As marketing master class creator Torsten Mueller puts it, domain names are never really owned, they are just rented for a certain amount of time.
An expired domain is a domain whose owner stopped paying the rent. It was registered to someone else once. It had a past life. It may have been a commercial website with actual traffic or a more personal project. Then, for whatever reason, when the time came to renew the registration, the call to act went unanswered.
People buy domains for all kinds of reasons, and they let them expire for all kinds of reasons too.
Sometimes it happens by mistake. They choose not to auto-renew when they first register the domain but then stop monitoring the email account on file with their registrar, thus missing the alerts about upcoming renewals.
Sometimes people get a few domains as placeholders and choose to let the less suitable ones go. Or their web project only has a limited shelf life. The registrations on these domains end up expiring and they are released to potential new buyers.
What if you are the one who accidentally let the renewal lapse on one of your domains? You were too busy and missed the email. Then one day you check your site and instead of your content, there’s a page from your hosting company saying your domain has expired.
Don’t panic. You may still be able to recover your domain. If it is in a generic top-level domain like .com, .org, .info, etc., after your domain expires it enters a grace period of 30 days during which you can renew it without penalty. These on-hold domains are blocked for transfer.
After this, the registry initiates what is called the redemption period, typically of similar length to the grace period. At this point, you can still get your domain back against an extra fee. Watch out, though: some top-level domains are a lot less forgiving!
During the redemption period, the registrar may enter the domain into an auction. Any resulting sale will only become final if you do not redeem the domain before the end of the period. If it is not recovered, or auctioned off, or kept by the registrar for their own purposes, it will enter the Pending Delete phase. Then, after five calendar days, it will be part of the daily list of names that is released for purchase in the general marketplace on a first-come, first-serve basis.
There are many reasons to buy expired domains.
There are several classes of buyers who focus on domains as commodities. Search engine optimization professionals, domain flippers, and domain parkers have slightly different interests, but an entire industry has sprung up catering to their needs: rating services, auction sites, domain-analysis tools, etc.
Newcomers to the speculative domain market will be told “it isn’t what it used to be” by old-timers. It is a mature market with sophisticated players building their own data centers to edge out the competition.
But what about more casual levels of domain interest?
Are you planning to build an income-generating site? For somebody seeking to grow their traffic on an ad-supported site or to increase affiliate revenue from a niche website, an expired domain can be an effective way to get an extra boost from the site’s past history with search engines.
And for anyone just looking for a sleek domain for their new idea, the most logical route might be to scoop up an expired domain at auction. Whether done by oneself or by an SEO company, it could save you money in the long run against a little time investment up front.
No matter how involved you are planning to get with expiring domains, you will find the tools for full-time domainers useful too.
When you start out searching domains, you will notice ones that seem appealing straight away. They will have pronounceable keywords on a topic that is becoming trendy. They will be in a popular domain zone like .com, .org, or .net.
These are the kinds of domains that you thought would be expensive, yet there they are, no bids yet and an auction ending soon... Why not take a bet that somebody will be interested in this when the trend really takes off, or the event gets closer?
The days of the gold rush in domain names are over, but there are always people who will pull a nugget out of the stream, a domain that will net them 10 or 20 times what they paid for it at auction.
But the people who pull the most nuggets are those with the most pans in the water. Profitably reselling domain names is a numbers game requiring big investments at this point. For the casual participant, domain reselling should be seen as a fun hobby that can teach you a lot about the technology and the psychology of the internet. Basically, though, it is a form of gambling.
When buying an expired domain to improve one’s ranking in search results, the main attraction is the site’s history. Think of expired domain names not just "as good as new" – but as something even better.
A domain that has been around for a long time will have achieved a certain permanence within search-engine indexes. A domain that once served content relevant to a niche market or to an established consumer segment will probably have been talked about on other sites, creating a solid set of backlinks, as links from other sites are called.
High numbers of quality backlinks are crucial to the way Google ranks sites. There are services that maintain metrics of backlinks for hundreds of millions of domains. They develop models to assess the authority of the linking sites. This allows them to provide a measure of the quality of any expired domain’s backlinks.
There are different ways of harnessing the history of a domain with great backlinks. One simple option is redirecting visitors that are still coming to that domain to the site that you actually maintain.
If the subject area is the same, you might get those visitors to adopt your site for their needs in the future. With a 301 Redirect, you can also hope that in time, the crawlers from search engines will update your page with the rankings of the predecessor.
It is, however, possible that the organic traffic from the expired domain will not keep up. It probably won’t be so great if you just expect it to passively boost your numbers. Building a successful SEO infrastructure on expired domains will take work.
There are more involved ways of putting your domain haul from the expired-domain sale to use. One way to boost your discoverability in search results is to create a network of interlinking content sites.
This strategy of creating a private blog network (PBN) is controversial. Google and others are on the lookout for sites that egregiously coordinate their self-promotion. But niche site builder Ben Starr says most sites ranking in competitive niches will have a PBN behind them.
The recipe for PBN success in 2020 involves staying on top of several ongoing tasks.
You have to keep providing quality content relevant to your niche or product area. It has to be:
To attract the right kind of attention, you have to monitor how the blend of links inside the network and links to the outside is working.
