If you’re into domains, then you should know how important this is. If you're new to domains, then you’re about to learn for yourself. In short, checking your domain history is vital if you want a solid, healthy, and long-lasting investment.
To put it into context, say you’ve been after a domain for months — it's the perfect fit for your business online, and what’s better? The price has dropped. But in the excitement of seeing it available with a big old discount… you fail to think of a few factors.
From criminal history to being flagged for spam, let’s see how to check domain history so you know it's worth your time and your money.
Firstly, the domain you’re after may have been flagged for black hat SEO (Search Engine Optimization). Questionable domain owners often attempt to manipulate search engines through buying backlinks.
Backlinks, external links routed to your site, help boost a site’s ranking online, but only if they’re deemed quality by Google. If a previous owner is engaged in black hat tactics, building poor backlinks along the way, Google might penalize the domain in search engine rankings.
Another word to consider would be ‘unsavory’ — not all sites have a respectable history. Perhaps the domain was used for an adult site or casino. Even though that usage is in the past, it’s likely to impact it now.
It’s best to think of checking a domain’s history like conducting a house inspection. You need to look at its history to make sure you’re buying something that won’t be a problem in the future.
It takes a bit of work, but there are tools in good supply to help you out.
What’s the Whois database? Well, it’s a great place to start.
There are two types of Whois Lookup — the basic one, and a history lookup.
The service is a public database that holds all the info collected when a domain is registered. The basic lookup should tell you:
For the web domain history lookup, you can use DomainTools to get a more thorough report. It will show you historical screenshots, Whois records, and pages, covering decades of historic changes, including domain name registration history.
Sound too good to be true? Well, it’s too good to be free. But if you’re after a domain set to change your life… consider the paywall.
The Internet Archive is what it sounds like — a non-profit library of books, movies, software, websites, and other material over the decades.
One of its most popular features is the Wayback Machine, searching the history of over 500 billion web pages. Just like DomainTools, you can check a domain to see historical captures of web pages. For example, enter Namecheap.com, and you’ll see copies dating back to 2000.
Here’s one of the Wayback Machine’s captures of Namecheap in December 2004:
This tool is great for seeing exactly how a domain name was used over time, and to identify any controversial uses along the way.
Speaking of controversial uses, Domain Name Server (DNS) settings are manipulated by online fraudsters all year round. What does that mean? The DNS stores IP addresses, a website’s digital code, that’s translated when you search for it in domain form.
For example — Google.com could have an IP address that looks like this 192.168.0.2.
What these pesky online criminals do with DNS settings ranges from:
The good news is that you can use tools like SecurityTrails to check that DNS history and make sure everything is above board.
This site offers several tools to understand any domain name’s history and health. Some of the tools are behind a paywall, but it might be worth registering before spending money on an expensive domain name.
DomainIQ lets you see DNS history and Whois info, but what it’s most useful for is flagging.
The service flags domains with cybersquatting disputes, if they’ve been seen as ‘adult’ and if they’re caught up in trademark issues.
Before you take out the trash, a domain shouldn’t be thrown out just because it has a flag.
To look even further into domain history, SimilarWeb lets you check Traffic History. The real value here is not just the ability to see how popular a domain is, but to see where that popularity comes from. This tool is brilliant for assessing questionable traffic sources, ownership handling, and tracking its reputation over time.
You should be starting to see how stringing these tools together can be seriously powerful. And we’re not done yet.
SEMRush is a suite of search engine optimization tools. You can use SEMRush to view a domain name’s backlink profile, assessing any spammy or off-topic links that might indicate black hat SEO.
This one’s seriously useful — Backlink Audit is one of SEMRush’s free services, helping to measure what’s commonly known as Domain Authority. It evaluates all of the backlinks pointing to a domain name and separates them into three toxicity levels: Toxic domains, potentially toxic domains, and non-toxic domains.
Review the ratio of toxic domains to non-toxic domains, and have a look at the toxic domain links to see what they are and if they’re problematic. The healthier the link quality, the more authoritative and trustworthy a domain is considered by search engines.
A note — it’s usual for even good sites to have toxic backlinks, so don’t avoid a domain name just because it has some bad ones. Use the audit as a guide to ensure you aren’t buying a domain with lots of spammy inbound links.
Google can be a domain's judge, jury, and executioner. So it makes sense to use its evaluation resources to help view domain history.
First, search for a domain like this — example.com.
You’ll see all pages from the domain indexed on Google. If the domain points to a web page of any kind (including a parked page) it should show up in the results. The exception is if the parked page is using code to tell Google not to index it, but that’s rare. Funnily enough, if you get zero results, you should investigate.
Next, search for the domain name in quotes:
You’ll see references to the domain name, including potential news stories on the site. A positive news story with a link to the domain is a good thing, but watch out for stories featuring scams, lawsuits, and so on.
If you’re still worried about the domain name history, well, it’s not all doom and gloom — the historical usage of a domain name can actually be helpful. If a previous owner created a site for the same topic you want or even had quality backlinks from a different industry, you could have a leg up when you start your site.
If all else fails and you still feel in the dark, why not ask the domain owner about the domain’s history too? Having found out their details through Whois or DomainIQ, many will be happy to fill you in themselves.
You can’t guarantee that an existing domain is completely safe to buy. Just like you can’t be 100% sure that there’s nothing wrong with the house you’re looking at. But one thing you can do is as much as possible, and it starts with using these tools. Ready to start testing? Check out Namecheap’s wide range of pre-existing domains available on the Namecheap Market today.