Expired domains have value, but not just because they exist. The real value of expired domains is found in certain characteristics, like the domain name’s relationship to your business. Choosing an expired domain is more complex than it appears on the surface. This is a guide to assessing and extracting the value of an expired domain through a careful selection process.
In the world of domain names, there are two main categories. One category is the new domain that someone creates and hasn’t been owned by anyone else. The second category is the aged, dropped or expired domain in which someone has owned the domain name before and is no longer using it.
The second category of domain names are for sale, and it sounds easy to purchase one. Buy a domain that gives you a jumpstart on starting your website, and you can quickly start attracting customers. Or buy an expired domain to 301 redirect the entire site to yours in an effort to pass along all the link juice.
For example, if you wanted to create a home supplies niche site, you might buy something like homeguru.com below so you start with backlinks and traffic first. Sound simple enough, right?
Wait a minute! It’s not that easy. Expired domains have value, but not all of them have value for you. Evaluating expired domains is similar to building a business case for a project. You justify your choice of expired domain through a careful evaluation of the benefits, risks and costs of various options.
A good expired domain could cost you thousands and if you don't know what you're doing you may not even be legally allowed to own it. Ignorance is costly in Expired Domain world.
The following sections discuss:
One of the first things you’ll discover when shopping for an expired domain on a site like GoDaddy is that companies selling expired domains have sorted them by the type of domain. It’s difficult to choose one unless you have at least a rudimentary understanding of what’s in the expired domain name.
When you eventually select and purchase an expired domain name, you’re also adopting the domain’s history. Since the domain has a history, the selection process involves assessing a number of factors, like link profile, keyword ranking and much more.
The challenge is finding an expired domain that meets the criteria within context of your goals. For example: you find an expired domain with a good link profile. However, the domain was used for spam purposes. It's useless.
On the other hand, you like a domain name. Your research proves it has a weak link profile, but you are planning on building a niche or new brand website from scratch. In that case, you might go ahead and purchase the expired domain. As you’ll learn later, there are some reasons that override any positive decision, such as a domain name that has a history of poor reviews or was clearly used for spamming. It’s all about doing due diligence on the expired domain.
Expired domains are usually purchased for their SEO value and there are five common ways people use expired domain names:
PBN links are used in two primary ways. You purchase an expired domain for the purpose of starting a new website. Then you include links to your website in each of the PBN websites. Another option is to purchase the multiple PBN sites, redesign each one and add links to your website on each homepage. Usually, any redesign or content additions are minimal because the whole point is to eke out SEO through the links and not to proactively work each website.
People sell links to other companies or individuals and it's become big business, but this violates Google’s Webmaster Guidelines and it is also considered by many that Google can ID these kind of links and eliminate the value. Some people even call it a hack or black hat SEO. Not recommended.
Developing PBNs is a high risk strategy. The primary risk is that a Google algorithm will detect the use of PBNs to build a network of links rather than a network of websites with real value. The Google algorithmic web crawler wants value and not tricks. The penalty is loss of search engine ranking. Widely regarded as a waste of time these days.
Though PBNs are still in use, they tend to only give a temporary ranking boost through organic search traffic. It usually doesn’t last because eventually Google’s algorithm detects what you’re doing. It’s much better to use other alternatives to grow organic search traffic.
This is a laborious process, requiring time and effort. You must identify websites that are most relevant to your website, so the webmasters are more likely to express interest. A 20 percent return on effort is probably going to be the maximum return you can normally expect.
But remember you will get your website links on other websites, and you are doing it in an ethical manner. The biggest risk is that you go to the effort and fail to pick up quality links.
The merger technique uses a redirect strategy to merge purchases of domains. An old backlink on an expired domain becomes a new backlink on an active domain. It relies on using a redirect status code.
301 redirect status code - webpage has permanently moved to a new location; ensures people and search engines will land on your website or your page content through different URLs than the one originally requested; most commonly used redirect status code.
Once a website is 301 redirected, it basically can't be done again. So when you're analyzing an expired domain make sure to check for 301s.
302 redirect status code – webpage has temporarily moved to a new location; used sparingly for situations like testing a webpage for design or functionality.
307 redirect status code – webpage has temporarily moved to a new location but used for telling search engines the redirect may change in the future so don’t index the link.
In SEO terminology, you are siphoning ‘link juice’ from the expired domain because many links still have value even though the website is not active any longer.
The 301 redirect is by far the most common redirect used and probably most appropriate for the expired domain project you’re doing. Your domain authority is boosted through simple 301 redirects to a website or your page authority is boosted through 301 redirects of specific page content to your content posted around the internet. The 301 happens at a page level, so 301 every page of the old domain.
Google’s Gary Illyes confirmed what John Mueller at Google said earlier that same year (2016) - that no PageRank is lost when doing 30X redirect.
John Mueller with Google had said there is no lost PageRank for 301 or 302 redirects from HTTP to HTTPS.
So, all three types of redirects will pass PageRank. However, PageRank is only one factor of hundreds used to rank pages. In theory, a 301 redirect of a webpage to an exact copy of that webpage under a different URL shouldn’t experience any loss of traffic.
