Is linking to yourself evil?
Today, I am going to discuss the topic of using expired/reclaimed domains to link to your other niche sites. This is a controversial topic, so I want to give you fair warning. These practices may be considered gray hat or even black hat.
Anytime that you venture to manipulate the search engine ranking of your site, you are going against what Google has suggested. So, Google does NOT approve of these tactics. If you decide to proceed with these tactics, you do so at your own risk.
Having said that, ANY type of link building is technically against Google's policies. So, if you are already out building links to your site, then you are already in the gray hat/black hat area. So, you have to decide for yourself if this is a step further that you want to take. I haven't decided yet; I have not linked to any of my sites using expired domains at this point.
How I Learned About Reclaiming Expired Domains
I learned about the practice of finding high quality domains that have expired and then buying them from Hayden Miyamoto. I interviewed Hayden for 2 different podcast episodes where he explained this practice in great detail. Listen to Podcast 9 here and Podcast 10 here.
So, I can't claim this process of finding expired domains as my own, but over the past few weeks I've found several good domains using these methods, so I know it works. Podcast 10 is a great place to get a full overview; in addition, Hayden has made a couple of videos as well on his site that are great tutorials for using Scrapebox and Xenu Link Sleuth.
What's the Value of Expired Domains?
Before I dig into how to find expired domains, I want to discuss the value of these domains.
An expired domain is simply a site that the owner let expire. So, some sites may have been active for years and then for whatever reason were dropped. The value is derived from the links pointing to that expired domain! So, even though the domain itself is not active, these high value links often are alive and well. Once you register the domain and put a site up, you immediately have lots of high value links pointing to your site.
For example, lets say a Local Electrician's Union starts a website in 2005 – lets call it local2005.com. Perhaps the local newspaper, other unions, or even political parties all link to this website. These are high quality links – enough that localunion2005.com is now a PageRank of 5! However, in 2010 the union is disbanded and the website dies; because the local chapter of that union no longer exists. Things like this happen all the time.
After sitting expired for 2 years, you find it and register it for $10. Once you get a site up, all the links are still pointing to it from the newspaper, unions, and political parties – and it becomes a PageRank 5 again. Now you can place a link on local2005.com to any of your niche sites – you own it! Suddenly you have PR 5 links pointing to your sites and this is more than enough to push you to #1 in Google for your chosen keyword.
This is all hypothetical, but you get the point. These can be VERY valuable in helping you achieve high rankings in the search engines.
How to Find Expired Domains
I know of a few different methods you can use to find these expired domains. I will again reference the video I linked to above where Hayden explains using Scrapebox and Xenu Link Sleuth to find these domains. In a nutshell, here's how that process works.
First, use Scrapebox to compile a list of high PR URLs that link to lots of other sites (hopefully old pages). Then take this list of URLs and check to see if they are active using Xenu Link Sleuth. Any domains that come back with the code of no host found, means that these domains have expired most likely.
Then you take these and see if they are available for registration. If so, then you need to analyze their backlinks to see if its worth registering. Yes, it takes some time to get the process down.
Hayden also built a tool that helps automate this process (its not for sale, so don't ask). The tool allows a user to input a huge list of URLs and it will automatically check if they are available AND it will analyze the backlinks for you. Its a big time saver. Hayden was nice enough to let me test it out, and I was able to find 3 pretty decent domains fairly quickly. But it still requires a lot of work up front to find a good list of URLs – so its still a time consuming process.
However, because everyone does not have access to tools like this, I wanted to see if there were any other easier ways to find expired domains available for registration. This led me to ExpiredDomains.net.
This site only pulls the recently expired domains, so its misses a TON of opportunities, but its still useful. I would recommend only searching for “free” domains (these are non-premium domains available for anyone to register).
I actually had my VA go through a TON of these domains and jot down some link stats for me to analyze. He compiled a list of several hundred domains that met the criteria I will discuss below on OpenSiteExplorer.org.
