to be manipulative but instead were simply hosting quirks (lots of different domain names (news sites) with similar content) or payday loan sites linking into official sites (debt advice companies) to try and pass themselves off as legitimate sites by doing so.

There’s a long list of companies being hit by collateral damage as Google have rolled out various ‘updates’ over the years that have had the effect of pushing companies over the edge and into the cesspit of unknown penalties or known penalties and ranking difficulties.

So that leaves potential new buyers in somewhat of a precarious situation when considering buying a business that someone else has built from the ground up, chances are that along the way many mistakes have been made with all sorts of aspects of the technology while the developers grappled with the challenges that come with online businesses, not least from a technical point of view to do with particular functions of the service, but also with prior SEO marketing.

SEO marketing has evolved massively over recent years, and what was once considered by ‘most’ of the ‘so-called’ professionals in this sector to be ‘white-hat’ or acceptable practice has often later been the target of Google’s wrath and have been specifically targeted for spam practices. In practice this means that the majority of domains over 5 years old who engaged with the murky world of SEO (or more likely and more dangerously) have engaged so-called professionals on their behalf (that means most of the smaller companies over 5 years old who rely on Google) have most likely made such mistakes and have at some point in the past been the target of a Google penalty or will likely be targeted at some point in the future…

That acknowledged, the most important Due Diligence a prospective new buyer can make on an online business is to perform a detailed and professional link audit on a domain to understand exactly how it has been linked to over the years and the extent of the SEO work that most likely will need to be cleaned up as soon as the domain has been bought.

Despite what some similar articles might say, having a glance at the back link report from link graph companies such as majestic SEO and Moz, or aHref, will result in little real insights being gained as to these types of issues, while all of these providers including Google webmasterTools show back link data, much of it will be nofollow or no longer in place, along with thousands of site-wide links and other erroneous lines of data which will need to be painstakingly and manually crawled thought to get any idea as to whats really going on… The resulting potential for mistakes are high if you don’t know what your looking for.

The best aged domain is one that has got 10 years of age and hardly any links, of course that’s very unlikely but essentially thats what would be the best aged domain, something that has never engaged with SEO and the only links it has are completely natural (despite their perceived quality as its actually normal that low quality directories link out, along with many other low quality resources which scrape the internet looking for companies to list with other data such as name address, phone numbers etc. such links are generally not a problem to your potential new business but importantly, its the way in which they link (the types of anchor texts used) and the quantity of toxic links found that may end up impacting your new domain which is the problem.

Of course there are other potential issues to be wary off, such as negative SEO, this is the practice that some rogue competitors have engaged with to harm their adversaries by initiating toxic links which have the appearance of being gained for SEO purposes and thus when found by Google’s sharp teeth have the effect of sending the targeted companies into the doldrums never to be found again.

To avoid making the wrong decision in buying a new online business, doing a professional full Link Audit should be the most obvious first step when looking at a domain if you don’t want to risk loosing your investment, coupled with a full analysis of the traffic coming from Google currently, also looking at the current position reports for the domain (these are the keywords you would want / expect traffic from and the current positions in Google for those terms), finally you would want to do an acid test, this is a process we often use to check that a domain is responding correctly to new links by linking into various pages within the site for various keyword terms to understand how those pages respond to healthy links and to better understand how it is actually responding to a range of keyword terms both competitive and non competitive.

While such techniques are not straightforward tests that you can simply carry out within a few hours, they will take some time to perform and for the results to be seen, but if you’re investing $100k(s) of dollars into a domain, taking the time (a few weeks) to do such tests and reports would be time and money well invested (these tests / reports can be done for less than $350).


Insights by Steven Carroll. Steven is the CTO for The Link Auditors as well as VolatilityNow, both tools were developed to reverse engineer Google penalties and understand what changes were taking place inside the blackbox of Google. You can SUBSCRIBE FOR EMAIL UPDATES HERE: or follow thelinkauditors on Twitter.
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