This is an issue for those thinking that they will buy an expired domain in their industry, redirect it to your site and gain all the benefits from the link juice. Google has said that the machine needs to think it is the same company. That said, we've spoken to people who have received the link juice benefits from expired domains using 301 redirects to new sites. So not 100% proven here.
Also, Google confirmed in 2017 that it will follow up to five redirect steps. That is not guaranteed though, so limiting the number of redirects is a wise strategy.
As mentioned, you can build a new website on an expired domain. If you chose this route, Google’s web crawler or Googlebot needs to think the new website is the same business as before the domain expired. Otherwise the bot may not give you value for the links.
If Google thinks the website is a new or a different site, it will start at the beginning as far as valuing the links. The webpage could be treated like a 404 error situation, meaning the new website is considered expired content. The reason it does this is because Google will think the website is spammy.
Starting a niche or new website may cause it to take longer to perform well in organic search. It’s like starting from scratch rather than getting the advantage of established links. Your website will have to establish age, trust, relevance and authority, and that takes time.
It’s called the “Google sandbox effect.” The Google sandbox effect refers to a filter believed to exist that prevents new websites from ranking in search engine results. It says “believed” because Google has never officially confirmed the filter.
The proof is based on the experiences of the millions of people who have launched a new website and witnessed a period of slow ranking ascension.
Therefore, the best way to bypass or at least shorten the sandbox effect time period is to start your new or niche website on an expired domain that has the desired qualities, like age, relevance, trust and authority. Content is relevance, i.e. your website selling clothes won’t rank for queries by people looking for cars.
Links are external citation authority. Assume your webpage selling eBooks has two links. One is Amazon with its powerful link profile and the other is Jane’s eBook Sales Store. Amazon is the recognized authority, so its link has authority and Amazon has a higher PageRank. The Amazon link passes more PageRank to your website.
Google says it doesn’t apply trust to links for ranking purposes, but many believe it does. Trust refers to the trustworthiness of a website as a source of a link. For your purposes, a website is untrustworthy when it sells links to others, has reputation issues and/or has poor content. If you detect any of these problems, then you can believe Google will to.
The links are taken extremely seriously by the Google algorithm. Clearly, this strategy works best when the links are of the highest quality.
Flipping a domain is a strategy in which you buy a domain name or a website and then sell it without doing anything or doing very little in order to make a profit. Of course, you want to buy either as cheaply as possible and need to be able to identify undervalued domains and websites. In this case, the whole point is to buy an asset and resell it to make money.
You can flip an active domain that is up for sale or buy an expired domain and flip it. The same is true for a website. You can buy an expired website or an active website that hasn’t reached its potential.
There is a difference between flipping a domain and flipping a website. When you flip a domain, you are buying and selling a website name. When you flip a website, you are selling the whole value of the website that includes content, traffic, reputation, revenue generated, long-term sustainability and potential growth.
When it’s time to find expired domains, there are resources that offer quality assistance with tracking, finding and purchasing expired domains. Godaddy is by far the leader in the space. You don't get much help in determining if a domain is good or not, but the list of domains is refreshing every day and access is only $5 per year. Just sign up and check it out. Start vetting out expired domains and learn what good ones look like vs bad.
Pro Tip: Good domains go for thousands of dollars at closing.
It’s important to conduct due diligence before buying a domain name. This means a comprehensive appraisal of the domain name to ensuring you aren’t buying a domain name with a poor reputation or questionable practices.
You can enter a specific URL in the search bar and get statistics, like changes in the content of archived URLs. It also now provides API endpoints for search access to archived items by searching against stored metadata. Don’t stop with Archive.org though because webmasters can ask to have their websites removed if they consider the information proprietary and not for public consumption.
Majestic is a link intelligence service. You can search a domain name and get a wealth of data that include fresh and historic external backlinks, referring domains, referring IPS and referring subnets. It provides internal outbound links, crawled URLs, indexed URLs, educational and governmental backlinks and a lot more.
It also offers information on the topical trust flow which is a measure of how close you are to the most trusted websites in nearly 1,000 categories. You can get the link density of inbound links, backlink history, backlink breakdown, referring domains breakdown and anchor text for drilling down into each keyword.
Some of the information is free, but to get the most information, it’s necessary to choose a plan and subscribe.
Here’s the catch. You won’t necessarily disqualify an expired domain simply based on the fact it was used in a blog network. Even in a toxic domain, the backlinks may be valuable, and they can be extracted.
Once you believe a domain needs further investigation, there are many factors to consider before making a final decision.
The domain niche must be relevant to your business niche, if you want to leverage the site to gain a competitive advantage among other businesses in the niche. It can be a niche blog or a niche website. If the expired domain is niche relevant, then visitors of the last website will stay on your website because of relevancy. In addition, authority (discussed earlier) is built for niche relevancy. You want to demonstrate relevancy to users and the search engine.
Authority is important, and as mentioned earlier, there are two types of authority. DA is domain authority and PA is page authority, both scores developed and defined by Moz. And by the way if you really plan to spend thousands of dollars buying expired domains, invest in Moz to help the research process. They offer a free trial, so there is no risk.
