Should you buy an expired domain for traffic?
As I’m waiting for my keyword golden ratio niche website to start ranking in the SERPs I’ve been reading about expired domains. The question in my mind is, should you buy expired domain for traffic advantage? Let’s find out.
One of the oldest tricks in the book in online marketing has been acquiring expired domains with powerful backlink profiles. The idea is to leverage the “link juice” and domain authority for building a new money site or acquiring several of such domains to build a private blog network (PBN for short).
The idea behind a PBN is to point powerful backlinks to your existing money site with complete control over things like anchor text. This is considered a gray hat/black hat technique by Google and will certainly lead in severe penalty or complete sandbox and deindexing if you get caught. And this can include every domain in the network.
That’s why I have no interest in using expired domains for building a PBN and I can’t encourage anyone else to do it either. I just wanted you to know this is one of the most common ways to use expired domains and you are bound to bump into information and marketing about PBNs if you look more into expired domains.
So once more, just so we’re clear: Private blog networks are highly frowned upon by Google and you should not risk using them. Still, many experienced marketers swear they are the way to go if you want to dominate the first page rankings. But if you hear about PBNs for the first time right now, you are definitely in the position to leverage them safely.
I’m still at the beginning of my online marketing journey and someone with more experience might be face palming hardly right now for me even thinking about using expired domains for SEO and traffic advantage in 2018. My research shows the topic is highly controversial even between very experienced marketers these days.
Some say that a deleted domain loses all its link juice as Google disavows any incoming link once the domain expires. Some say this is simply not true and that expired or dropped domains work just as well as before and give you an enormous advantage in building a new site versus on a fresh domain. Especially now as the time it takes for new sites to acquire trust and start ranking in Google seems to be getting longer and longer.
I like to do my research, but when my research is inconclusive I like to take things to my own hands, do some research and testing of my own to find out how things work. That’s what I intend to do with expired domains and I promise to share my results with you!
Let’s start by looking at what expired domains actually are.
What are expired domains
Just like the name suggests, expired domains are domains that have been expired. Meaning that they had been registered before but the owner decided to let the domain expire and did not renew the registration.
The reasons for this are many. Maybe a company that owned the domain went bankrupt, maybe someone got tired with blogging or simply didn’t have time and decided to let it go.
Some times a domain can get expired simply because the owner forgot to renew it. Even though that’s unlikely since the owner will receive several notifications and most registrars will keep the domain in backorder for a month or two to give the original owner a chance to redeem his/hers property.
This still happens when people and companies have so much online property and limited time to process all the daily information they receive from those properties. Make sure that you are not one of these people and always keep your domain registrar contact information updated.
TIP: It’s generally a good idea to use your best personal email to receive domain expiration notifications straight to your smart phone.
There are some more worrisome reasons that someone looking to acquire an expired domain should know. The domain might be a part of a previous shady activity and it might already be deindexed. The owner simply let it go because it has lost it’s monetary and SEO value.
This is why it’s extremely important to check the history of a domain even if you are not especially looking for an expired domain. If you just come up with a good domain name and it happens to be free, the chances are high that it was registered at some point.
There are tools like Wayback Machine that have snap shots of the domain dating all the way back to the 90s. You can usually spot a spammy site easily.
The other thing you should check is the backlinks of the domain. If there are thousands on a free expired domain, I would steer clear. It’s a clear signal that the domain was subject of artificial link building that can lead to penalty.
If an old domain has several thousand high quality, natural backlinks it’s probably too valuable for anyone to let it just expire for free.
Just the fact that the domain was used before doesn’t make it worthless (or worthy) it depends on what it was used for. So don’t panic if you find your domain was used 10 or 15 years ago.
Why use expired domains
The idea in using expired domains is that they can have significant domain authority and good backlink profiles. Some old domains can have some very high authority backlinks from large companies, archives or news sites. In case you didn’t know backlinks are links pointing to your domain.
It’s not clear how much Google and other search engines value backlinks these days. Some say recent algorithm changes have dropped the value of backlinks close to zero and it’s the on-page SEO, quality of content, social signals etc. that matter the most.
Yet there are some very experienced and successful SEOs and marketers that swear backlinks still matter the most. They have some pretty damn convincing data to back that claim too.
One thing that is sure is that it’s the quality of the backlinks that matter. Wrong kinds of backlinks will hurt your rankings and the right kinds can pull a page from the bottom of the top 100 search results to the first page.
This becomes obvious if you do some research on backlink profiles of first page search results in competitive keywords.
Previously all backlinks provided “link juice” to your domain/site but since it was extremely easy to manipulate this with artificial backlinks they changed it so that only more authoritative domains related to your niche will give your rank a boost. The anchor texts of the links also have to be natural and not keyword stuffed.
This is why PBNs can be so powerful but since the whole point of devaluing unrelated backlinks was to stop artificial manipulation, Google doesn’t like any kind of artificial link building.
So ideally the backlinks should be naturally received from more authoritative domains related to your niche. The problem is this never happens naturally. Especially on a young site, unless the content as absolutely phenomenal. That’s why gaining backlinks always involves some effort, time and sometimes money.
Domain age affects how much trust search engines give trust to the website. A domain that has been registered and had a website hosted on it for ten years will obviously be trusted a lot more then three months old website.
The problem here is that the domain age apparently resets to zero when a website gets deleted or the domain expires. That’s at least the official story but I have read some experiences that suggest otherwise. Some people seem to have had considerable ranking advantage on a recently expired domain that had a website for several years before. This might be due to backlinks and returning visitors but it still makes you wonder.
You can find great brandable domains and niche ideas
One reason I love to go through expired domains is that you can find some great brandable domains you wouldn’t come up with yourself. The fact that there are hundreds of thousands of domains to choose from means you won’t run out of ideas very soon.
