Accelerated SaaS SEO with Expired Domains
What is Expired Domain SEO?
Expired domain SEO is when companies or individuals purchase previously owned domains (from a registrar like Godaddy or Namecheap) and uses those domains to build a new business or enhance the backlink profile of an existing website.
As you’ll see in this post. It can be a powerful tactic to add to your arsenal of SEO knowledge.
Like other types of SEO, there are many ways to go about it. In this article I will cover 3 that actually work. If you have other strategies to share let me know! I’d love to hear them.
The 3 strategies I’ve used are:
- Buy and Build
- The Moving Domain Method
- The Three-Oh-Won (301) Method
But before we get into all that, let’s make sure we cover some basic principles first. (If you’re already well-versed in the foundations of SEO, feel free to skip ahead to the Strategies section.)
What is an Expired Domain?
An Expired Domain is a domain name that was previously owned by another individual or company but for some reason the ongoing rights to that domain have lapsed by the owner.
If you’ve never bought a domain name, essentially you rent the rights to that name on a regular basis. This could be monthly, yearly or even every 10 years.
Most domain registrars will allow you to select as many years as you like as long as you have the cash to pay it. So when someone says they “own” a domain name, they mean they are leasing it like the rest of us.
Of course, they can always extend that lease before it expires — if you pay your next bill on time, no one else can buy it.
Which brings me to my next point: why domains expire.
Why domains expire
Domains expire because the registrant (i.e, You) have either decided to stop paying for the domain because you have no use for it anymore, or you’ve forgotten to pay the registrar – the company you rented the domain from (ie GoDaddy) for the domain.
Most domain registrants will have a grace period between non-payment and the domain officially “expiring” and being put back on the open market.
Once the grace period is up, your registrar and many others can list that domain again and sell the rights to another person. That can be a big problem if you have an established business and didn’t intend for the website to expire.
Why Buy Expired Domains for SEO?
Many SEO forums will tell you that buying expired domains is a powerful way to improve your current website’s backlink profile or start a new business.
For a lot of blackhat SEOs it’s a tried-and-true method used to increase their website authority and go on to fame and fortunes (in their own niches at least).
Not least of which was Suumit Shah, the founder of the wildly successful Dukaan App. He used this very tactic to scale a site in the (extremely competitive) health niche from zero to $10,000 per month in affiliate revenue.
You can read more about that in an interview he did for Detailed.com here.
But all you whitehat SEOs out there might be wondering what Google’s position is on the topic.
What does Google think of Expired Domain SEO
While Google and their reps probably deal with this on a yearly basis, here are a few of the more significant times they’ve spoken on buying expired domains:
At Domain Roundtable (a conference on the web in 2008) Matt Cutts had this to say on expired domains for links
“Google tries to reset pagerank/links for all expired domains to zero when they are registered by someone new. They don’t try to penalize the expired domain, but they also don’t want to give credit for the previous owner’s links.”
The question was being thrown around about whether links from expired domains helped with SEO. Danny Sullivan addressed it pretty well here before his Google days, but he does chat with Matt Cutts who was the Googler of the time.
The bottom line was that if you’re buying domains just for links or, buying domains and keeping the old domain running and just changing the links to your website, Google will probably give you no credit for those links.
However, legitimate purchases of businesses and then redirecting the domain is OK. Back then I probably would’ve just listened to them. Now, I’d very quickly call bullshit. How would Google even know what is legitimate outside of link context? But, let’s move on.
John Mueller says in a webmaster hangout;
“Sometimes we recognise that a new site is completely unrelated to an old site. So for example if you go out and buy an old domain name, it might have been a church website for 10 years. If we recognise your new website is really not the same as it was, then we need to understand that difference and say that, these links, they apply to the old website but they don’t apply to the new one.”
John Mu came out with a pretty simple analogy for the practice; “Buying domains is like buying used cars”. He says that you can’t really know how Google sees an expired domain and alludes to the fact that it’s a risky tactic.
There’s not really much to prove, since you can’t guarantee what a site would rank as :). It’s like buying a used car; sometimes it’s easy to get things working well, sometimes it takes a really long time & a lot of work and you still have hard-to-find noises.
— johnmu.xml (personal) (@JohnMu) October 16, 2019
Reading between the lines here you’re probably getting the feeling that Google doesn’t want you to use this strategy — and you’re probably right.
