- Aug 7, 2020
At some point, you’ve undoubtedly run into the concept of “expired domains”. Then you quickly hear about how complicated it is and how easy it is to mess up and waste your entire investment.
Half of this is true, and the other half is fear-mongering. It’s not as complicated as some people (sellers of domains, PBN builders, your competitors) want you to believe, but you definitely can mess it up, too.
I’m hear to clear the air. I’m going to tell you everything I know about picking up expired domains. When you’re done reading this you’ll know how to vet the domains to make sure they’re not only free on penalties but are extra powerful. You’ll know how to set them up with redirects so you get the maximum value out of your investment.
And if you don’t want to deal with finding and vetting the domains yourself, there’s an easy solution to that too. Let’s get started.
Let’s Cut to the Chase… Do Expired Domains Work?
Why bother reading this guide (or bother buying one) if expired domains don’t work? Would SEO’s and Internet Marketers use them if they didn’t work? Of course not. The simple answer is that they not only work, but they work a little too good.
Have you ever been to one of the giant amusement parks and waited in line for 45 minutes for each ride? You’ve planned all year to come to this park, just like you’ve carefully planned out your new project. Then you find all you’re doing is waiting in line. This is what SEO’s do. They plan and plan and finally roll out their new site only to have to wait on Google for what seems like forever.
Then you notice there’s a handful of people with special wristbands. They aren’t waiting at all. In fact, they’re cutting EVERYONE in line and causing you to wait longer. What’s the deal? You want to know where they got these VIP wristbands RIGHT NOW.
In our search engine amusement park, the VIP wristbands that shortcut you to the front of the line are expired domains.
And yes, that’s exactly how they work. Everyone else publishes 100 pieces of content and then wait for 12 months for Google to accept you’re not a spammer and finally let you rank to your full potential.
Not you, though. Your expired domain has already gone through all those age-based tests and passed with flying colors. In the meantime it has collected a ton of great backlinks, too. And to top it off, it’s a nice, brandable domain name. What’s not to love?
Of course, I can’t just say all these things without showing you some proof. @Ryuzaki was the first Builder Society member to use one of our expired domains. He ended up inviting us here and showing us what he’s been doing with his domain here in his case study called The Eternal Grind. It’s been a year now and here’s where he’s at, in terms of organic traffic:
This is one total year of the site being alive on one of our domains that had the following stats:
- Domain Rating 35 / URL Rating 15 (Ahrefs)
- Trust Flow 10 / Citation Flow 30 (Majestic)
- Domain Authority 49 / Page Authority 37 (Moz)
- 350 Referring Domains / 15k Backlinks
So how did it go? We care about the money. He told the Builders in another thread that he spent about $2,000 on this domain. Where is he at now? Last month was $1,225 and he told me that this month is looking to be just under $1,500.
He’s almost earning the entire price of the domain PER MONTH now.
It flat out works and works good. But don’t think it’s some magical method that helps you escape from the responsibility of doing your part. You will have to work hard yourself. In fact, the harder and faster you work at the beginning, the bigger your results will be.
There are even more impressive results out there, but @Ryuzaki’s are pretty indicative of how it goes on average. You publish some content, get busy and distracted, come back to it, etc. As long as you get content up (the more the merrier), the age and backlinks will do the rest.
What are Expired Domains?
There’s many millions of registered domains out there. As we all know, most get registered and don’t even get used. Many that do get used suck in some way or another. They have trash names, unappealing TLD extensions, never gain backlinks, etc.
But there’s a bunch that get registered and are used for real businesses. These do real PR work and marketing. They make a big splash on the scene and over the years business dies down and they eventually stop renewing their domains.
That’s where we, as SEO’s and Internet Marketers, can step in and scoop them up. These are expired domains. They’re aged (in the eyes of Google), have great branded names, and have existing backlinks pointing to them.