Talking about ideas, expired domains are also great from niche ideas and research. I’ve come up with some pretty interesting niches that I would have not come up on my own in a million years.
Where to find expired domains
There essentially three ways to acquire an expired domain. You can buy one directly or from an auction before expiration, you can backorder one or you can simply buy one for the normal registration fee if it’s completely expired.
The ones in direct sale or auction are not really expired since they many times have a website on them but sometimes it’s just the domain. Either way it’s still owned by someone and not really expired. These can be very valuable and I thought I should mention them. They are not what I’m after right now.
The ones that are in backorder are expired domains that the original owner has a change to redeem. If they decide not to get it back the fastest buyer can grap the domain.
The thing about backorders is that it can be pretty hit or miss. You can’t know when the domain will free up for registration and the fastest will grap it. That’s why there are services that are specialized in this. They have automated software on fast servers that keep at it at the time of expiration. You can’t really compete with them manually apparently so it’s wise to use them if you really want a domain in backorder.
So where to look for expired domains?
The best free resource is Expired Domains.net. They gather and publish all the information you need for finding good expired domains. They list expired, pending delete and backorder domains.
Their membership is completely free so I suggest you register right away because you will get access to a lot more comprehensive listing with more metrics for analyzing the results.
There are other services like DomCop and Freshdrop. For free services Expired Domains.net is by far the most comprehensive. You get so much information that you have to start by learning what everything in the result table means. Sure there are short explanations on every metric but if you are a new to this stuff, expect to do some Googling.
I plan to write a post soon on the most important metrics as there really is too much stuff to discuss for this one post.
So do they really work? When in doubt, the best way is to try it yourself and learn from the process! That’s why I decided to get an expired domain with a decent link profile and build a WordPress site on it.
I’ll be documenting my results here and I will share them with you later on so make sure to check on me from time to time!
Like stated before, I’m not interested in PBNs for the quite obvious risks and possible future penalties, so my aim is to just build a pretty basic niche website and see if the history of the site has effect on the ranking speed and position.
I will be aiming for low competition and KGR keywords and it will be interesting to see if this site gains traffic faster then my other niche website I’m using to test the KGR terms.
The domain is actually in my professional niche of environmental sciences, so I have some pretty good ideas for content and I’m fairly confident I can bang out a dozen medium length, high quality posts fairly quickly.
My plan is to publish the content in the coming weeks and then I’ll just let the website sit for a while and hopefully start to pick up some organic traffic. At that point I might outsource some of the content creation efforts since I feel I’m spreading my resources too thin with three websites at the moment.
I can’t justify paying for content creation just yet since my online business is not bringing in enough money to have me convinced it’s going to work on the long run. It’s something I’ll definitely look into once I have a steady online income.
I plan to reinvest every dime I make online for the foreseeable future. Either in content, education or software and marketing. I figure this will grow my business at a much faster rate then doing everything manually. But I have to know I can do it on my own first!
Do they still work?
That’s what I aim to find out. I will update this part once I have some data on the results. For now, I will show how I found a domain for my first test site.
I began by just scrolling the domains list until something sparked my interest. I stumbled upon something to do with the environment or maybe renewable energy, can’t really remember exactly. As I mentioned I’m an environmental engineer by profession so this got my interest.
I decided to do a search on the term environment.
I then sorted the results by the ABY metric, which is the oldest date in archive.org and exported the domain listing 25 results at a time through the import function. I wish there was a function to import the whole table or at least a few hundred ones but I didn’t fin one?
I then pasted the results to DomCops Open PageRank tool. Google gave up the PageRank data in 2016 and since then it’s been hard for webmasters and SEOs to compare domains efficiently for free. They have had to use paid services like Moz, Ahrefs and Majestic.
Open PageRank is free and can give a quick gauge on the potential of a domain. It’s a great tool for comparing large volumes of domains like we have here to find the most potential ones. You still need to do some more work but this helps to narrow it down. Or that is my logic at least, can’t really vouch for this just yet but feel free to try it yourself.
You can just copy paste the exported data from Expired Domains.net to Open PageRank.
I then list the results by PageRank and pick the ones that have PR of 3 or more. After going through hundred or thousands of domains I noticed that finding dropped domains with PR over 3 was rare and finding ones with PR over 4 and a healthy backlink profile and history was exceedingly rare. The ones with higher PR are probably too valuable for anyone to let them expire.
Once I had a bunch of “high” PR domains I looked at the amount of backlinks they had. ExpiredDomains.net shows this info as well. If the domain had several thousand backlinks I ditched it. It’s highly unlikely the link profile would be natural and there’s no way of easily checking all the links for free. Several hundred backlinks was a no no as well, especially on younger domains.
I found a good domain name that was registered around 2000 initially. It had only 16 backlinks and a clean looking history. I made sure of this by checking it with the WaybackMachine. It belonged to a small American environmental consulting company and the site had mainly contact information.
What really struck gold was the backlinks. 3 of the 16 links were from pretty damn authoritative domains with the domain name as anchor text. Two of the high value ones were dofollow links as well. I checked the backlinks manually with Ahrefs free backlink checker.
After thinking about it for a minute I decided to register the domain and install wordpress on it. I’ll start creating content on it as soon as I get this post finished, so I think it’s time to call it a day!
Well that’s it for now about expired domains. I hope to have some interesting info to share with you sometime in the future.
Thanks for reading if you made it this far. I bet you have a bunch of questions after my ramblings so please don’t hesitate to drop a comment, I promise to get back to you as soon as possible.
I will be updating this post once I have some results or more info to share. Might be three months or might be a week so please bookmark for future reference! I promise to add an email list soon to anyone interested receiving updates.
For now that’s all!