I bought an expired domain. And in my opinion, quite a powerful domain.
I’m excited about this, so much so that I am building a case study around this expired domain and my plans with it going forward.
This case study will document the roadmap I am going to follow, from domain analysis and purchase, to recreating and growing a new website.
By doing this I am forcing myself to follow through, while also providing an educational resource for readers who have never bought an expired domain before.
So let’s dive in!
CASE STUDY PART I
The first part of this case study will walk you through the domain analysis and what my plans are once the domain has been transferred to my account.
I literally bought this expired domain just a couple of days ago (March 2019) via GoDaddy domain auctions. I’ve paid, and I am now waiting for the domain to be transferred to me.
At this point, I have absolutely no idea whether the purchase of this expired domain will actually get me any successful results. But that’s what makes this project exciting!
Analysis of the Expired Domain
Let’s have a closer look at what this domain is about and how powerful it once was.
According to GoDaddy and DomainTools, the domain was first registered in February 16, 2009, which means the domain is more than 10 years old.
Here’s a screenshot of the GoDaddy domain auctions sales page:
As you can see, I purchased this expired domain for $172 USD. In my opinion, this is a bargain, and I’m going to explain why.
If you know me, then you will also know that I am not a fan of the Moz DA scoring system at all. But it’s still a good tool to use when analyzing an expired domain, along with other tools.
This is the Moz DA overview of this expired domain:
Moz thinks it has a DA of 33, but what’s much more interesting is the amount of backlinks pointing to the domain. Moz has found 4.6K inbound links coming from 1.1K domains. These are really good numbers.
You can also see that it is not ranking for any keywords. This is because the site has been offline for quite some time now, but most of the backlinks are still there.
If we drill down further into the backlinks, it gets even better. Here’s an overview of the top 10 linking domains ordered by DA:
There are some seriously real gems in there. Daily Motion, Buzzfeed, wikihow, eHow, Reference, American Express, Livestrong, the list goes on.
Very powerful domains indeed.
Another great tool to use when analyzing domains is Ahrefs. Not only is Ahrefs one of the best keyword research tools out there, it is also a very good backlink tracker.
This is what Ahrefs has to say about my expired domain:
Ahrefs gives it a DR of 28, which is comparable to what Moz thinks about the authority of this domain in DA numbers.
Here is an overview of the domains linking to this expired domain, ordered by DR:
Again, some very juicy sites in that list. I’ve checked some of the links and they are legitimate links, not just random blog comments.
When digging a little deeper into this, I can’t see any major red flags. There’s not a lot of spammy backlinks, nothing that worries me.
When a site is not live anymore but you want to see what the site once looked like, you can use a tool called Wayback Machine.
If you’re not familiar with Wayback Machine, it’s a huge digital archive of the World Wide Web and other information on the Internet. It was launched in 2001 by the Internet Archive, a nonprofit organization based in San Francisco.
I use this tool to help determine how legit the site was when it was still live. It allows me to see if the content was of good quality, how much content there was, if there were a lot of comments from readers, etc.
For this domain, I am confident to say that the site (a blog) was totally legit. The content was of good quality and there was quite a lot of engagement with readers.
I also looked up the name of the owner of the blog and it seems that this person has simply moved on and started other business ventures.
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What Am I Going to Do with It?
All things considered, this expired domain looks like a really good purchase. It has a strong and natural-looking backlink profile with no red flags and it was once home to a credible blog.
But what am I now supposed to do with this domain? There are a few options I am considering:
1. Flip It
The easiest option is to put the domain for sale as soon as I am the registered owner.
I honestly think I bought this domain for a bargain price. Considering its backlink profile and clean history, I think this domain is worth at least $2K.
However, at this stage, this is not my preferred option. While it’s nice to get that cash with minimal effort, I prefer to go for a long-term solution because I think this domain has a lot of potential.
2. Create a Brand New Website
I could also decide to set up a brand new WordPress blog on the domain. Install an awesome theme such as GeneratePress with great UX and site speed, and start publishing new content, written by me or by a ghost writer.
This is of course a huge amount of effort and for that reason this is not my preferred option. This would only make sense if I was already planning to start a new website, in which case this expired domain would give me a nice head start.
But I wasn’t planning on starting a new website at all, certainly not one in the niche the abandoned blog was in.
3. Recreate the Site with Archived Content
Another option is to simply recreate the site with the content that is archived on Wayback Machine.
The blog that once lived on the domain had over 200 URLs. I could literally grab all that content from the archives and republish it on a brand new website.
Is this ethical? Well, yes and no. Sure, someone else has written that content, not me. But the previous owner has consciously decided to abandon the domain, the website and the content that once lived on the website.
I have now invested money in that domain, and if that old content was abandoned, why not republish it?
4. Redirect the Domain to One of My Sites
The last option that I am seriously considering is redirecting the domain to one of the websites in my portfolio.
The blog that was once hosted on the domain is in the same niche as one of my sites is. What a coincidence!
So I could simply implement a 301 redirect from this expired domain to my site and, in theory, pass on the authority and backlink juice. This sounds simple, but it isn’t.