It’s a risky one if not used strategically, and for obvious reasons Google actively discourages it. Because at its extreme end, it leads to spammy tactics and irrelevant rankings. If there’s anything we know for sure also is that marketers ruin everything — especially strategies which provide real results in the way the following 3 can.
So in reading the next sections, pay attention to my warnings and make sure you don’t get too reckless. Google’s ban hammer isn’t something you should take lightly, and of course, try not to ruin it for the rest of us!
Strategies for Expired Domains
1.Building or Reviving a business
One cool reason to buy an expired domain might be to start a new business, or to revive an old one. Businesses open and shut all the time and a cool domain name can be inspiration for a unique new business.
In fact, there is a crowd of very creative and passionate people who enjoy buying domains and starting cool new businesses.
One of them is vidaliaonions.com, a little site owned by domain enthusiast Peter Askew.Peter is “all-in” on developing expired domains that have potential: he founded his business, Deep South Ventures, 11 years ago focused on doing exactly that.
Vidalia Onions, of his many interesting successes is covered in this 2020 interview for the Side Hustle Show.
After accidentally winning a bidding war Peter bought the domain vidaliaonions.com back when it expired in 2014 and sat on it for a while before doing anything with it. But, “it gnawed at me” he admits.
After some digging he discovered a passionate community of professional and home chefs regard this particular onion in high regard thanks to how easy it is to cook and its mildness (it doesn’t cause tears when peeling).
It appears that Peter decided to develop the domain around 2015/16 and although it took some time to establish and grow the domain by 2020 he’d sold 64,000 pounds worth of Vidalia Onions over the internet.
While that might not mean much to you. Just running some quick numbers against vidalia onions; prices range from 2.50 to 7.00 per pound so we can estimate up until a few years ago Peter had made about $160,000 to $448,000 in revenue all from an accidental purchase of a domain back in 2014.
If you want to read more about this business and its transformation you can do so here.
Reviving a business from an expired domain name isn’t uncommon either. Imagine you’re online one day clicking around social media and find an old post from back in 2013. The post talks about a great business that provides interior design services.
You click the link to check it out, but the website is no longer available… You might just have found a cool new business revival project.
If that did happen to you, you’d be a lot like Jacky Chou, a Canadian engineer who stumbled on a great business idea and domain name at the same time.
The right domain going up for sale on GoDaddy auctions led him to a business that now takes in 4-figures every month. But, I’ll let him tell it in his own words;
“I browse GoDaddy Auctions once a week and load up the domains into Ahrefs to check the metrics. One day, I stumbled across Laurelandwolf.com and figured I could build a nice affiliate site from this brand-able domain.
I originally purchased the domain for a bit more than I would’ve liked to, but I saw it had a verified Instagram account which I can recover.
The domain cost $3500 USD, and I got it ranking bottom of first page for the industry head terms within a month. Terms like “online interior design” and “online interior design services”.
So far, this has resulted in a consistent $5,000 USD MRR (monthly recurring revenue) and growing 30% MoM.
We’re currently in talks with VCs for funding which would be something that has never been done before.”
I asked Jacky how much of his success would he place on the fact that he picked up a domain name with a solid brand presence, allowing it to rank quickly for those keywords. He replied:
“We attribute about 80% of the revenue from that. We were not expecting that type of traffic or conversions when we just used a random landing page like we originally would’ve intended to do. So far, its performed far above our expectations.”
2. Moving Domain Method
The moving domain method is a spin-off of the wildly popular Moving Man Method for backlinking.
If you’ve never heard of the moving man strategy, let me give you the quick lowdown. The Moving Man Method was a link building strategy first coined by Brian Dean of backlinko fame.
The Moving Man strategy is for finding backlinks for your website by looking at the posts that link to competitors’ content for your keyword.
How does moving man linkbuilding strategy work?
Moving man involves you finding content on a 3rdy party website that links to one of your competitors. For example if Blogs.com links to competitor1.com. The key here is that link is broken because your competitor has either moved or deleted that content.
You then approach that website and offer your websites content as a substitute. Now you’ve gained a link, Blogs.com isn’t linking to a broken page and everyone (except your competitor is happy!
Here’s a high level example of what the moving man method looks like. The competitor link is removed and your link is added. Simple.
If you want to read more about it you can check out Brian’s video on it here.
But moving on…
The Moving Man Domain Method
This strategy is almost exactly the same as described above except, not just the page that was being linked but the entire domain has expired you leverage that without sending a single email.
Instead of finding all of the 3rd party websites that were linking to that old business, you buy the old domain and redirect it to your own blog or resource.
