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Can I buy a domain that used to have spam on it and still rank?

Can I buy a domain that used to have spam on it and still rank? - answered by Matt Cutts

Matt's answer:

Hello. We have a question from Johan Tavard, from Thailand. Johan wants to know, can I buy a domain name on the secondary market that has a lot of spam on it and still rank? How can I reset the SEO of that domain? Thousands of root domains coming from spam. OK, so good question. And in fact in the follow on comments Johan said that the domain he’s thinking about buying would be $5,000. This is a really tricky question. Because on one hand, there’s algorithmic spam and there’s manual spam. And all manual spam does have an eventual time out. So if you were to completely clean up all the content on the domain– do a reconsideration request– in theory, that domain can recover. However, on the algorithmic side, if there are a ton of spammy links that the previous owner built up, that can be a little bit hard to go through and try to clean up, and get all those links taken down, make a list of all those links. The way to think about it is there are a lot of spammers out there that do basically what’s known as a churn and burn tactic, where they just use as many techniques to try to make domain rank as they can. And then as soon as that domain is awful, or bad, or Google has caught it, then they sort of move on. And they go on to some other exploit, and they try to tackle it with another domain. Now what you don’t want to do is be the guy who gets caught left holding the bag. Who buys what looks like a good sounding domain, but actually a spammer has kind of driven into the ground. It’s almost like instead of starting from the ground floor, some spammer has come along before you and dug a hole. And now when you start out you’re already in that hole. It is possible. You would really need to document the steps that you took very well. So, for example a spammer could easily– here’s an exploit that you can just imagine on the fly– churn and burn. Drive their domain into the ground, burn everything to the ground. And then try to pretend like they sold it to somebody else, when they haven’t really sold it, and try to rejuvenate it. And renovate it, and make it sound like it switched owners. And so we’re automatically going to take those sorts of reconsideration requests with a grain of salt. So I would be extremely careful, especially if you’re talking about $5,000. At that level it’s probably worth the trouble to ask if you can see the sort of messages that show up in Google’s Webmaster Tools. And I would do an honest assessment. From what you’ve said in you’re follow on comments it sounds like– or in the original question, you’ve got thousands of domains with spammy links to the site. If I were looking at the situation, I would probably pass on that temptation. And I would almost rather start with a clean, fresh domain that really hasn’t already gotten a really bad reputation. Not just with Google, there might be other search engines. It’s the sort of thing where there might be complaints on Better Business Bureau or various consumer complaint sites, and there might be a bad association with that domain name in various consumers’ minds. So definitely investigate carefully. We have seen a lot of black hats who will spam as much as they can. And then when they get caught, they try to sell their domain, and flip it on various domain selling boards. And try to get a last little bit of money. And you just don’t want to be the sucker who’s the very last person in line and doesn’t realize that that domain is in really bad shape, and then have to try to renovate it. When it might be easier just to start fresh.

by Matt Cutts - Google's Head of Search Quality Team


Original video: