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Buying old domains with PageRank and links
Buying domains that already have 'SEO value' has for some time been a peripheral topic in the SEOcommunity. This is largely due to the lack of a decent portal for such a service and the perceived cost of buying such domains.
This guide has primarily been written to help people avoid the possible pitfalls of buying old domains from ODD, but the information presented in this article is true for the purchase of old domains through any avenue. If you don't have any SEO knowledge you may also find it useful to read our introduction to search engine optimisation.
Why You Might Want to Buy an Old Domain
There are a number of reasons why you might want to buy an old domain for SEO purposes. The primary ones being: the actual domain, PageRank, links, domain age and traffic.
The actual domain name should be considered a very important factor when buying a domain. If you are reading this article, you will probably know that incoming link text is a major factor in modern search engine algorithms. If you were to buy the domain loiustherouxfanclub.com that had 10,000 backlinks, there is a good chance that most of those will contain the link text Louis Theroux and the domain would be great to rank for the term 'Louis Theroux'. If I bought the domain and decided I was going to use it for an eCommerce shop selling clogs, the link popularity of the domain would still stand, but the domain would have no association with the term 'clogs' through incoming link text.
An obvious reason why the domain name can be important (which depends what you want to do with the domain) is the potential for branding. If I was going to start an advertising campaign for my quality hand-made clogs site with the domain loiustherouxfanclub.com, people would probably have no interest in buying from such an irrelevant domain.
Generic domains - for example, dom.org - are different as they could be used for more or less any kind of web site. The disadvantage of them is that they may not have any incoming link text relative to you or your company.
If you are buying an old domain specifically for a new company or re-band, remember that you will be stuck with that domain name. So, choose wisely.
It is well know among SEOs that Google does not like newly registered domains. They are often referred to as being sandboxed, meaning that they are not taken seriously and will find it difficult to rank even for very uncompetitive keywords. New domains may find it hard to rank, even for your company's name. For this reason, some search engine savvy web developers will attach a client's site on to an established domain, e.g. brokencodedesigns.co.uk/my-clients-site/. Once the client's domain has had some time to mature, they will 301 redirect the sub-site to the real domain and all should be peachy.
By buying an old domain, you can skip the sandbox and get straight into a SEO campaign. Depending on the domain you buy and what you want to rank for, you may be able to achieve good rankings without any SEO.
PageRank and Links
Everyone knows that you can't rank for anything more competitive than 'Organic Plumb Farm in Chipping Sodbury' without links and without links there is no PageRank. By buying an old domain you can achieve two things: perceived authority (PageRank) and link popularity (links). Which is most important will depend on what you want to use the site for. If you can find a domain for sale that is relevant to you or your company and has a lot of incoming links with relevant anchor text - this could be an excellent buy. If you want to buy a domain that has good potential to rank for anything regardless of its incoming link text, you may wish to choose a domain with a good PageRank. Domains with good PageRank are more likely to be trusted by search engines (particularly Google) and will find it easier to rank for search terms without hordes of repetitive incoming link text. The on-site metrics of your site will be perceived as being more reliable.
Many old domains for sale are established web sites that may already be getting traffic, which may or not be creating revenue. In the case that a domain already has traffic, you may wish to carry on the services of the current website. More ideas on capitalising on poorly promoted web sites are presented by Hamlet Batista.
How Much Will an Old Domain Cost Me?
How much an old domain will cost is all down to circumstance, but to give you a rough estimate domains with SEO value can sell from anywhere between $100 and millions of dollars. Here are some factors that may influence the price of a domain:
- Domain Name - short, memorable domains are generally more expensive than domains with good SEO value and terrible domains
- Age, Links and PageRank - the perceived SEO value and the seller's SEO knowledge will dictate the influence of age, links and PageRank on a domains price
- Seller - sometimes sellers will be in a rush to sell their domain or have no real interest in the domain and could consequently sell it for less than its true value
- TLD Extension - Domains with obscure TLD extensions will likely be cheaper than .coms
- Traffic & Conversion - If the site is getting good traffic and/or converting visitors to cash this will likely to increase the price of the domain.
Remember that you can always sell your domain. You should be able to sell a domain for more or less the same you paid for it, so long as you use common sense when buying.
What to Check Before You Buy
Other than PageRank, the number of links, age and traffic there are a number of other quality signals you can use to check the value of a domain:
If you are not very keyed up on SEO, this is something you absolutely must check before buying a domain. When your browser requests a web page it is sent what is known as a HTTP status code. The code tells your browser the status of your request for a document, .e.g. ok, not found, forbidden etc. One of the codes is know as the 301 redirect or permanent redirect. Search engines use HTTP status codes to help define their index. When Google receives a 301 redirect, it will parse to the referring web address the PageRank of the web address being redirected to. The fake PageRank doesn't actually provide any SEO value and will be re-assigned at the next PageRank update.
There are a number of ways to identify domains with fake PageRank:
- Navigate to the domain with your web browser. If you are redirected to another domain this domain may have fake PageRank
- If the site has PageRank but no links this may mean that it has fake PageRank
- Type the full URL into Google, e.g. www.thatsite.com.ng. If it brings up a different domain, the domain has fake PageRank
Before you buy a domain, you should analyse its link profile to see how permanent the links are. You will want to know how many if any of the domain's links will disappear after you have bought it and then change or 301 redirect the site. If the site has a lot of paid links, is part of link exchanges or has links on pages that you feel may remove the link if you change the site, you may want to re-evaluate your decision to buy the domain.
Monitoring the frequency that Google caches a site is a good way to deduce what Google thinks of that domain. Logically, the more a domain is indexed the more important it is seen.
Check The Site's Rankings
Before going into this subject, it is worth establishing that there are two type of old domains you can buy: sites with existing websites and sites with holding pages. You may not be able to check where a site with a holding page (such as a for sale page or advertisement page), but they may still have good SEO value. If a domain has an existing web site and has keywords in the title tag, it is a good idea to use a rank checker to see where the site ranks for those keywords. Be realistic. If the domain only has 1,000 links and ranks on page 30 for a competitive search term, the domain has good potential. However, if a domain is ranking poorly for uncompetitive terms that it should rank better for it may have been penalised. A good way to check if a site has been penalised is to find a page that has really uncompetitive keywords in the title tag. Enter the exact keywords into Google and if it comes up on page 20 or so, you can be pretty sure that domain has been penalised. N.B. In many cases penalties can be algorithmically assigned due to spammy content.
What You Can Do With an Old Domain
There are four things you can do with an old domain:
- Keep It - Depending on what you inherit from your domain's previous owner, keeping the current website is an option that lets you get to business straight away.
- Change It - If you are starting up a new business, re-branding or expanding, you can use an old domain to give you instant link popularity and rankings.
- Dump It - Using a 301 redirect you can dump all of the link popularity and PageRank from your newly purchased old domain into any other domain you might posses.
- Experiment With It - You can use you new domain conduct experiments to enhance your knowledge of the search engines.
Old Domain Ethics
What do the search engines think of buying old domains as an SEO tactic? The simple answer is no search engine has publicly stated anything on this topic due to its relative obscurity. Common sense should prevail though. It is well known that search engines do not like people manipulating search results through spamming. So, as long as you aren't buying loads of old domains and then dumping them all into one URL, buying old domains can probably be considered white hat.
Another point worth raising here is a question I heard a while back:
Will Google penalise my domain for being transferred?
I really wouldn't be able to give an accurate answer here, since I don't know search engines inner workings. But, looking at this question logically - why would a search engine penalise you because you are moving from a terrible web host?
Happy old domain hunting! And keep your eyes peeled for further old domain tools.
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