This strategy is based on the idea that you were already looking for backlinks for a resource you have already written, you should often find that the expired domains are in the same or a very similar industry to yours and may have even written an article the same as yours in the past!
The upside of this approach compated to Brians is, instead of getting just ONE link for your blog or resource, you will adding the strength of an entire domain — and all those existing backlinks — to your own backlink profile.
This strategy is one I have personally seen work miracles for struggling websites.
Here is the breakdown on how to do this:
- Write and publish your post or article as you normally would.
You don’t need to have one of these domains ready to go here. You’re just doing normal content marketing.
- Start a moving man campaign. Looking for deadlinks on websites that might be interested in linking to your blog, article, or resource.
- If you find that one of those links from a relevant domain has expired, qualify it (more on how to do that below).
- If the domain passes your quality checks, buy the expired domain from any domain registrar.
- 301 (permanent) redirect that domain to your blog, article, or resource.
You’re done! Now that website links to your blog and you will receive link juice and Google love.
Usually buying a domain this way can mean price fluctuates wildly but for most small domains you’re looking at somewhere between $8 and $20 depending on who you buy it with and what type of domain it is ( .com is generally more expensive than .io for example).
Once finding an expired domain, the qualification and purchase should take you about 30 minutes to an hour and then it’s as simple as a quick redirect and you could gain 100’s of links. Not bad return for an hour’s work and a few extra bucks.
As I said before, I have seen this strategy work wonders for SEO. For example; during my ten-month stint as Head of SEO at Reedsy.com, we were really struggling to get a blog post ranking for an important, high-traffic, and high-value keyword.
If you’re not aware, Reedsy connects aspiring authors to editors, ghostwriters, and illustrators on their marketplace. So, you can imagine what the keyword might have been — although I can’t give the actual details of the keyword, let’s say it was quite competitive and pulled in tens of thousands of searches per month.
During some link building outreach I came across a domain that was highly correlated with what we wanted to push. Let’s pretend our post was targeting “how to write a book about monsters” (it wasn’t).
We managed to find the domain of an author who wrote both books about monsters, and posts on writing and illustrating books about different types of monsters in stories. Not only did that post have great related content, but it had some pretty powerful links, too. From the websites of major publishers, a local radio station, and even a number of respectable blogs with high domain authority and traffic.
We promptly bought the domain and 301 redirected it to the post and waited. What we found was that the keyword improved within the next month from page 2 (ranked 15th at the time) to the bottom of page 1, at about position 6. In that time we made no other changes to the article.
This isn’t the first or only time I have seen this strategy work. Across many other industries and businesses, this strategy continues to work when approached with care.
3. Three-Oh-Won (301) Shotgun
Strategy #3 is my favourite and is pretty similar to the Moving Man Method with one important distinction: the moving man uses laser precision to look for a domain for a specific resource or post— this approach is more of a shotgun.
In this approach you find dead domains that have topical relevance for you and you decide where to send their link juice after you verify they are of value.
For example, if you own an ecommerce website that is focused on selling paintings and paint supplies, you might have a blog that you’re constantly writing content for, and in searching through domains using the above more laser-like method you find one that doesn’t quite fit. But, the website is super relevant. In this example, let’s say it’s the website of a local art gallery that shut down.
The anchor text is probably not going to fit whatever blog post you’re looking to rank but the website has backlinks from local chamber of commerce and even local news and radio stations from 2014.
Rather than trying to link to a specific blog post, then,you could 301 this domain to your gallery page, or a product category. Those pages have a broad contextual relevance to Google and great interlinking to your product pages and blog posts. This passes the value of the links onto many pages at once.
The easiest way to do this is to find domains when going through your traditional moving man methods.
Once you’ve found that domain and qualified it with a backlink tool and wayback machine to make sure it was relevant, you find a category page that you can send that sweet link juice to.
It’s not as direct or sexy as the previous strategy, but putting some of those signals in the bank can be good for your overall backlink profile.
How to find and buy expired domains (3 Easy Methods).
There are many ways to go about finding and buying expired domains. While the buying part is usually straightforward we will start with finding expired domains first.
There are 3 main ways to find expired domains to purchase;
- Auctions sites like Godaddy auctions
- Expired domain websites like Expireddomains.net or Dropcatch
- Privately acquiring a domain from a selle
1. Auction Websites like Godaddy Auctions
You’ve probably heard of Godaddy. They’re one of the biggest domain registrars in the world. They spend a ton on marketing each year and it’s likely that most of the websites you know and love either started with or are being hosted and renewed on Godaddy.
