It’s happened to me before, I find a domain with great metrics, buy it for a bargain price, buy hosting, set up a WordPress site, add some good content, then next update, the MOZ Domain Authority drops from 40 to 10, and there are barely any backward links showing any more. After literally wasting perhaps thousands of dollars, and many hours going through this process, I now know what to look for, to avoid buying a lemon, and can pass on my bad experience to make sure you buy an expired domain avoiding all the potential pitfalls.
You have searched and filtered domains and found some you like. Now you start the due diligence on each domain. You want to make sure you are purchasing a domain from what used to be a legitimate site, without any connotation of spam whatsoever. Just avoid anything potentially spammy, it makes life easier. From there you want to decide on what level of authority this domain carries in relation to it's topic.
Using the search filter, in the domain results, you can click on the link by the domain, called Archive, or simply go to archive.org, and search for the domain. Here you use the WayBack machine. This has all web sites archived over time, from here you can view the history of the web sites that have been on the domain. It’s good to check what the site looked like from its first launch, to what it was like before it dropped. If it has changed dramatically over that time, then check out more instances to see what other changes there have been. I might check about 4 instances of a site, to gather enough of an idea of what the site has been in the past. Use your own judgement to decide on how many instances to view.
The important thing to look for is to make sure the site has remained on topic throughout the history. This will give you an idea if it has behaved in any spammy way. Go through the content of the site, and see how well it is written, check to see if it’s unique, and to what detail the content goes to, is it informative? Useful? Interesting? Was the site kept up to date regularly over it’s lifetime? How well is it designed? Has it had some real value and effort put into the design? Has it had custom code written for it?
You can use all the questions to decide on how legitimate you feel the site has been. Make sure it is in no way spammy, and from there decide on how authoritative the site is on the particular subject related to the domain. This will help you decide more on how much you want to bid on the domain.
Also archive.org can give you a rough idea of how long ago the previous site was no longer live. There can often be a big gap between instances, but it still helps some times.
The best tool for this is Moz’s Open Site Explorer. It will show you the links that are pointing to the domain, along with the link text, and even offer spam indicators, it is updated regularly too. It is prudent to familiarize yourself with this tool, although it’s fairly simple to use, and straight forward.
When you do a search, you will see a drop down box labeled “target”, by default it says “this page”, you want to change this to “this root domain”, so you can see all the links going to the domain.
Open Site Explorer will give you a spam score for the domain straight away, generally you want a 0, but even a 3 or 5 should still be fine in most cases. You will also receive the Domain Authority (refers to the overall link count of the domain itself) and Page Authority (refers to the link count of a particular page). When I say link count, it refers to a combination of quality and quantity, rather than a total count of links. Domain Authority is the best metric on the web to determine a domain’s authority in relation to links, ever since Google removed their PageRank score. It is generally the Domain Authority that you want to care about, rather than Page Authority for particular individual pages.
Another way to put it, is how important a domain is deemed on the web, how many sites validate this domain as something of relevant.
Before you review the list of sites linking to the expired domain, check how many links are actually pointing to the domain first. This is under the heading Established Domains, and there are two types, “Root Domains” and “Total Links“. Root Domains are how many links are coming from different domains, in other words, the total number of different web sites that are linking to you. Total Links refer to how many links are linking to you, so if one web site is linking to you from 5 different pages, then that would be 1 Root Domain, and 5 Total Links.
Now, sometimes you do get the odd site that links to another site from every page, and it could end up giving you 1000 links or so, so if you have Root Domain links at 10, and Total Links at 1000, it might be fine. You will likely see the site that is linking to you this many times, and you can view the links, and judge for yourself how they seem.
However, if you are seeing thousands of Root Domain links, then that should raise some red flags. That is an incredible number of different sites linking to you, and is not really possible to obtain naturally, so it is most likely been generated with some spammy techniques.
A natural number of Root Domain links should be around 30-50, perhaps 100 in some cases. If it’s significantly more, then be dubious, if you feel it’s ok, then go ahead and check as many of the links as you can and see if they look natural. A domain even with 1 backward link, is still likely all natural and legitimate, but if you are aiming for something established, it won’t help you too much. Anything over 10-20 links is likely fine. But, the whole point of the Domain Authority is to help you decide on what is good, irrelevant of how many links are pointing to the domain.