Then there is the technical and quasi clerical work needed to limit traceability:
|NameJet||GoDaddy||DomCop||Domain Hunter Gatherer||ExpiredDomains|
|Category||Secondary Market Venue||Auction House||Auction Crawler||Expired Domain Search Engine|
|Domains in System||7 million||Tens of millions||21 million||Tens of millions||3.6 million expired domains|
|Buyer Cost||Fee of 2.5% of winning bid for online payment processing||$4.99 annual membership to bid||$64/month||Free (w/ ads)Premium $17/month Professional $97/month||Free, links to auction sites|
|Analytics Integrated||Link to Estibot Domain Appraisa||Domain age, # of bids, traffic estimates||Whois, Alexa, Estibot, authority stats from Moz, Majestic||Authority stats from Moz, Majestic||Alexa, Majestic stats|
|Seller Listing Costs||Starting at 20% of the first $5,000 on sale of domain|
NameJet is a leading venue for buying expired domains. They use advanced software to acquire their lists of names for domain professionals, small businesses, and individuals. Their display categories are:
GoDaddy is a huge marketplace with many great value domains at any given moment. You are only a simple keyword search away from finding a domain fitting your needs in an affordable price range thanks to the depth of their name pool.
DomCop is a deluxe domain search engine that offers 10 million new domains every month. Advanced filtering methods help you weed out tarnished names. Niche-topic relevance indicators in the search results make it possible to rapidly drill down to the domains that best fit your needs.
Domain Hunter Gatherer makes it easy to find unlimited keyword domains drawn from all the major auction sites. It provides many different filters to refine your searches. You can save different personalized searches.
Some people have registered domains and paid the rent for the next year or even several years, but then decided they don’t need them anymore, and would like to get some of their money back. Or they are flippers who bought the domains planning to resell them after they have risen in value.
These names end up in a slightly different kind of auction, the active-domain sale. Registrars like Namecheap who don’t run expired-domain auctions will often offer this service to their users. They also might partner with marketplaces such as Afternic and Sedo to offer a wider range of domains.
Since these domains are also pre-owned, they come with the same potential benefits as expired domains. You can apply the same methodology to assess their viability for your purposes.
Buying a domain is like buying a piece of real estate: serious damage can be hidden away in the walls. Before you take the plunge, you have to conduct a thorough inspection. Here are the factors determining the health of a domain.
There is some valuable information that can be found by doing one of the most basic queries about a domain: a WHOIS lookup. The WHOIS public information service is a fundamental feature of the Registry organization behind the Domain Name System. The age of a domain is among the information maintained there along with contact information of the registrar.
As a general rule, older domains are more valuable. Their seniority means they can get a boost in search visibility, provided they have not been abused in the past. That’s why it is essential to do a problem check for any domain you are considering.
It is important that the domain is present in the Google index. The prospects for getting a delisted domain reinstated are uncertain. At best it takes a long time, at worst it might never happen.
You can look domain names up in Google’s cache, a public, online tool that allows you to see what version of a page is currently in its index. Enter "cache:domainname.com" in the search box. This will return a snapshot of taken the last time Google crawled the site. This is the version of the site that was indexed. If the search returns no results, you may need to worry.
To get a good idea of how a domain was doing in its past life, it is advisable to check its traffic numbers, when available. A site’s Alexa ranking provides the first proxy to traffic in relation to the content areas and ‘search’ keywords. Ahrefs and SimilarWeb have built excellent traffic estimating tools that are available for paying members. Some auction sites are run by registrars that also do web hosting. They are therefore in an excellent position to post traffic numbers based on DNS lookup data and pages served on their auctions listings.
The type of content on the site in its past life could help or hurt you. In any case, there is an easy way to see if a domain that recently dropped will help you attract quality traffic for your business. Enter the domain name into the Wayback Machine at the Internet Archive. They have been “saving a copy of the internet” since 1996. Historic versions of the content of almost any domain that once hosted a public site can be browsed there.
One category of domain buyers that has a particularly voracious appetite for new domains is the bulk-email community. Yes, spammers are constantly trying to find domains to send emails from that haven’t been blocked by anti-spam filters yet.
The problem is that by the time they are through with a domain, it is often on enough blacklists to make it permanently useless. Search engines have banned it from their indexes. Backlinks from this domain have acquired a negative stigma.
Spamzilla maintains a proprietary score measuring how clean each domain is to guide you in your search for acceptable domains. They take into account multiple data points extracted from the life of the domain and analyze them for potential spammy practices.
When you buy a domain with backlinks, you are not necessarily interested in just the raw citation flow, or the number of links pointing to the domain. You are also looking for a level of quality in the domains from which the links are coming.
The authority of a site is high if it is recognized as a well-maintained provider of high-quality original content. The site is further boosted if it’s linked to from high-quality sites. At the other end of the scale, sites that are automatically generated link farms have very poor rankings.
The authority of the sites pointing to the domain you are considering becomes part of the metric of trust flow, which is citation flow aggregated and corrected for the quality of the originating sites. Majestic maintains trust flow metrics for backlinks as part of its powerful suite of domain checking tools.
Another approach to assessing the power behind a domain name is measuring how much the name influences a site’s ranking in search results. This will of course be a function of the authority of the backlinks, but it will also try to tease apart other factors that might be at work inside the rankings black box.
Moz maintains their highly acclaimed Domain Authority and Page Authority scores with precisely this focus. Their free browser extensions make powerful SEO analytics available to anyone.
When searching for a name with high domain authority, it is important to keep one thing in perspective: you don’t always need to be looking for the perfect DA, but rather sometimes you will be focusing on your main competitors and just trying to get the edge over their scores.
Searching for your dream domain is a creative and engaging process that can lead to great websites in the future. Namecheap has the valuable tools for searching through expired domains can be for any internet professional seeking to improve their visibility in search and social.
With a marketplace for active domains where our users can list their domains for sale before expiration, Namecheap is also integrated with premium marketplaces Afternic and Sedo where active non-expired domains are listed for sale by other users. It's possible to buy such domains via the Namecheap domain search.
As these domains have potentially been in use prior to being put up for sale, they can have the same benefits and risks as mentioned above for expired domains. Therefore the methods detailed here will be useful in analyzing active domains as well.