The metrics for DA and PA indicate site performance.
Page Authority predicts how a specific webpage will rank in search engine result pages. Page Authority scores range from one to 100, and naturally, the higher the score, the higher the ranking ability. Moz says PA is a comparative tool and not an absolute score, so instead of looking at an absolute score, you would use PA to compare against other pages.
Domain Authority measures the strength of entire domains or subdomains. DA is a search engine ranking score that predicts how a website will rank on search engine results. It’s calculated the same way as PA but for the whole domain rather than at page level. DA is a comparative score also, so you can use it to compare websites. DA is not used by Google so does not influence SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages). It is also scored on a 100-point scale.
However, it makes sense that domains that score higher for DA and PA are more desirable than those that score lower. A rule of thumb is to look for domains that have a 60-80 score.
It only makes sense to purchase an expired domain that has high ranking for the keywords you want to achieve a high ranking in. If you can’t find an expired domain that fits the desired keyword profile, then plan on instituting other SEO tactics like building quality backlinks, writing blogs or developing guest blogs either personally or by hiring a blogging service.
It’s important to verify the expired domain is already indexed in Google. This speeds up the ability to get the SEO advantages you’re looking for. If the expired domain is not indexed, Google will reindex it when the domain is brought back to life. In that case, you’re back in a situation in which the expired domain is treated like a new domain, meaning you have to establish trust and authority.
You want to purchase an expired domain that enables you to use it to your SEO advantage. There are two primary strategies for meeting this goal. One is reaching out to webmasters to discuss linking back to your website. The second strategy is creating a URL redirect.
Reaching out – First, extract the backlink profile of the expired domain. Then determine which links are high quality, and focus on them. Research the contact information for each link, and contact the webmaster. The purpose of the communication is to let the webmaster know you acquired the domain that contains their links. Then propose linking back to your website since the domain is expired.
Create a URL redirect – We discussed redirects earlier. Just make sure that the domain hasn't already been 301 redirected somewhere else.
Let’s talk about link quality now. This is one of the most important aspects to consider when looking for an expired domain to purchase. The quality of the links on the expired domain is crucial to SEO. A link profile is the makeup of the links directing users to your URL. The link profile consists of the types of links pointing to your URL, the anchor text of those links and the manner in which the links were acquired.
Google favors links from a variety of sites, and it favors links from high-authority sites. Google also looks for link-building tactics that are engaging in efforts to game the system, i.e. excessive quantity of inbound links to a website.
It’s more important to build high-quality backlinks than to develop a lot of spammy links or low-quality links. Links should come from authoritative, legitimate sources.
Relevance is also considered, meaning the links should make sense. Anchor text is the text of a link that makes it clickable. The text includes keywords, URLs, brand names or just interesting text. However, the anchor text of the links needs to correlate with where the link will take the user.
The challenge is that an excessive amount of anchor text inbound links can look unnatural to Google. The goal is to have links that will look natural to readers and to the search engine.
Every business deal involves legal issues, and buying and using expired domains is no different. Many domains are trademarked or common law trademarked. If the domain is trademarked, you can’t own it even if you managed to buy it (another reason to make sure you use only legitimate companies selling domains like GoDaddy).
You will get sued and have to give back the domain if you purchase a trademarked expired domain. You're thinking: What?!
Yeah, you're not allowed to own Pepsi.com. Sorry to burst your bubble. You're also not allowed to own pepsichallenge.com or winafreepepsi.com or any other variation.
The challenging part to understand here is that it is not illegal for GoDaddy to sell you the domain. You're just not allowed to claim ownership of it, as you do not own the trademark.
The United States is a “first to use” country, as opposed to a “first to file” country. You get some protections if money was paid for goods or services. Domain name usage is protected under common law. The vast number of domains in different formats (.gov, .edu, .com, .net, etc.) means doing deep research to ascertain trademark status is crucial to avoiding a lawsuit.
The disputes are growing over the “second level” domain names, which is the name directly to the left of the top-level name (i.e. in restaurants.com, the top level domain is .com so the second level is restaurants). There cannot be two identical second-level domain names in the same top-level domain. In fact, ICANN doesn’t allow two applications for names that are so similar that their use would create user confusion.
Common law rights are acquired when the name becomes a source indicator in commerce through use, marketing, promotion and advertising.
When you choose an expired domain, you need to understand that it may still be under common law, even if there hasn’t been any commercial use for a period of time. You want to select a domain name that is not USPTO registered and is not likely to confuse customers about products or services or their source.
Generic names can never be trademarked, by the way, i.e. shoes.com or restaurants.com. Calvin Klein owns underwear.com, and it’s proven to be more valuable than calvinklein.com. However, the company has no legal rights for underwear.com.
Purchasing one or more expired domains can be profitable, but it certainly involves more than selecting a name you think sounds good and appears relevant. You should never buy an expired domain without doing extensive research to avoid wasting money and getting involved in a dispute. Faithfully practice due diligence because it’s the key to success.