Expired Domains

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What is an expired domain?

Expired domains are domain names that were previously registered and have expired, making it possible for them to be re-registered by someone else. Domains can expire on purpose if the owner chooses not to renew their ownership, or they can expire accidentally if their owner doesn’t pay the renewal fee or doesn’t realize the domain is expiring.

Expired domains have an existing reputation based on what the domain was previously used for and the backlinks pointing to it.

The advantages and disadvantages of expired domains

Expired Domain
Figure: Expired Domain - Author: Seobility - License: CC BY-SA 4.0

Most search engines aren’t clear on how they handle expired domains, although Google has stated that there are certain cases where expired domains can be used legitimately, especially in the case of a relaunch of the same site [1].

Although expired domains used to be leveraged by SEOs a lot in the past, many have claimed to see reduced effectiveness as time went on. There are certain advantages and disadvantages to expired domains including:

Backlinks

The backlinks pointing to expired domains can be either advantageous or disadvantageous. If a domain has a lot of toxic links pointing to it, there could be a disadvantage to using it over a fresh domain name that has not yet been registered, like an increased risk of penalties, or a reduced ability to rank. If an expired domain has a lot of high-quality links, there may be advantages if these links drive traffic or if they can be leveraged for SEO benefit.

Traffic

For domain names that get type-in traffic (traffic from people typing the domain name into their browser directly), there can be some clear advantages to an expired domain if it is used for a similar service. Examples of these advantages are increased traffic and improved user signals. This is only the case if the domain name was previously used for a similar site, since if it was used for something irrelevant it could potentially harm your user signals.

Reputation

The reputation a domain name has in the eyes of both search engines and the general public could be either an advantage or disadvantage depending on whether it’s a positive or negative reputation. These benefits are mainly related to branding but can have positive effects on user signals, link building, website traffic, among others.

Past use

If a domain was used for spam or fraud, then there are clear disadvantages to using the same domain name. However, if a site was trusted and was based on the same topic as your site, then there could be some extra benefits to using an expired domain, for example, related to relevance and reputation.

The past use of a site can be checked using Wayback Machine, which collects screenshots of websites and indexes past content and the history of websites.

Expired Domains Screenshot

An image of our website back in 2013 as recorded by Archive.org, which shows the past uses of domain names as well as the content that was displayed on pages of the site.

Drop catching

Drop catching is a method of buying an expiring domain name the moment it expires. High-value domain names that expire are often in high demand, which means there is very little chance of someone being able to hand-register it before it is bought by someone else. There are various drop catching service providers that will automate this process and buy the domain the moment it expires, increasing the chances of someone being able to purchase it.

If a domain is in extremely high demand, drop catching a domain can result in an auction, in which the domain goes to the highest bidder.

How expired domains were used in the past

In the past, major search engines like Google didn’t attempt to filter out the use of expired domains, or distinguish between legitimate uses like relaunching an old site and manipulative uses like using expired domains solely to build links. This led to many SEOs, both black hat and white hat, leveraging expired domains in their link building strategies.

However, as search engines started getting better at filtering out manipulative uses, the value that expired domains have shrunk. This has led to most uses of expired domains being seen as black hat.

The challenges for search engines

Since there are both legitimate reasons to use an expired domain as well as manipulative reasons, it is very difficult for search engines to determine the difference between them. Many new websites are built on expired domains without their owner knowing, due to the large number of domains previously registered at some point in the past. This could lead to incorrectly penalized sites because they registered an expired domain without knowing.

Although this has been a difficult challenge for search engines, it’s generally accepted that the value of using expired domains for black hat SEO purposes has reduced considerably over the past ten to twenty years.

Their relevance to SEO

Besides the obvious black hat uses of expired domains, like redirecting them to existing domains or using them to build Private Blog Networks (PBN’s), there are also grey hat and white hat ways expired domains are still used today - summarized below.

Building links

When a website is relaunched on the same, now expired, domain, it may already have links pointing to it. Since the value the site offers is the same when a site is relaunched, this is generally considered a white-hat approach to link building but is only relevant to a small number of relaunched sites.

As a supplement to outreach, purchasing expired domains can also provide SEOs with more credibility when asking webmasters to switch links pointing to expired domains to links pointing to their main site.

Branding and reputation

Expired domains with short and memorable names can have both SEO and marketing benefits. Since most of these high-quality domain names have been registered in the past, it is uncommon to find any that have not previously been registered. Short memorable names can offer a range of benefits, including a more memorable brand, more type-in traffic due to easy spelling, and an easier time building links due to a more trusted name.

Traffic

It can be beneficial to pick an expired domain that already gets traffic and searches on Google. This can benefit both your SEO and overall marketing since it increases the traffic to your site.

Although these benefits still hold true today, they are not often used as part of a white hat SEO strategy due to the increased effort it takes. When they are, it is usually in the start-up phase, before a website is designed/developed.

References

  1. English Google SEO office-hours from November 10, 2020 Youtube. Retrieved 08 February 2021.

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