Buying Old Domains For SEO (Experiment)

A few weeks ago I came across a nice summary from Rebecca on what strategy to use when you’ve bought an old domain. I admit, I’m pretty new to domain buying myself so I thought I’d go and play with some basic tools to see if I could come up with an easy way to find, evaluate and buy potentially valuable old domains.

Issues to be aware of

Before I start, be aware that most SEO’s I know feel that buying a domain, and changing the hosting, WHOIS, DNS and setting up a 301 all at the same time will “reset” the SEO value of the domain. I strongly agree with this. That’s not to say that some of the value eventually returns but I wouldn’t consider buying an expired domain to be an instant fix to any ranking problem.

What I did find interesting was this Webmasterworld thread, also discussed on Search Engine Roundtable. The webmaster in question accidentally allowed his domain to expire, after which his organic rankings were lost. After renewing the domain, his rankings returned. Read into that what you will. Maybe there’s a short time limit where an expired domain will pass value if it’s renewed but the DNS and website content doesn’t change?

If too many things change during a transfer and you reset the value of a domain, I’ve heard “3 months” banded around as the period of time in which it could take a domain purchase to actually start having an impact, if at all. Get the transfer wrong and you end up wasting a lot of money, just like Toys ‘R’ Us when they lost all their potential search traffic from the purchase of the Toys.com domain name.

Anyway. This post isn’t about whether an expired and redirected domain passes value, it’s about my experience in actually buying one to play around with and test out. So, how do you (or how did I) go about finding old domains to purchase?

Find an old domain

Domain Tools have an excellent (and free) advanced search for domains at auction. You can search by DMOZ and Yahoo Directory entries, and I must say, it’s pretty surprising to see just how many domains expire that have listings in authoritative directories that have been forgotten. Look how old some of those domains are. Tradesignals.com anyone? Anybody?!

domain tools advanced search

For my example domain purchase, I found (and eventually bought) Baronweb.com. It’s in the Yahoo Directory – first registered in 2001 and will do nicely for our example. Interestingly, the domains are usually still in the Yahoo directory but I didn’t find any in DMOZ. Not that I looked all that long. 105 Nasty old links in Yahoo Site Explorer too.

Check if that domain is in any way valuable

Let’s look at Linkscape data for Baronweb.com – 80 external links, across 43 subdomains and 38 root domains. That sounds ok, but an overall domain MozTrust of 3.08 out of 10 and a pretty low Mozrank of 2.46. It’s not great.

As far as I could tell, an inbound link on a links page URL was the most valuable inbound link which fits with the original theme of the first versions of the site – Wine. Maybe if you wanted to launch a Wine affiliate site, you could be on to a winner. Eventually, the site became a Myspace Themes spam site and was last indexed by Wayback in 2007. The domain expired and was eventually dropped.

Buy it anyway?

If you don’t feel brave enough to redirect the domain directly to your own site but you feel like doing some testing elsewhere, why not bid on the domain and see what happens? You can add any domain you see on Domain Tools to a basket. Following the “Buy this” link after adding the domain to your basket takes you to a page on Snapnames.com a little like this:

bidding on domains with snapnames

If you’re successful with your bidding, you recieve an email confirming your new purchase. with instructions and a username and password to access the domain registrar’s control panel to change the DNS or nameservers settings.

If you want to know more about the domain buying process on Snapnames, I suggest you start by reading their FAQ section. Comments in Rebecca’s SEOmoz post also recommended using Namejet.com and Pool.com too. I’m running a few tests on some other domains to see what happens, if anything. Something tells me I might be in for the long haul with this one. Regardless, I still think it’s a worthwhile piece of understanding for an SEO to gain through their own testing and first hand experience.

Comments

  1. David Carralon

    good stuff, Richard, when i thought that everything had been said on the SEOmoz post + the one from Danny Sullivan in SEL, here’s another great post full illustrated with and interesting example. I am tempted to go and buy some of those expired domains myself and experiment. It is just the fear to invest my time on something unknown what keeps me away from it… but isnt that one of the best ways to learn? : )

  2. Andrew

    Great article. We are starting a new biz (promoting affiliate poker products) and wondered whether to start from scratch…as you say experimentation would be the key.

  3. SEO Animal

    Good isolation test. At SMX 2009, all three SE reps said they have grown keen to this tactic, as it was being mis-used. So basically if the registration info changes… you are likely facing a reset. But testing the claim is always a worthy effort. You may be surprised.

  4. Web Design Kent

    The main important thing to remember if you get a domain which is themed and has a PR – ideally with recent pages and an aged domain as we know, is NEVER change the registrar. You will lose all the benefits of the proceedure in SEO value. My SEO contact states that leaving well alone and setting up a 301 .htaccess file will pass everything to the site you want. Also, never go for more than 3 domains on 301 redirects.
    I found a 16 year old site on DomainTools but it had pages over the years according to TWBM, now parked and no PR. 41 inbounds but these were from old directories, 2 DMOZ listings and 4 Yahoo directory………£59.
    You really have to drill down and get lucky to find the ideal domain. Ideally, a website that is current and offer the owner $$$!

  5. algie @ freelancers

    sir, how much would I sell my domain if it has on PR2 and has a good traffic? What would be the factors that affects my domain value? Actually, I am planning to sell my blog but I don’t have any idea how much..can you please help?

  6. Murat Bilga

    f you don’t feel brave enough to redirect the domain directly to your own site but you feel like doing some testing elsewhere, why not bid on the domain and see what happens?

  7. Emerszon

    Shhhhhj why are you disclosing the value of domains… Let it expire so I can buy it. Lol

    But thanks for the value of educating your readers.

  8. Brastemp BH

    We are starting a new biz (promoting affiliate poker products) and wondered whether to start from scratch…as you say experimentation would be the key.

  9. Tito

    When I buy aged domains, I try to gather as much information about the old content as possible (think archive.org etc). I then put a simple wordpress blog up on that domain and blog about the same subjects that were mentioned on the old site. I’ve noticed that, when I do that, the old domains I bought tend to keep their SE position. I then gradually (over the course of a few months) transform the site into something new. Or I just keep the site small, throw up a few ads and most importantly write a few blogposts containing links to my main sites.

  10. New Yorker

    If you buy a domain and the registration changes it resets to zero but what if there are a ton of backlinks out there pointing to this domain? Will google start reading all of these again?

  11. Sizemed

    The wayback website reports are not quite accurate. I’ve checked one of my websites, and the last capture is dating june 2011 although the site is still up and running.