Last April, I purchased dulcimer.net from Godaddy Auctions. I’m not particularly interested in dulcimers, but I sometimes browse through their daily auctions to see if there’s anything I could easily build up to keep or sell later on. With this site, I didn’t know if I’d sell it or keep it, but I knew it was a solid one-word domain that was worth trying to acquire.
This post is going to go over why I chose that domain, which I eventually built and sold on Flippa for $8,300 eight months later. This isn’t a get-rich-quick scheme (it’s a decent amount of work), but it does show you a framework for buying and flipping domains in a way that’s scalable if you want to pursue that as your main business model.
I think with the right approach, you could have a number of these in your pipeline so that you could sell one off (or keep it if it’s worth adding to your portfolio) frequently and have a good amount of cash flow for future sites.
Here’s how it works.
Find a Quality Expired Domain
This is one of the hardest parts of doing things this way: finding a quality expired domain that doesn’t have a suspicious history or anything wrong with it – and has a solid SEO profile.
Every day, there are hundreds of domains that expire or get put up on auctions, and I don’t really spend a lot of time finding these domains other than looking through Godaddy.
Generally, I look through these by sorting through the most active domains. These tend to be the ones that people (SEO folks) are after, so you can tell with some approximation which domains off the bat – without doing a lot of in-depth research initially – might have some existing SEO value. I organize them by the most active auctions ending soonest.
Now, you’re looking at the most active auctions that are ending soonest.
There’s no real set formula I follow to find potential domain names, but in general I pay attention first to the domain itself. Because I like building Amazon Associates sites, I’m looking for something with product or commercial value that would have a good number of products on Amazon (or other affiliate programs, like Home Depot, etc.).
I look at price – usually, if a domain is getting more expensive it’s generally 1) a good, short brandable or generic domain or 2) a domain with some SEO history. I look for the latter, and you can tell usually right away which category the domain would be in. If the expired domain is nurses.com, then that’s a valuable brand that’s getting expensive for its brand potential. If the domain is nursegearreviews.com, then it probably has some SEO value if it’s getting expensive.
If the domain looks good and the price/demand is there, then I’ll do some quick due diligence. Here’s what I look at:
- is the site indexed in Google?
- is the site ranking for its own brand terms?
- is the site ranking for any generic terms?
- what are the site’s DA, PA, TF, CF and Ahrefs stats?
- has the site historically received SEO traffic?
- any Alexa traffic registered?
- anything on SimilarWeb?
- what was the site before it expired?
Is the site indexed in Google?
This is one of the first things I look at because if the site isn’t indexed in Google, I don’t have to go any further – it’s a no-go.
To check this, do a Google search for “site:URL.com” and see the results.
There are three scenarios the generally come up, and there’s only one that I like to work with.
First scenario: site not indexed.
If the site:URL search comes up with nothing, that means Google is not currently indexing the site. It might’ve been indexed at one time, but for whatever reason, it’s no longer being indexed. As I said, if this is the case, I skip the domain.
Second scenario: site indexed, but as “auction page.”
In this scenario, the site is indexed, but the title of the site shows up as something like “This web page is parked FREE, courtesy of GoDaddy.com.” This means that the content of the page/domain has been reindexed as the parked auction page. I generally tend to stay away from these domains – I’ve bought a few before and most didn’t work out, so now I avoid them.
Third scenario: site is indexed with original meta title and/or description.
In this example, the meta title is still the brand name on the homepage, though the description has been changed because of the parked auction page.
However, you can see the results below the homepage still have meta descriptions specific to the old site. That’s something I like to see and although it’s not a surefire way to know that the site you build on your domain will be successful, it’s a positive factor.
Something else to keep in mind: occasionally, you’ll see a domain that has inner pages (URL.com/inner-page-url) come up before the homepage. In my experience, this can cause issues down the road (maybe the homepage had too much optimization, etc.), so if this is the case, I avoid the domain.
Please remember, this is just the way I go about things, but there are plenty of other options out there. Terry Kyle here says that with the right approach, you could have a deindexed site back in Google’s index within hours or days. I just personally don’t bother with them, but you can make deindexed sites work.
Is the site ranking for its own brand terms?
The day I’m writing this, the domain creekrunnerslodge.com is up for auction. If I do a Google search for the domain’s brand (Creek Runner’s Lodge), I get these results:
If the domain is showing up on the first page (or two) of its brand, that’s a good sign. If it’s not showing up at all, or after 5 pages or so, then it could be a sign that the domain might not have kept its influential SEO history from before.
With this example, it’s worth noting that the homepage isn’t the first result for “Creek Runner’s Lodge,” so I would likely do a little more research to see why these inner pages are ranking before the homepage, and in the end I’d likely skip over this domain.
Remember, when you’re doing domain research, you’re looking for reasons to skip over a domain, not reasons to buy it. If one thing doesn’t add up or feel right, it’s usually best to skip it. You want to focus your time, money and energy on those domains that you think have the best opportunity to offer you a good return.
Recently, Google has made a point to say that expired domains can have their SEO links essentially “reset” if the new site differs a lot from the old site, so there’s definitely something to sticking with domains that are still ranking for their own brand terms.
