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Expired domains – hot tip or a fire hazard?

Expired domains are domains that have been registered by individuals, businesses, or organizations, but aren’t renewed after the contract ends, or are deliberately terminated. That means that they available for re-registration. There are many reasons why someone would choose to abandon a domain; one reason could be that the web project failed, or that a domain portfolio went into liquidization. Domains can also end up becoming free due to the owner receiving warnings for possible trademark infringement. Re-registering can also result in legal consequences.

We explain why expired domains are so popular, what is so advantageous about ones that have recently become free, and why you should proceed with caution when you register them.

The value of an expired domain

Expired domains are especially attractive due to key SEO factors that are primarily associated with an existing backlink profile. If you are considering buying an expired domain, you can determine the quality of it by looking at the inbound links. When it comes to assessing the value of an expired domain relevant keywords contained in the second-level domain, a possible reference to products, brands, or services are all useful.

Backlinks

When speaking about an expired domain’s backlink profile, this refers to the incoming links that have built up from when the domain was previously in use. Recently-expired domains that have long histories aren’t unheard of. While the pre-existing content of the domain rarely remains visible when the domain is re-registered, links on the other hand do remain, as long as the new owner doesn’t devalue or delete them.

The backlink profile of a recently-available domain is a double-edged sword. While some expired domains have been well cared for by their previous owners and have high-quality links from reputable websites, some contain quite questionable backlinks. The worst case scenario is that the domain was merely used as a link farm to strengthen a major project in a satellite domain network and has already been penalized by some search engines.

Both the number and the quality of incoming links to a domain have an influence on the search engine’s ranking. SEO experts have determined three characteristics:

  • Link popularity: the link popularity is a parameter that is used to quantitatively evaluate incoming links to a website. This is measured depending on the number of links to a domain according to the mantra 'the more incoming links, the more important the site'. Link popularity is generally determined by the PageRank algorithm. The PageRank only plays a minor role in determining the domain’s relevance.
  • Domain popularity: domain popularity is more important than link popularity when it comes to evaluating the backlink profile value of an expired domain. Incoming links from the same site are counted only once when evaluating the popularity of a domain. This prevents attempt of manipulation, in which domains link to each other several times over.
  • IP popularity: if you decide to go a step further, you can determine the popularity of the IP. In this case, links are only counted if they are from different servers on different networks. SEO experts believe that Google includes IP popularity in the search engine ranking in order to unmask link networks.

The IP popularity and domain popularity each play a part in the overall quality evaluation. If you come across an expired domain with a high link popularity (i.e. a large number of backlinks), but then poor values when it comes to IP and domain popularity, you can assume that these links were obtained in an artificial way. Domains like these will have already caught the search engines’ attention. Perhaps this is the reason why the domain was abandoned. Users that want to start a serious online project should steer clear of these domains.

In addition to the quantity of incoming links, the quality of them also needs to be accessed. The main issues here are: where does the link come from? What kind of link is it? A high quality backlink profile is usually made up of different link types such as footer and sidebar links, links in comments, forum threads, and social media posts, as well as content links that come from other similar websites. It’s necessary to find out whether these links are marked as follow or nofollow.

To unmask spam links, you should take a closer look at anchor texts, which are linked sections of the text. They are mainly optimized for transactional keywords, which shows that the link didn’t come about naturally. The past of a recently-available domain can have negative consequences on any projects in the future carried out with its name.

Whether you can use an existing backlink profile for a new web project under the available domain depends on whether the link target of incoming links can be reconstructed. In order to analyze which content was provided under a domain in the past, you can find out on the Internet Archive Backlinks have no value if they lead to nowhere and this can even have a negative impact. They are possibly redirected to similar subpages or homepages using 301 redirect. In this case the most part of the link’s power is lost.

Keyword in the domain name

Domain names comprising of a keyword have long since been regarded as a strong pointer when it comes to search engine ranking. This connection has been proven true over time. Nevertheless, keyword domains are still popular in the domain market. One reason for this is that keyword domains are seen by potential visitors as more relevant and are therefore taken more seriously. Catchy URLs containing strong search-volume keywords are therefore often monitored by potential customers over the years. It only makes sense to purchase an expired domain when the domain name coincides with the content, products, or services that you plan to offer with that address in the future.

It should be noted that many domains conflict with trademark registrations. Before you can buy an expired domain, it’s highly recommendable that you thoroughly search the Word Intellectual Property Organization database (WIPO).

Find expired domains

Internet users, who try to find expired domains and re-register them, will soon discover that this plan cannot be manually accomplished. Professional domain traders are familiar with the registry deletion process and rely on sophisticated algorithms that indicate when a domain is about to become available. Deletion lists are the result of this research. You can find many datasets online with domains that have already become available or will soon be. You often have to pay to be able to see this information.

It’s also not so easy to manually re-register. This is due to backorder providers which are paid to keep an eye on expiring domains over a certain period of time and then register them for the customer as soon as they become available. Promising expired domains are therefore usually sold before they have a chance to be put back on the registry menu for the public to look through.

Expired Domains in search engine optimization

In the past, expired domains were used as part of black hat SEO in order to generate backlink sources quickly and easily, and this practice is still used somewhat today. Getting links in this way is not a recommendable practice. All relevant search engines work nowadays with highly complex ranking algorithms, which can no longer be outsmarted by these link networks.

Since search engines regard inbound links as recommendations, these links have a decisive influence on the ranking. The search engine definitely doesn’t appreciate link networks and won’t give new projects a jumpstart by allowing a former website’s backlink profile to be used when registering a new domain. Using an expired domain is like playing with fire, where the worst case scenario is that you’ll be penalized or be excluded from the search index.

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