In late April Matt Cutts, Google’s head of web spam provided some insight on a few ways to avoid purchasing a domain that had been used for spamming or even penalized.
Here is a summary of what he had to say:
Search for the domain in Google. More specifically he recommends doing a site-colon command search (site: domain name), if there are no results and you know there is content on the domain, then there is something wrong and Google is not indexing the site. He also recommends doing a search for the domain without its domain extension to identify the site’s reputation.
For this step it is key to keep in mind that nothing will appear if the domain has never been registered or has been long removed. I recommend using http://whois.domaintools.com to see if the domain is or has been recently registered.
The second recommendation was to use archive.org to view past versions of the site in order to identify if the site contained any spam content. If a site contains spam content, it should be seen as a red flag for any SEO efforts and avoided if possible.
Perhaps the easiest and most trustworthy method of identifying a penalty or drop due to algorithm changes is looking into the traffic history or checking if there are any manual actions (penalties) against the site. So it’s no surprise that Matt suggests that when buying a domain from a current owner you ask for access to their webmaster tools and/or Google analytics to help identify issues.
Overall, Matt shared some good advice as these checks take little time to conduct and could save you from purchasing a damaged domain. But what happens if you do buy a dud? We’ll Matt’s advice is to disavow all links, submit a reconsideration request and start fresh.