In a nutshell, I was able to fairly quickly find 8 domains on ExpiredDomains.net available for hand registration (about $10 each). I installed a default WordPress installation and theme and have not put any content on the sites. Now a week later, here are the results:
- 2 of the Domains are now a PageRank of 3
- 4 of the Domains are now a PageRank of 2
- 2 of the Domains have no PageRank
I think that's pretty good results, what do you think?
How to Analyze the Links of Expired Domains
As mentioned, I use OpenSiteExplorer.org to analyze the links of these domains. The stats that I look at are:
- PageAuthority – over 30 is pretty good
- Total Links – more is usually better
- Number of Linking Root Domains – over 50 is very good; over 100 is excellent
- Domain MozTrust – over 3.0 is very good
The most important out of the list is Domain MozTrust and # of linking root domains. However, what's not on the list is the actual links. Its important to look at the links and make sure that they are not just spam links, and that they are still active. In addition, if you can see that the links are coming from PR4 or PR5 URLs, then you know you have a good domain on your hands.
You will be able to get most of this information for free on Open Site Explorer, but you may be restricted in the number of searches you can perform each day (I'm not sure). I have a SEOmoz Pro account, and its comes in handy for analyzing links and using their other tools. I recommend you try it out for free for 30 days if this is something you are interested in. Get an SEOmoz Trial account right here.
There are no set rules for what domains are worth registering. However, if I see a domain with a MozTrust of 3.5 but only 5 linking root domains, I still might register it. If the links are from high quality sites, I would definitely pick it up. So, the sites don't have to meet all the criteria listed above, these are just guidelines.
On the other hand if a domain only has a MozTrust of 2.0 but 1,000 linking root domains, I might NOT register it. If the links appear to be spammy or are from low quality sites, I would avoid it. I would look at Domain MozTrust as the must have stat.
As mentioned, with the help of my VA, I was able to register 8 domains within just a couple of days. In addition, I've found a ton more that I just haven't had a chance to analyze yet. To give you an idea of what I'm finding, I thought I would publicly share a list of potential domains that I have not registered yet. These are available for anyone to pick up if they want. This just give you an idea of what's out there:
Niche Site Project 3 Video Finalists!
Update: Within 2 hours of posting this, all of these domains have been purchased…wow!
My Plans for These Domains
At this point in time, I have registered 10 domains that have quality links pointing at them. As mentioned, I have a couple of PageRank 3 sites and several PageRank 2 sites. But I have not done anything with them yet.
I could use these right away to start linking to my other niche sites. Surely these would help to move some of my low competition niche sites near the top of Google, but should I? I haven't decided if I am going to use the domains for link building just yet.
Beyond the question of whether or not it crosses the line as a “shady” practice or not, its also fairly complex. Properly linking to your own sites requires multiple hosting accounts, different C-class IPs, and even location diversity of hosting servers. I'm not sure I want to go down this road just yet. I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts.
What I have been considering is whether or not I could sell these domains as they are. This is a VERY interesting thought.
Finding a Market: Where Can I Sell These Domains?
If I decide to not use the domains myself, how else could I make money using them? I've been exploring different ways that I could sell these domains. Flippa is basically not an option, because their fees are so high. It costs $29 just to list a site, but I couldn't realistically expect these domains to go for much more than $30 to $50 (depending on the quality).
However, if I (or you?) could find a place to reliably sell dozens of these types of domains each week – you could certainly find that many domains. If someone got proficient at finding these valuable expired domains and had a place to sell them, they could do it all day long and make plenty of money I'm sure.
I am aware of some forums and other domain markets where people do indeed buy domains; but I haven't sufficiently researched any to know if they are good markets or if I can recommend any of them.
These are the thoughts going through my head as I decide what to do with these domains exactly.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject. Is using reclaimed domains to link to your niche sites crossing the line? Do you know of a market that would be willing to buy these expired domains? Overall, share any experiences or thoughts that you have on the subject below…thanks!
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