But it’s not all that simple. The industry has come up with a lot of various names to try to clear up the confusion. Aged domains, expired domains, dropped domains, non-dropped domains, etc… they all refer to different things. But most of us still simply call them “expired domains”.
The two kinds you want to know about are:
- Dropped Domains
- Aged Domains (or Non-Dropped Domains)
Non-Dropped Domains are sometimes called Aged Domains purely because their WhoIs date wasn't reset. And typically, they go to auction instead of a drop list. This is where the good and really good domains end up and where we pick up ours.
It’s not absolutely critical, but I find it best if you can get the domain in your hands and begin using it before it completely drops out of the Google index. As long as the homepage remains indexed, you’re okay.
Is This Method Safe in the Eyes of Google?
You’re probably wondering if this is white hat or more of a black hat method that Google frowns upon. Google has not discouraged this at all and has actually affirmed that the backlinks still count.
I think the reason for this is that there’s a barrier to entry. Anyone ponying up the cash for an expired domain is likely going to build something of quality. And if not, then Google will find out when they root out the PBN or you blast spam links at it. So it’s no skin off their back for this method to be out there and effective. Just build a real, white hat authority site on them and you’ll not only be fine, but enjoy a sizable head start.
Why Use Expired Domains?
We’ve covered some of this already so I’ll keep it short.
You’re going to get a big SEO boost, for one. The domains are aged and have had the “throttle” released and can perform at their full potential. Simply put, you bypass the Google Sandbox.
Though we can argue about the details, Ryuzaki shared this example of the throttle being released at the 1 year mark for WhoIs / Google Index age. Sufficiently aged domains let you bypass this completely.
These domains also come jam-packed with tons of great backlinks. You can publish 1,000 posts, but if you have no backlinks then good luck really competing out there in the SERPs. But with these existing backlinks from powerful domains, your content will really soar.
A benefit that you never see people talk about is the “brandability” of the domain. A domain like
BestWeddingDresses-2018.infomight have some backlinks (and not good ones), but good luck with your branding.
Meanwhile, something like
EcoState.com(I made that up, it does happen to exist) has a much greater brand associated with it. It’s short, has fewer syllables, is easy to read, etc.
When it comes to getting more backlinks, doing outreach to other real businesses, getting social shares and going viral, you already know which one has infinite more potential to win. Make sure, when you buy an expired domain, it has a great brand. It’s a huge secondary benefit that few people seem to recognize.
How to Vet an Expired Domain
You can come at this from two angles: you already know the niche you want and now you need to find a domain, or you just know you want the best expired domain you can find no matter the niche. Either way, the process is the same. Look for the following attributes:
Number of Referring Domains
The more there are, the more you’ll pay. But don’t be lazy. Many expired domains will boast hundreds of RD’s but most of them will be spam or nofollow forum links, for example. You want as many as you can from the best sites possible, but they have to be the right kind.
Forum links, blog comments, social bookmarks… all of this is fine if they aren’t spam links. But what you’re really looking for are contextual links within articles. This is what Google values the most because they’re not user-generated and they went through an editorial process. You want dofollow, contextual links from high-quality websites!
The majority of your links should be related to what the topic of the expired domain was about. Relevance is a huge factor these days. Make sure the site wasn’t used by someone else before (another SEO) who changed the topic and got unrelated links. You want it directly after it leaves the original business’ hands.
If you’re going through the effort, the best way to filter for quality at the start is to reject anything that doesn’t have a good brand name. Good brand names means they cared and probably attracted good links. Bad brand names means the opposite and is probably loaded with low-quality spam links.
Some will argue otherwise, but I personally don’t want any drops from the registrar. I want to see that the WhoIs date never reset. Domains can change hands without resetting that date. If it stays dropped for long enough, there is a risk that Google will discount the links. They can also be “re-counted” as you gain trust, but there’s no point in battling this issue. You want the head start, not to have to re-earn trust.