If you’ve ever been to their website you’ll know you can find reasonable-ish prices on domains in the domains page of their website but what you might not know is that Godaddy has an auction section too.
In this part of the site private sellers and buyers go to trade their domain names just like in a physical auction house. However, the prices here can be much larger.
In 2019 the domain Voice.com was sold for $30 Million USD. Voice was a rewards-based social network for creating, distributing, and discovering content, kind of like if Medium was a blockchain platform (at least that’s how we understand it). It’s since morphed into an NFT marketplace and minting site.
The point is, domain auctions can mean big bucks and that’s not even the biggest sale. The most expensive domain name sale so far was CarInsurance.com which went for a whopping $49.7 million USD!
Buying Domains on Godaddy auctions is simple even if it’s not always cheap. The average price of a domain here is going to be in the hundreds or thousands, so come with your credit card ready. WIth that said, it can absolutely be worth it especially, when you’re comparing what it might be worth in time saved on writing guest posts or just doing outreach for links the manual way.
2. Expired Domain Websites
Expired domain websites are sites that monitor expiring or recently expired domains and provide a helpful list of the domains for you to filter through.
Everything is on sale here from completely legitimate websites to domains that have been used for shady purposes and might have been banned by Google.
With that said, this is a gem of a place for beginners on a budget and there are plenty to choose from. Each has their own way of presenting and filtering data so find one that suits you. Just do your own due diligence before buying!
3. Private Acquisition
In your browsing you might stumble across a domain that is being linked to on a competitor website or industry publication that has value to you. Or, maybe you hear from a friend or colleague that they know someone who is willing to sell a valuable domain related to your niche or business. You could purchase this domain privately from them without the need for any of the above websites or methods.
The seller will take payment from you and will then need to transfer the domain to your account at whatever domain registrar you use (GoDaddy, Crazydomains etc).
Be careful doing this, though, as there are plenty of people out there who will email you out of nowhere to sell you domains privately which have no value in their backlink profile, or will straight up scam you. So always try and use a third party here when buying a domain from strangers.
Okay, so now you know where to buy expired domains.
Let’s take a look at how to qualify an expired domain for purchase. This step is extremely important no matter how or why you buy an expired domain.
How to qualify expired domains for SEO
- Find your expired domain name(s) using the methods above.
- Once you’ve got a potential domain, check how much it’s worth at a domain registrar like GoDaddy or Namecheap.
You don’t want to spend hours qualifying websites that are way out of your budget. As mentioned already, domains can sell for thousands to millions of dollars, so check the price first and then qualify what’s within your price range and what’s slightly out of it.
A small stretch for a solid domain can be worth it but it needs to be solid.
- Now you know what’s left that is affordable, you can start to look through them and start separating the good potential domains to purchase from the bad.
- Check for good and bad links using ahrefs or semrush. We have a full article on how to do that here.
The easiest way to find a bad link though is to pull the anchor text up for the links that go to a a website and find any that are easily identifiable as spam.
It’ll be pretty obvious when you see things like canadian pharmacy, pills and other more vulgar things. If you see anything you think is borderline the best thing you can do is to investigate the link.
- Check for good and bad links using ahrefs or semrush. We have a full article on how to do that here.
- Wayback machine
Now we dig into what the site used to look like. We do this because we want to make sure the website was not used for something nefarious in the past that did not show up in the backlink profile. The best way to do this is to go to archive.org and review the website history in their tool there.
To do that;
- Go to archive.org
- Enter the domain you wish to check
- Look for dates with a blue circle around them when the calendar comes up. These are dates that archive.org/the wayback machine have been able to screenshot the website. By now you should know what the links are for that website so the best thing you can do is look at the website and see if the links and the anchor text going to the site match what the site was about. It’s common for spam sites to have a lot of anchor text that says something similar to what the site used to be about but, then when you review the site it’s something completely different like knock-off gucci.
- Buy or discard based on your analysis
Its been a long road but now you should know;
- The price of the domain
- The backlink profile, including how many juicy Do Follow links it has
- What the website used to look like and if it was used recently for illegal or dodgy sales of drugs, porn, or knock-off designer clothing (the holy trinity of spam)
If all of that checks out, congratulations! You’re ready to buy your first expired domain.
Now the only question is… what do you want to do with it?