I’m currently working with a client on the acquisition of a domain name from someone who had previously registered it.

This process of buying a domain name from a previous owner is typically called buying a “pre-owned domain name” and there is a whole industry of services, lawyers and brokers who assist and help in the process of securing and transferring domain names across owners.

Services such as Sedo.com for buying pre-owned domain names and Escrow.com to securely process the payment and transfer, help ease the process… But there is more to buying a domain name than simply just changing hands.

When You Buy a New Domain Name

When most people think of buying a domain name, they typically think of registering a new domain name… For new domain names, the process simply involves visiting a domain name registrar such as GoDaddy, or Netfirms (my personal favorite) or a similar service, and then it’s just a matter of finding a domain name which has never been registered.

Because of the fact that it is a brand new domain name, there is no previous record of the domain name and as such, there is no history of ever having anyone visiting that web address.

In other words, the new domain is completely clean and unadulterated… Ready to create your vision upon it.

Things are very different when you buy a pre-owned domain name.

Just as when you buy a used car, it’s in your best interest to find out if the car has ever been involved in an accident or if there is anything wrong with the vehicle  – domain names develop a history of their own.  They get labeled for SPAM, for Malware, for Hacking, off the books gambling and all sorts of other illegal activities.

On the web – the domain name you use is literally where your brand “lives” in the online world.

The best way to think about it, is that each domain name is like having a real estate location in the World Wide Web… And just like in the offline world, on the web – domain names are all about “location, location, location.”

Given the facts that there can only be one domain name ever for each web address and that domain names began being registered back in 1985, and that because of their unique nature – some domain names have been sold in the multiple millions of dollars

You need to be very, very careful which pre-owned domain name you buy.

Why? Because just like there are good and bad neighborhoods, when you buy a pre-owned domain name, you are buying everything that domain name stands for – both good and bad.

If only you could look back in time on a domain name and see where it’s been…

There are various paid services such as Whois Source (whois.sc) which will for a fee allow you to get a historical record of who has owned a domain name over time.

But what if you don’t want to spend any money just yet and just want to get a free option to see if you should even consider going after a domain name?

Enter the Internet Archive or “The Wayback Machine” as it is affectionately called.

The Wayback machine lets you browse through snapshots of over 150 billion web pages archived from 1996 to just a few months from when you are reading this post.

By having the option to enter a domain name and browse through the previously stored snapshots of what a website used to look like in the past, you can get a better understanding of what a domain name has gone through. It works in most cases (except for WhiteHouse.com which has such a horrible reputation that it has simply been excluded from the Wayback archive.

This powerful online archive is also a great way to take a look back and revisit what popular websites looked like in the past.

You can see what Amazon and Yahoo looked like in the late 90’s, and even domain names of websites that are “offline” and no longer exist.

Can you see how powerful this simple act of looking at the past history of a domain name can be when you are considering buying a pre-owned domain name?

Buying and selling domain names is serious business, your domain name carries the entire weight and word of mouth value of your online presence (think of the value of Facebook.com) – you don’t want to just rush into buying a domain name and then potentially regret it.

Do Yourself a Favor and before you purchase that pre-owned domain name – go Wayback…

Take a moment and visit the Wayback machine at www.waybackmachine.org and spend some time entering domain names, and looking back in time as to how some websites have changed over the years.

Get used to the interface and lock it in your head to ALWAYS check the past history of a pre-owned domain name before making an offer.

Do that and you’ll dramatically lower your chances of being stuck with a lemon.

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