In general it’s good to try and hit above a Domain Authority of 30. That shows some significant value, above 40 is amazing, and to be honest it’s hard to find anything much higher than around mid-40s. They do come up, but it might not be the industry you are looking. Don’t go solely on Domain Authority, as you do want some diversity too, you don’t want your entire Domain Authority to be built on one really great link, and several poor links, as if you lost that one link, then you would lose the majority of you value.
Ok, so now you are ready go through the list of the links, there are several columns of information about each link.
The first is the actual URL linking to you, along with the page title, so just this info alone will give you a good idea of the type of site that is linking to you, on top of that, you can quickly click on the actual url, to view the link, and check the site, make sure it looks like I legitimate site, with a legitimate link, in the right context, and hopefully a related topic.
Next we have the anchor text (the word/s that are hyperlinked to your site), you want to make sure these don’t look too spammy. In most cases about half the time the anchor text will just be the name of the site or the exact domain, this is a natural anchor text profile. If you do see the link text as lots of great keywords, you would love to rank for, then it’s highly possible this backward link profile is not natural, and perhaps spammed or paid for instead. Things to look out for might be keywords like “Buy”, “Online”, “Order”, call to action money keywords, that you wouldn’t naturally use to describe the site. If it was an online shop, then perhaps some of these will occur, but if any look suspicious, check the link, and judge for yourself how natural it looks. Usually natural link text looks quite boring, and rarely has your great money keywords that you wish to rank for, so use that as a sign.
Then we have the spam score for the domain linking to you, judge that at your own discretion, a site can’t really help who links to it, so there may be a few links with higher spam scores, perhaps hitting around as high as 7 or so, but as long as they are the exception, rather than the rule, you are likely fine.
The last columns give you the Domain Authority (DA) and Page Authority (PA) of the site linking to you. This can be useful to see how valuable some of the individual links are, you can also change the sort order of the links to show the higher DA/PA first. Generally, it’s the DA you are concerned about, as a higher DA shows you are getting links from more authoritative sites, perhaps like a major news site. These sites likely get a lot of visitors, and will send you more natural and free traffic. Like I was saying earlier, you want to make sure there is not just one link from a DA 60, and the rest are coming from a few 20s, which end up giving you a DA of 35 or so, because if you lost that DA 60 link, your DA would tank instantly.
Other things to be aware of in your backward link profile, you would want to check for foreign sites. So if you see a lot of Chinese, Russian, or strange looking foreign characters, in the titles’ of the URLs linking to you, and the expired domain has nothing to do with China, etc, then this is a big red flag, and likely very spammy.
You want to look for .edu and .gov links. It is rumored that sites with these domain extensions, carry more authority, and will help boost your authority in return.
Domains are like wine, the longer they age, the better they taste. You should be looking for domains that have been established for around 3 to 5 years, at least. You also want to think about the age relative to the number of links the domain has built. If it is only one year old, and has 100 backward links, in general that doesn’t really happen, and if it did, it was likely a domain no one would have let expired in the first place. Good links take time to build naturally.
This is really important, you want the domain to be indexed in Google, if it’s banned from Google, then there it’s likely had bad practices in the past, and Google has deemed this domain spammy. The domain doesn’t need to be ranking for any keywords, as it likely wont, due to it being an expired domain, but nonetheless Google should have kept it in their index, as there is still a web page up, likely an advertisement to buy or auction the domain, but the site shouldn’t be down, and thus not removed from the index.
To check this, just search the domain in Google, and make sure you see that domain in the listed in the results, if you see it there, then all good, if not, move on to the next domain on your list.
First off we don’t want a site that has been totally spammed out in the past, and and just rinsed of any intrinsic value it had left. From there we want as much as authority left in the domain as possible. Look at as not starting a new site, but carrying on from the previous site. The site might have been down for 30 odd days once it expired and went through the auction process, but you can breathe new life back into it. As long as you keep it on topic, create improved content, design, and value, then the authority should all pass on.
So what can we do with the authority? Well the domain should eventually get its initial rankings back in the search engines, along with the traffic from its previous visitors and those who added it to their favorites, and the links from all the other sites you found.
Search engines should be happy that you have improved a site that they previously deemed important, and you have essentially tidied up the web a little, with all other links pointing to a dead domain, now pointing to a great web site.
Basically it’s a great starting block to create a great site, as getting started really is tough, getting rankings in the search engines and building links is a very laborious task, and requires a lot of patience. Purchasing an expired domain removes a lot of that painful process, and allows you to spend time on the important part – building a great site, and the better your build it, the more authority it will build on top of your foundation – over time!