When I researched dulcimer.net, it was still ranking for its brand terms, which in this case were also generic keywords (dulcimer, dulcimers, etc.). It also ranked relatively high for its brand terms – on the top of page one.
Is it ranking for any generic keywords?
This one is tricky because most expired domains will lose nearly all of their past SEO rankings once the site goes down. There’s enough time that elapses with no content that Google will find the site no longer useful, and push it down through the SERPs accordingly. I don’t find a whole lot of domains that rank well for generic keywords still, but they are out there.
The best domains are ones like dulcimer.net where the brand keyword and the generic keywords are the same or very similar. That’s also the case with Creek Runner’s Lodge – it’s a brand name, but it could also be a generic keyword if people search that phrase the same way they would “big bear cabins.”
If you find a domain that looks great in all other areas but doesn’t rank for generic keywords, it’s not necessarily a deal-breaker for me, but if you find one that does rank, then it’s definitely a plus. That’s one of the big reasons that I ended up committing to dulcimer.net, because it ranked for a handful of generic keywords that had good search volume.
What are the site’s SEO stats?
Now, there’s no one-size-fits-all SEO stat to tell if a site is good quality or not. I look at Trust Flow and Citation Flow from Majestic, and Domain Authority from Moz. I also run the site through Ahrefs to see what stats come up – links, keywords, etc. There are no numbers that I use for these metrics, I just look at everything and if everything seems to feel good and natural, then I’ll move forward with a site.
What would be unnatural? If the DA is high but the TF and CF are relatively low, or if the CF is high and the TF is really low. There are ways to manipulate all these numbers, so the best sites in terms of SEO value are those that look consistent across the board.
I pay attention to incoming links, and in my experience Majestic has been the best tool for that and Open Site Explorer has done a poor job of picking up a lot of links. I understand that each of these tools and companies are limited by their bandwidth, resources, technology, etc., so I don’t take anything as written in stone, but again, use all this data to get an idea of whether or not the site is consistent in its data.
With dulcimer.net, the stats were good and consistent – TF and CF were close to each other, DA was about what you would expect for a small niche site, Ahrefs stats checked out and there were a good number of root domains so that I could focus on content and still have a solid link background for a while.
Has the site historically received organic traffic?
For this, I usually run the site through SEMrush to see the “all-time” organic traffic trend. As with the other tools, this isn’t completely accurate, but it’s a good way to at least get an idea of whether or not the site has been getting organic traffic to this point.
For the most part, the expired domains you run through SEMrush will show no current traffic, but if there was a good trend before the domain expired, that’s a good sign.
Though it had a “flat” time and there are a few up and downs, in general, the traffic was in a good spot when I purchased the domain.
On the other hand, you’ll want to avoid sites that have a history like this:
This could be due to a Google penalty or some other issue that’s hurting the site’s potential. Again, you may have success making a site like this work, but because I try to eliminate anything that might cause an issue, I stay away from these domains.
You can also use this Website Penalty Checker to see if there were any drops in organic traffic around the same time that a Google update occurred.
Does the site have an Alexa ranking?
This is pretty unimportant and far down on the list, but sites with some traffic registered with Alexa, in my experience, have done better than those that have no traffic. Again, because the site is usually sitting vacant for so long, a lot of traffic fades away, so if there’s no registered traffic with Alexa, don’t be afraid to move forward with the site if everything checks out.
Anything on SimilarWeb?
SimilarWeb is a great tool to see high-level traffic data, like how much (approximately) traffic comes from search engines, referral sources, social media, etc. You can sign up for a plan to get better data as well. This is a pretty low-level factor for me and hasn’t been a real deciding factor in any of my domain purchases.
What was the site before it expired?
Using Wayback Machine, you can get an idea of what the site used to be. There’s a lot of people that like to recreate the original site to make it look at close to what it used to be as possible, but I’ve found that this isn’t always necessary. Read here and here to learn more about using Wayback Machine to see what the site used to be.
If Wayback shows that the site was used for spammy, black-hat or other topics and niches that are too far out there, I’d consider leaving the domain alone. There are too many scenarios where a domain like that could have low-quality links that won’t show up in Majestic, OSE, etc., so again, if there’s any red flags, I leave it be.
Also, if Wayback doesn’t have any record of what the site used to be, that can also potentially be a red flag, but it depends on much risk you’re willing to take on and how the other factors have panned out to this point.
Quick Domain Checklist
Reviewing everything above, the perfect expired domain, for me personally, would be one that:
- has good product or commercial value (especially Amazon products)
- is indexed in Google with its original meta title (and/or description)
- is ranking for its own brand terms
- has its homepage ranking for its main brand terms before inner pages do
- is ranking for a generic keyword or brand-generic hybrid keyword
- has good TF and TF/CF ratio, as well as DA/PA and links that seem consistent across the board
- has shown a good organic traffic trend in SEMrush
And if it has anything registered with Alexa or SimilarWeb, that’s great.
Dulcimer.net hit all of these, so for me it was a no-brainer. In a future post, I’ll go over how to take a solid expired domain and turn it into a comprehensive, valuable and profitable website.