If there’s one thing guaranteed to cause frustration, stress and worry for any new eCommerce business owner, finding a good domain name is probably on the list.
I remember way back in the early ‘noughties’ spending literally days musing over a name for my new business, one which had an available domain name and didn’t have a competing registered entity already trading.
Putting the trials and tribulations of setting up a brand new business aside, don’t think that getting a good domain name to promote an already established ‘bricks and mortar’ retail store is easy. There are many pitfalls and crocodile traps to look out for…
New or Old?
Finding a domain name that isn’t already registered can be a bit of a challenge. If you think your company name is pretty unique then think again. Somebody has probably already got your chosen domain name and is currently using it to promote a business out there on the World Wide Web!
If you’re lucky enough to be able to register the domain of your choice through a registration service then great, however what happens if somebody already owns the domain name that you really want?
Domains which are actively being used are unlikely to be given up at any price, however people can and do buy domain names to trade as commodities. In this case, you can approach the domain owner to negotiate a purchase directly (there are many services online to search for domain owner details, try viewdns.info for instance). In most cases, unless the domain owner has masked his or her identity, contact details will be present for the domain.
You may find that the domain you want is actively being traded on a domain name marketplace. Expect to pay a substantial amount of money for the domain, based on that domain’s history, popularity or trading vertical.
Buying a pre-owned domain name, if you’ve bought this from its current owner or a domain registration company comes with some potentially important gains or truly disastrous pitfalls. It’s here that you really need to be cautious and do your research. You can end up spending a large amount of money on a pre-owned domain that could potentially do your business a lot of harm, or at the very least dampen any progress you could possibly make with your new eCommerce website in search engines.
Domain history is all important. Google especially has a very long memory when it comes to domain name usage history, so even if the domain name you’ve just purchased wasn’t actively being used for anything currently, check that past history of the domain won’t damage your chances in Google.
It’s pretty easy to see what the current standing of the domain you are purchasing is if this is a domain with an active website, simply do a site:mydomain.com (replace mydomain.com with the domain) in Google. This will show a list of current pages cached in Google’s servers. Go through this list and look for anything suspicious such as pages crammed with spammy text and page titles.
Next, check that the domain hasn’t been black flagged for association with viruses and malware previously. There are many tools out there on the ‘web for this. Search for ‘website blacklist’ in Google or if the current domain owner has access to Google Search Console for the domain ask them to check the malware and ‘manual actions’ sections to make sure the site currently hosted on that domain hasn’t been previously flagged for malware or spam. Google are pretty good at informing domain owners via Search Console if a site has been hacked or infected with malware. If any historical action has taken place on a domain that already has Search Console set up then there will be a record, however if the domain you’re interested is currently hosting a website and you don’t have access to Search Console try a search using the excellent Sucuri site search https://sitecheck.sucuri.net/ . This should give you an indication if the site has in the past been hacked or infected with malware.
If you find anything suspicious then walk away, the odds are that you will be spending money on a domain that won’t do your business any good at all.
Check the Archive
For domains which are not currently active you can still find out a lot about the history of any website historically associated with that domain. https://archive.org/ offer the ‘wayback machine’ – a repository of historical websites. Simply type in the domain name and you can find pages that used to exist on that website, which can further aid in your research into the worth of the domain.
It is probably not a great idea to purchase a domain that was previously used for a completely different kind of business. For example, one of my previous clients used to sell bathrooms and bathroom accessories, but the people who previously owned the domain used it for a photography gallery and this was a well-established website which had gathered a lot of photography industry related links over many years. For a website offering bathrooms this is of no use whatsoever and is actually counter-productive if your aim is to rank well in Google for ‘bathroom’ related keyphrases.
Check those Links!
Whilst we’re on the subject of external links, do a check of links that are pointing at any domain you are thinking of purchasing. There are several tools available to scan these links for free. Majestic and Open Site Explorer (Moz Tools) are two you can use to get a good idea of historical linking on any domain if you don’t have access to Google’s own search console for the domain, these can give huge amounts of data to aid in your purchasing decision and help you to avoid a potentially costly mistake.
Look especially for links from spammy, low quality pages and from pages which are clearly off-subject. This will give a clear indication of a domain associated with low quality web content and one that is likely to have had low standing with search engines previously. Again, any links from obviously malware infected or manipulative pages and you should walk away from the domain purchase.
Head of eCommerce
David has been involved with Search Engine Optimisation and web development since 1999 and has spoken at many different retail and SEO conferences including Spring Fair and SES London