Are you one of those webmasters who has bought or is thinking about buying an existing domain?
I am, and I’ve bought hundreds of them over the years. Most of the time, it was because I wanted the traffic or ranking they already had. Other times it was because it was just a damn good name.
The thing about buying an existing domain is that you’re hardly ever going to be able to buy it for the standard registration fee because even if it’s just an expired domain and the owner didn’t actively try to sell it, the registrar will almost always auction it off. You can easily spend anywhere from $20 to well over $10,000 but usually, you’re going to pay a few hundred dollars for a domain with a respectable amount of existing traffic and/or ranking.
More than a few times, I’ve watched my investment sour pretty quickly. Rankings dropped like a rock. Traffic disappeared. The domain became worthless to me.
After a couple of experiences like this, I was able to see a few common factors and realized how Google was able to tell that the ownership of the site had changed. Once they did, they reset it to zero. It was basically being treated like a brand new domain with no trust. Its age and back links no longer carried any weight.
So let me save you some headaches (and money) by sharing what I’ve learned along the way so that you can buy existing domains without the painful experience of watching your investment go down the drain.
1. Get the website back up ASAP
If your recently acquired domain was down for any period of time during the bidding/buying process, it’s critical to get it back up and running as quickly as possible. Especially if it was displaying a placeholder page from the registrar or web host. If Google indexes these pages, it’s a pretty sure sign that the domain is about to change ownership, and that puts it at risk of being penalized.
I once bought a domain that I had great plans for, but because of my schedule at the time, couldn’t put any time into it. A few weeks later, my once fantastic domain had lost all ranking and traffic because all that Google could find was a single place holder page. Don’t make that same mistake.
2. If possible, leave the hosting where it is
Google knows which host and IP address your domain used to live at, and changing that, in conjunction with other signals, can alert them that something’s up. If you have the option to maintain the previous hosting, by all means, do so. If not, at least try to stay at the same hosting company.
3. Keep the subject of the site the same
Nothing screams “I just bought this domain to abuse it” like a complete change in subject matter. Buying a domain about knitting and then filling it with content about Mesothelioma is a sure sign to Google that your only intent is to make a quick buck with AdSense.
There’s nothing wrong with changing the content of a site over time, but you have to treat it like dating – take small, slow steps at first. Ideally, you should replace as much of the old content as you can first, which you can often find at Archive.org, and then slowly introduce new content over a period of months.
4. Keep building links using the previous anchor text
Another sure sign that a domain has changed ownership is a drastic change in the anchor text pointing to it. Imagine this…for years, the anchor text to the home page of your recently acquired domain has been “The South Tampa Sentinel” but now new links are popping up all over the place with the anchor text “blue widgets.” It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that something is out of place. Keep that up and you can watch your ranking and traffic plummet faster than the stock market.
Instead, keep building links using the same anchor text as the previous owner, and slowly begin introducing new anchor text while adding new content. This will make a more natural transition.
What else should I know?
Change is usually good, but when it comes to acquiring a domain, slow and steady is always better. Over time, you can change everything, but it has to take place in increments. Think about it like buying a company. You’d rarely come in and completely change course. Instead, you would leave things the way they were and let the dust settle, then slowly begin implementing new policies hiring new employees and letting the unnecessary ones go.
Treat your new domain the same way and you’ll be on the path to success.