A full 301 domain redirect is what people do when they rebrand a website. If done properly, a rebrand always works and traffic to the new site should always go back to normal levels.
However, if I were to do a 301 redirect to my existing site, that’s of course not really a rebrand. And I don’t know how the search engines would respond to it.
CASE STUDY PART II
In Part II of this expired domain challenge I will be talking about the option I have chosen for what to do with this expired domain, and the work that I have done so far to get the most of this domain.
What I Have Not Done, and Why
It may come as no surprise that I’ve chosen to 301 redirect this domain to one of my sites that lives in the same niche as the website that once lived on that expired domain.
But I didn’t just implement a site-wide 301 redirect to my site. That would have been to easiest and quickest fix, but certainly not the best idea. I will explain further below the work I’ve put in to make this 301 redirect as successful as possible.
But first let me explain why I didn’t choose the other 3 options:
I could’ve flipped the domain for a nice little sum of money, but that would be a missed opportunity. I believe with the right strategy, the ROI in the long term will be much higher than with a quick domain sale.
Create a brand new website?
For me personally, this wouldn’t be a good idea either. I already have a site in the same niche, and starting a brand new site would be a massive job and counter productive.
It’s better to focus on the site that I already have and build on that.
Recreate the site with archived content?
I considered this option initially, but after thoroughly analyzing the content that once lived on the site, I came to the conclusion that this was not a viable option.
Whilst the blog on the domain was at some point very successful, most of the content wouldn’t survive in today’s blogging world. The content simply isn’t good enough, it’s too dated, or it’s too personal.
Redirect the Domain to One of My Sites
So, the smartest decision was to 301 redirect the domain to my site, and that’s exactly what I’ve done.
But as I mentioned, this wasn’t a simple site-wide redirect. There was actually a lot more work involved.
STEP 1: Deep Analysis of All Content
Using Wayback Machine, I looked up the old sitemap of the blog and put all URL’s I could find in a spreadsheet.
I then had a look at every singly URL to see which pages and posts I could re-purpose on my own website. I put all URL’s into four categories:
1. The Hopeless Category:
Content in the hopeless category is beyond repair. Extremely low quality content, too personal, or just plain outdated. This type of content cannot be re-used in any way.
URL’s in the Hopeless Category are to be 301 redirected to a URL in my site with similar content (a category, or a blog post), or I would let them 404. No worries.
2. The Useful Category:
Content in the useful category is of reasonable quality. This is content that I could recreate in my site with some editing effort, or merge with already existing content on my site.
URL’s in the Useful Category are to be 301 redirected to their newly created URL counterparts in my site, or 301 redirected to existing URL’s.
3. The Solid Category:
Content in the Solid Category makes me happy. This is (mostly) evergreen, decent quality content that I could easily re-create in my site without too much editing.
URL’s in the Solid Category are to be 301 redirected to their newly created URL counterparts in my site.
4. The Linked Category:
Content in the Linked Category are URL’s that have backlinks pointed to them. This is content that also falls into one of the previous three categories. Most of the linked URL’s were of either reasonable or solid quality.
URL’s in the Linked Category are to be 301 redirected to their newly created URL counterparts in my site, to preserve the link juice.
STEP 2: Repurposing Content
This was the most work. And I really wanted to do this right, not cut any corners. Content on my site is pretty decent, and I am ranking for some seriously competitive keywords.
Any new content to be published on this site must also be good, otherwise I would just be dragging down the overall quality of the site.
To give you some numbers, I ended up creating 24 new blog posts on the site, and I merged some content into 8 existing blog posts.
So when you think about it, even if this 301 redirect exercise won’t give me an SEO boost, I am still happy to have published 24 new articles on the site.
If I had to pay a writer to write 24 new original articles for me, the cost would be a lot higher than what I’ve paid for the expired domain.
STEP 3: Creating the 301 Redirects
This was the last, and easiest step in the process. I implemented about 60 301 redirect statements, covering the newly created URL’s in my site, plus the merged ones.
The rest of the URL’s that once existed in the old blog, I simply let them 404, which shouldn’t be an issue.
The very last statement in the htaccess file is a site-wide 301 redirect:
#RedirectPermanent / https://www.myexistingsite.com/
Any requests to the old domain that are not covered by the individual 301 redirect statements, will still redirect to my current site. They will end up on a 404 page.
The good news is that I am already seeing the backlinks dripping into Google Search Console. Here’s a couple examples of powerful backlinks:
This means that Google now associates the backlinks, that are pointing to the expired domain, with my existing site. Hopefully this will lead to a small boost in organic traffic power.
STEP 4: Submit a Site Address Change
After completing all the 301 redirects in the domain’s htaccess file, I submitted a site address change in Google Search Console.
Some might say this isn’t necessary, but I decided to do this anyway.
Note that this feature isn’t available in the new Search Console, so I had to dust off the old Search Console to submit the site address change there.
I guess that’s a sign that perhaps this step isn’t necessary anymore, as long as the 301 redirects are implemented properly.
CASE STUDY PART III
I will do Part III of this expired domain case study in a few months time. It will be interesting to see if organic traffic will indeed be going up in the coming months.