In Step 1 of the buyer due diligence series, I talked about checking the ownership of a website. If everything checks out, then it’s time to proceed to step 2 of the process: researching the history of a website. In this article you’ll learn what aspects of a website’s history you want to verify and what tools are needed to verify them.
How Old Is The Domain?
The age of a domain, or the length of time the domain has been registered, is important. Many Internet Marketers believe the search engines favor websites that have been around longer. Checking the rankings of websites for keywords in any niche seems to support that. The logic makes sense – if a website has been around longer, it’s more likely to be deemed “trustworthy” by search engines so they are likely to rank established websites higher over new ones. You can verify the domain age by checking the registration date doing a basic WHOIS search using the free tool at DomainTools.
Important Note: There is a difference between domain age and website age. The domain age is simply the date the domain was registered. It may or may not have had an actual website at the date of registration. A domain can be registered and “parked” for years before an actual full-blown website is built on it so don’t assume the registration information from the WHOIS is the website age.
Have There Been Frequent Transfers?
As you look through the registration history for a domain doing a WHOIS search, check to see if there have been frequent transfers of ownership. If there has, that may raise a red flag and may need further investigation.
What Is The IP History?
Do a WHOIS search using DomainTools and note the IP address of the website. Then head over to YouGetSignal.com and enter the IP address to do a reverse IP address search. If the seller is hosting the website on a shared server, you’ll get a list of all the other websites hosted on the same server. Sometimes the other websites hosted on the server can cause problems for the website you’re looking to buy. For example, if one of the other websites is a porn or spam site, the IP address may be banned or blocked by the search engines. Because it’s a shared server where all the websites hosted on it have the same IP address, then the website you’re looking to buy may be banned or blocked as well.
Has The Website Been Banned From The Search Engines?
You won’t find this information in the WHOIS but it’s imperative you check to see if the website has had any issues with the search engines – particularly Google. Banned websites can be very difficult (if not impossible) to get indexed and ranked in the search engines. Here is how you can check to see if it has been banned:
Go to Google.com and do a search for the domain with www and without it (i.e. www.domain.com and domain.com). If the domain name appears in the results then it isn’t banned. If it doesn’t show up in the search, then there may be a problem. Next, search for “site:www.domain.com” and then “site:domain.com”. If the results read “did not match any documents” then it is safe to assume that the site is banned at Google since no pages are indexed. You only need to do this initial check on Google. If things aren’t looking good at Google, then you can assume there are likely problems with the other search engines as well.
Has The Website Been Banned From Affiliate or Ad Networks?
If you are purchasing a website with the intent of promoting products as an affiliate or having ads from a network like AdSense on the website, you should ask the seller if the website has been banned from any networks. If you’re not confident with what the seller tells you, try contacting the networks yourself to verify there are no issues.
What Is The Backlink History?
The number of backlinks to a website is referred to as “link popularity.” The more “popular” you are, the better your website will do in the rankings. While the quantity and quality of backlinks play a role, quality is the most important. The quality of backlinks is often determined by relevance and authority. You want backlinks from relevant websites and ideally authoritative, relevant websites. The best tool to use to find backlinks to a website is the Yahoo! Site Explorer tool. Using my camcorder website example mentioned earlier, you’d want to see most of the backlinks coming from other websites about camcorders or electronics. Ideally, you’d want to see as many links coming from authority sites like CNET reviews, for example.
Checking the backlink history will also give you some clues about the historical content of the website. If the camcorder site was a porn site at one point, you may find several backlinks coming from porn-related sites. Again, that would not be a good thing as the backlinks wouldn’t be relevant anymore and may hamper your rankings.
What Is The Historical Content Of The Website?
Let’s say you are looking to buy an affiliate website that promotes camcorders. During your due diligence you see the website has been around for 5 years but how do you know it has always been an affiliate website promoting camcorders? If it was a porn website at any point, this may work against you as many of the backlinks the website claims to have may be from porn-related websites – something you don’t want and something that won’t help you with your rankings. To see previous versions of a website going back to 1996, use the Wayback Machine.
If you don’t find anything using the Wayback Machine, you still may be able to get some clues as to what the history of the content was about. Do a search for the domain in the major search engines using both www and without the www. Click through the results and see how the website was mentioned. Do you get any clues as to what the past history of the content was about?
What Is The Website’s Past and Present Reputation?
It’s a good idea to know if the website has a favorable reputation or not – especially if the site sold products or services. Do a search for the domain with www and without www in the major search engines and click through to the search results. What do you dig up – good things or bad things? You can also do the same searches on Twitter, StumbleUpon, Technorati, Digg, and other social networking and bookmarking sites.
I know there is a lot to digest here, but it’s better to take these steps before you hand over your hard earned money on a website!