Buying old domains for SEO (experiment)

Richard Baxter

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 wholy 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 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.

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