Here's BuSo as an example:
Domain Name: BUILDERSOCIETY.COM Updated Date: 2019-10-15T23:40:02Z Creation Date: 2014-05-23T02:12:33Z
This one is tricky. Many real businesses have no clue about on-page SEO and never get a lot of organic traffic, but they got tons of referral traffic, social media traffic, and direct traffic. Take this with a grain of salt.
For example, @Ryuzaki’s domain ranked for a lot of keywords but never high enough to get much traffic. That’s because there was zero on-page SEO being done. You can see that below:
The links can be the best in the world but without active SEO work, the old business never ranked well. That’s their loss, not yours.
Check and make sure some other opportunist didn't pick up this domain, soil it, and then let it return to the auctions or drop lists. One example is domains that get a lot of type-in or referral traffic will get bought and the traffic cloaked and redirected to seedy sites and end up penalized. Other times they may have been used in a PBN or for some unrelated niche site.
The fastest way to check is to use the Wayback Machine and go through the history. You can actually pull up the site as it was throughout the years between the original owners and you, to make sure nothing unsavory happened with it.
This is what you can expect to see. Along the top you can travel back through time and see how the site was being used. You'll find interesting things, like BuSo actually existed for a split second in time in 2011 with nothing on the page but the URL itself. Then in 2014 it took the form above and has evolved ever since. You need to do this kind of check for any domain you want to buy.
I find it best if the homepage remains indexed at the minimum. The reason is that Google has is own age that it counts from the moment of indexation. As long as the homepage stays indexed, this timer is still ticking.
This is related to Google’s timer as well as the original WhoIs date. The older, the better. Of course, there is a point in time where you don’t get any more benefit out of Google, but there is a chance that you’ll find more and stronger backlinks on older domains. I’d look to have a couple years of age at least.
Something you’ll want to consider, especially if you’ll register a trademark, is if one already exists for the old business. Typically they won’t be renewed but you don’t want someone trying to take the domain back after you spent a lot of time building out the new site. They won’t always succeed but why risk having to waste the time in a legal battle?
How to Use an Expired Domain
Finally, the real meat and potatoes! You’ve vetted (or let us do it) and picked up your expired domain. Now what?
This isn’t just for SEO’s. Everyone should be concerned with salvaging all of the backlink power they can, and this is how you do that.
Build Out Your New Site First
I like to build out the new site way ahead of time before I even shop for the perfect domain. That means designing it and pre-loading it with content on a staging server.
The reason for this is that once you have the domain in your own registrar account, you want to hit the ground running. You don’t want to waste any time because every passing day is a chance the domain falls out of Google’s index or another backlink is lost when a big site crawls their own outbound links and removes dead links.
Do not build out a crappy site! It needs to look as good or better than the previous site if you don’t want to lose backlinks over time. The webmasters on the sites that link to you must see your site and find it acceptable to link to or you’ll lose many of the links you’re paying for.
Also, don’t get clever. Build a site in the exact same niche as the previous site. It’s a must to not lose backlinks, to retain the power of the existing backlinks, and to stay topically relevant compared to what Google had in its index before.
Let me say that some people suggest you need to recreate the old site and let it sit for a while first, to make sure Google trusts it. This is pointless and not necessary. The old site already existed and achieved that goal, so there’s no need to recreate it. You don’t need the old site to be on your new hosting for a while either. Websites change IP Addresses and servers all the time. Don’t buy into this time-wasting myth.
Find Out Which Old Pages Have the Good Links
The first thing you want to do is use a tool of your choice that can tell you which of the old URLs have all of the links pointing to them. You don’t need to save every single link since many may be trash anyways. But you must save the top 80% of them at least. Tools like Ahrefs, SEMRush, and Majestic can achieve this for you.
Decide Where to Direct the Existing Backlinks
The homepage URL will stay the same or will redirect to the new version (I mean with
wwwor not or
https://. You won’t need to worry about this.
Though they may not have backlinks, I still recommend redirecting the old boiler plate pages (like the About and Contact pages, for example) to their new locations. It could be a trust signal, so I’d take advantage of it.
