It’s easy to buy a domain name, whether it be a new domain name, through a domain name auction house or by private sale. What many people don’t realize is that just because you can buy a domain name doesn’t mean you should. In many cases, it can be risky.
Before purchasing (or even negotiating the price) of a domain name, you should check several key indicators to ensure that the risk of buying the domain name of interest is low.
Here’s what to watch out for:
1. Domain Names That Infringe Trademarks
A trademark is a word, phrase, symbol or design, or any combination thereof, that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods or services of one party from those of others. In the United States, the US Patent and Trademark Office administers trademarks.
If you were thinking of buying a domain name like amazon.co, for example — whether as a new registration, in auction, or through a private seller — and you were thinking of becoming a reseller of merchandise through that domain, a search at the USPTO for the word “amazon” would reveal that you’re probably heading down a risky path. Worst case scenario: Amazon.com sues you or files a UDRP; either way you can lose your domain name, your investment, and attorney fees.
To perform a search at the USPTO, visit http://tess2.uspto.gov, click on the “Basic Word Mark Search (New User)” link, type “amazon” (sans quotes) into the “Search Term” input box, and browse through all the records that have been filed, are live or are dead. (Always consult with an attorney.)
2. Domain Names Not Owned By The Seller
Ever heard the saying, “If you believe that, I’ve got a bridge to sell you”? Throughout time, con-men have perpetuated scams on unwitting or gullible people. The domain name industry is not immune from this situation. Worst case scenario: a con-man takes your money for the sale of ReverseMortgages.com, for example, but does not own the domain name and is therefore not able to transfer it to you.
You can determine the ownership of a domain name by performing a WHOIS lookup, which lists the domain name “registrant” – the person or entity who is considered to be the domain name owner authorized to make or request changes to the domain name.
To verify the ownership of a domain name, visit any WHOIS lookup services, such as http://www.whois.sc, type “ReverseMortgages.com” into the input box, and view the registrant details. If the domain name registrant is not the person you are dealing with, you may be opening yourself up to undue risk with the transaction. (Hint: It’s very easy for the domain name registrant to add three periods, for example, to the end of the company name listed on the WHOIS record, and it’s a quick verification step that they might be the owner…or at least have access to transfer the domain name after sale.)
3. Domain Names That Had Inappropriate Content
If you’re buying a dmain name that was previously owned, there is a chance it once displayed inappropriate content. And that previous content might get the domain name banned form a directory or search engine due to that past association. Worst case scenario: Algebra.com was once used to sell instant access to adult-rated movies, for example (this is not the case).
To explore a domain name’s content from previous years visit Internet Archive, a non-profit digital library offering free universal access to books, movies and music, as well as 150 billion archived web pages through it’s Way Back Machine service.
To search the Way Back Machine, visit http://wayback.archive.org/web/, type “http://www.algebra.com” (sans quotes) into the input box, press the “Show All” button, and browse through all the records they have stored.
You can also view the cached webpage of Google by entering “cache:algebra.com” (sans quotes) in the Google search box. What will be displayed, if a cache exists, is the last snapshot of the website taken by Google the last time it crawled the Web. Unfortunately, Google doesn’t archive web pages over time, so the Way Back Machine service is a more complete solution. Google cache may be a useful additional content search, but it should be treated as a supplement to Way Back Machine – not a replacement.
4. Domain Names That Have Inappropriate Backlinks
Similar to #3 above, if you’re buying a name that was previously owned there is a chance that there are inappropriate backlinks to the domain name. We’ve all made mistakes, but who wants their past continually brought up over and over again? Worst case scenario: adult movie directories link to your domain name with foul words and descriptions. Other issues might include blog comment spam, anchor text abuse, or an excessive quantity of inbound links from low quality websites.
To explore your backlinks at Google, Bing or Yahoo (Yahoo is powered by Bing search), type “www.domainsherpa.com -site:domainsherpa.com” (sans quotes) into the search box, and browse through all the results.
5. Domain Names That Have Tremendous Instability
If a domain name has twenty name server (web hosting) changes over the recent past, for example, it might be an indication that the owner is trying to cover something up. Just like when you buy a used car, having a single owner gives the buyer more peace of mind than knowing there were 20 previous owners; the same is true for a domain name.
To check how many name server changes have occurred, visit http://www.whois.sc, type “ReverseMortgages.com” into the input box, and view the “NS History.” In this case (at time of article publication), there are “4 changes on 3 unique name servers over 7 years.” Be wary of more than 10 and definitely more than 20 changes of a period of a few years.
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