We present a comparative study of several empirical and nonempirical models for the absorption potential, which is the imaginary part of an optical-model potential, for electron scattering by rare gases. We show that the elastic differential cross section is most sensitive to the absorption potential for high-impact energy and large scattering angles. We compare differential cross sections calculated by several models for the absorption potential and by several arbitrary modifications of these model potentials. We are able to associate the effect of the absorption potential on the elastic differential cross section with its form at small electron-atom distances r, and we are able to deduce various qualitative features that the absorption potential must possess at small and large r in order to predict both accurate differential cross sections and accurate absorption cross sections. Based on these observations, the Pauli blocking conditions of the quasifree scattering model for the absorption potential are modified empirically, thus producing a more accurate model that may be applied to other systems; e.g., electron-molecule scattering, with no adjustable parameters.