The main concern is all of the backlinks pointing to old inner pages that no longer exist. You have a choice to make. Some people try to recreate content on the exact URL path like
.com/category/sub-category/date-plus-title-random-numbers/. I wouldn’t bother doing that. It’s a headache that’s not necessary.
Identify any content pages that you need to recreate and have content written for them. Then you can publish them on a new, clean URL slug like
.com/exact-keyword/. You can then redirect the old, ugly slug to the new one.
What you’ll find is there will be pages that got some good links but the content isn’t worth recreating or doesn’t make sense to recreate for whatever reason. So where do you aim these redirects?
The best thing is to redirect them to the closest matching page on your new site, even adjusting the content so it makes sense to the reader (maybe adding a couple paragraphs). The next best option is to redirect them to a category page that makes sense. The worst choice is to redirect them to the homepage.
That’s because PBN creators are lazy and 301 redirect all pages to the homepage. Google caught on and has admitted they use this laziness to root out PBN’s, so that’s the last thing you want to do.
Set Up the 301 Redirects
The question becomes, how do you create the 301 redirects. First take note that I’m specifically saying to use 301 redirects (not 302). 301 means it’s a permanent, purposeful redirect. 302 means it’s temporary and for Google to not be overly concerned about it. Use a 301 redirect each time.
I can’t cover every type of server and CMS, so I’ll talk about Apache and Wordpress, which is how the rest of the Digital Strategy Crash Course works too.
You have two choices:
- Manually set them up in .htaccess (fastest for the user, but complicated)
- Use a plugin to manage them (uses PHP and is slower, but easier to implement)
The faster method (for you to set up and for the user) is to add the redirects to your hidden .htaccess file. This comes with an inherent risk. If you make a mistake, you can cause your entire site to break. If you are unsure about what you’re about to do, ask for help!
Where you place these redirects in the .htaccess file matters. They need to be above anything that Wordpress puts in there by default and above any code that forces
http://to redirect to
https://. Not only does this save you (and Google) unnecessary redirect hops, but not doing it this way will break Wordpress.
There’s more than one method to set up the redirects. One looks like this:
# 301 Redirects <IfModule mod_rewrite.c> RewriteRule ^/maybe-a-category/old-url-location/ https://expireddomain.com/new-slug/ [L,R=301] </IfModule>
Another method looks like this and is much simpler, but you can’t use any Regex matching:
Redirect 301 /old-url-location/ https://expireddomain.com/new-slug/
That’s it. In both cases, you need a new line for every URL you’re going to redirect. This could be an entire guide in and of itself so I’m having to keep it short. If you end up needing help, ask for help! Everyone here at Builder Society is happy to pitch in.
A Note About Archived Content
Be careful about going to the Wayback Machine and resurrecting old content that was on the expired domain. The reason is two-fold.
First, you don’t own it. The previous owner of your expired domain holds the copyright on those articles and can cause you a world of trouble for using it. Have it rewritten at the least.
Second, a black hat method is to look at all the dropped and auction domains and then go steal all the old content from the archive. So there’s a chance some moron has already used it on a spam domain and had their site penalized or de-indexed.
It’s not worth the potential waste and risk in either case. Just use brand new content and rest easy. It’s not worth saving a few bucks once you’ve already invested into an amazing expired domain.
That’s It! You’re Ready to Ride Down Easy Street!
It’s been my pleasure to share with you the entire process of understanding why you’d want to start your new project on an expired domain, learning how to vet them, and then actually using them.
If you don’t want to deal with any of that, ODYS.global is here on BuSo to help you achieve your goals. We offer pre-vetted, branded domains with wonderful backlink profiles, done-for-you sites built on your chosen domain, or pre-made sites you can invest in and flip down the line.
But with the guide above, you can get it done regardless. It’s a benefit that’s available to anyone, as long as you can invest in your project some upfront. Best of luck with your new build.
We’re here to answer any questions so fire away. Thanks for reading.