This Domain Has Great Traffic … or does it?

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Analyzing Website Traffic and Optimizing Domain Name Purchases

Legitimate traffic is vital to domain owners. This is why it is crucial to research a domain name before buying it from someone who has already had it in use. It might be a poor decision to buy a domain name, for example, if previous registrants generated fake traffic or used it for disreputable purposes. Either type of activity would mean the domain has not been attracting users that could be converted to customers, and it might be tedious to correct a negative reputation if the domain has earned one.

That makes it important to research the reputation of a domain when it has been previously registered to another party. If you are the current registrant, you must be sure to protect the reputation of your domain name. Both of these tasks mean analyzing domain traffic and history. Some of the tools for researching previously registered domain names are the same tools you can use for managing your existing domains, but some additional resources specific to each purpose are also helpful.

Blacklist Research
Most domain owners think of blacklisting problems mainly in terms of spam. It is certainly something to consider when purchasing a domain. If the previous owners engaged in unsolicited email schemes, the domain could easily have landed on a number of email blacklists. This is one reason it is a very good idea to check with the major spam blacklist organizations before purchasing a domain. It is a further red flag to find a domain on a spam blacklist because that is also often a sign that web traffic to the domain is not of a desirable type. If a domain you are researching is found on one of the spam blacklists, you can then decide if the domain name is worth the effort to engage in reputation repair efforts.

In addition to spam blacklists, domains can be blacklisted by search engines. Google, for example, blacklists domains for habitual linking to known spamming and malware sites. Banning is also applied to domains for engaging in unacceptable tactics that are intended to improve search engine ranking. Some of the tactics that are not acceptable to Google are paying for links and masking keywords in the content of website pages. Running an advanced search at Google is the best way to determine if a site has been blacklisted for unnatural traffic generation or one of the other violations. If you search for a domain name itself and see a marked lack of results, it can be a sign that the domain has been blacklisted.

Traffic Research
The alexa.com analytical tool is a great place to begin researching a domain that is for sale. The Alexa service, operated by Amazon.com, provides traffic information and estimated traffic rankings for sites across the Internet. The results can be highly insightful about the type of visitors that a domain boasts.

A search of a domain on compete.com is helpful for getting limited information on high traffic sites, and these results can be compared with those from other services. The unique visitors estimate provided by Compete helps to distinguish legitimate traffic from bots. Domains that have low traffic will yield little information through the Compete service, but that response in itself is insightful when researching a domain for possible purchase.

The tools found at mydnstats.com are also useful for analyzing traffic and site ranking for a domain. It pulls some information from the Alexa analytics results, but it also provides a little more context and additional information. One detail in particular indicates whether the Google ranking it currently has is valid. It also displays the existence of backlinks for a variety of common sources. This tool makes an excellent companion for the other tools, and all of them together will help you to get the most value for your domain purchases.

Analyzing Logs
If you already own and operate your domain name, you have access to server logs for analyzing traffic and unique visitor patterns. Every visitor will leave an IP address in each log entry. The trick is to identify web crawlers and other automated traffic in the entries. The first thing to note is that multiple entries in a log are often the result of just one visitor on a page. A single hit on a web page will yield a separate log entry for every element included on that page. This means there is an entry for every image and style sheet element invoked on a web page that is visited.

That makes the task more difficult, but it is not impossible. It requires spotting patterns of an IP listed in hundreds of entries rather than a handful. It is not necessary, however, to look at every entry or group of entries in close detail. There are a few sections of an entry you can examine further to try to determine the nature of a visitor.

First, if you notice a large number of the same IP address in the logs, choose one of the entries and look to the section that specifies the user-agent. Found at the end of the entry, the user-agent is a type of identifier for the browser that is being used to visit the web page. Sometimes, a spider will sufficiently identify itself. A Google spider, for instance, identifies itself as a Googlebot. If the user-agent is unfamiliar, check to see if one of the requests from that IP address was for your robots.txt file. It is rare for legitimate traffic to access the robots file.

Another way to potentially detect a spider is by examining session ID information in the requested URL section of a log entry. If your site design includes a session ID structure, each session is appended as a unique ID to the requested URL in the domain logs. If you see multiple IP addresses that have fetched a page with the same session ID, chances are good that it is actually one visitor. That visitor is likely a spider that is disguising its presence by spoofing other IP addresses. The spider in that case is making it look as though the traffic is from random visitors.

Google and Bing Webmaster Tools
Both Google and Bing offer a selection of tools for managing your domains and their reputations. If you have recently purchased a domain from a previous owner, these tools can be of help in determining how past behaviors are affecting your current traffic and your rankings with the two search engines. The tools can also help you to present your domain content in the most advantageous ways.

These resources can help you with reputation repair if that is an issue, and they can help you to improve your implementation of SEO strategies. Both of these search engines offer tools that will help you to analyze, acquire and maintain the type of traffic that is most desirable. They make excellent supplements to the other strategies for researching website traffic and optimizing domain name purchases.

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