Table of Contents
You’ve seen the case studies.
You’re following Andrej start a site from scratch to being worth $150k.
You know the risks and are sold on the concept, but now comes the hard part – finding a good domain in a sea of utter trash.
Thankfully, there are a few ways to go about this. We’ll cover three.
1. The manual way
The cheapest way to go about reviewing domains is to do it manually.
Starting at GoDaddy Auctions (or SnapNames, etc) and scanning the list of available sites until you see one that matches the niche you have in mind.
Once you spot one, you go and manually check the stats in your SEO tool of choice – Ahrefs, Majestic, Moz, etc. (More on this in a bit.)
This… is a terrible use of time.
While we’re not completely subservient to our robot overlords yet, they are absolutely better suited to do some things than humans are.
Running through lists of domains for an initial layer of filtering is absolutely on the list.
2. Faster: Use a tool to assist
If you’re going to consistently purchase expired or auction domains, you need to use a tool to automate the tedious parts as much as you can.
There are numerous options out there, but my personal tool of choice for this area is DomCop.
Bringing in a tool like DomCop is going to allow you to set minimum thresholds for domains you would actually be interested in.
So, for example, you could run a search only looking for domains that…
- Are on .com/.net/.org TLDs
- Have a Moz DA of 20+
- A Majestic TF of 15+
- Have at least 150 LRDs (in Majestic)
- Has at least a 5 for Topical Trust Flow in the Recreation category (in Majestic)
- Expiring in the next 7 days
This would get you down to a list of 21 sites to review further:
You can now scan a list of a couple dozen instead of thousands.
And because of the filters in place, you’re really only checking to see if the sites had been spammed in the past, rather than having to check to see if they’re at all interesting / have any links.
The downside to a tool like DomCop is the monthly cost. If you’re only going to pick up a few domains a year, paying $56 a month might not feel worth it.
You can join for a month, do your research, purchase the best stuff you can find, and then cancel until you want to go hunting again.
But, that means you’re going to miss out on any gems that happened to expire while you were trying to save a few bucks.
Similar to DomCop is another tool called SpamZilla which also has a large database of domains which are updated daily.
Though SpamZilla includes a lot more data per domain, which makes it much easier for you to analyse a domains history and backlinks. This really cuts down on the boring spam checking process.
Some of the data SpamZilla offers that other don’t:
- Backlinks Data – You can review the top backlinks and using the filters you can easily find domains with backlinks from high authority sites like Wikipedia.org etc.
- Ahrefs – You can integrate your Ahrefs account and see
- Domain Drops – This shows you how many times has expired in the past, you can even view the exact dates.
- Google Index – You can see which domains are still indexed in Google and review the exact URL’s.
- WHOIS History – View all the different registrar changes for a domain
- Ranking Keywords – See which keywords a domain is ranking for
- Tools – There is a bunch of tools you can use to process your own domain lists.
Also at $37/month SpamZilla is a cheaper option if you’re going with a paid tool.
3. Even better: Lists done for you
If you don’t want to carry your own subscription to a tool like DomCop, but want to keep an eye on the available domains, you still have options.
One is a free account at a service like Hammerhead Domains.
Their free tier is a list of ten domains that get emailed out each day, with some basic filtering already in place.
However – there’s only 10, and it’s a free email list – so expect at least a few thousand other folks getting the same email.
Another option is also a shameless bit of self-promotion.
We recognized this exact need (passive monitoring for the right opportunity without carrying another monthly cost or huge time suck) and started providing a solution inside Traffic Think Tank.
Each week in the #domains Slack channel, I share a list that’s already been run through my preferred metric stack. Minimums on LRDs, TF/CF ratio, etc.
Like using a tool like DomCop yourself, having a list like this means you can start from a spot of knowing the metrics are good, and that the likelihood of the site being spammed to death is low.
All that’s left for you to do is manually review the domains that look interesting.
THE MANDATORY MANUAL REVIEW
No matter what method you use to get down to a specific domain, there are a handful of checks that I view as mandatory.
You can do these in most SEO tools, but I’m going to use Ahrefs for the examples we’ll cover
One of the fastest ways to tell a site is likely a dud is by looking at the anchor mix. If you see something like this:
You can immediately move on.
You want to see an anchor mix that looks like… well, real sites.
That means a really heavy skew to the brand name (and its variations) as well as domain/URL anchors.
Let’s look at Wirecutter as an example:
The difference between a good anchor mix and a garbage one is usually so stark that this alone can serve as a 10 second spam check.
If the site passes the anchor test, I move on to looking at the domains that are linking in.
If you’re starting from a list that came out of a tool that’s already filtering for specific DR/DA/etc, you know there are going to be some decent links coming in.
But – what are they, where are they coming from, and what were they linking to?
The Referring Domains report will lay this out:
When reviewing these, I’ll immediately filter to “Dofollow” and sort by DR. This gets the (likely) best links front and center.
One of the things you’ll commonly see is high DR “web 2” sites where anyone can drop a link.
I recommend ignoring these completely since you could scoop these up for any project – since they’re so easily available, they don’t make a domain worth buying.
Skipping through those, the next thing I’ll do is pop open the high DR non-web 2 sites.
This gives a quick glance at where that link is coming from, and what it was pointing to (along with the anchor).
When I start to see a lot of examples like this, I start to lose interest. If the best links to a site are from forum threads, they’re much less interesting than an in-content link.
Simple – they’re easy to copy.
The real reason you’d buy an expired/auction domain is because it has links that are difficult for you to recreate on your own, or could recreate, but it would be more costly than just buying the domain.
The next thing I’ll look at is how spread out the links are.
While this isn’t necessarily a make or break item, it does let you know ahead of time how complicated bringing the domain back may be.
If the vast majority of the links are to the home page, you’re going to end up with a lot of links right to your new home page without any redirects in the middle.
If most of the links are to internal pages (of the old site) and the URL structure isn’t one that you want to use, you’re going to have to create a (possibly lengthy) list of 1:1 redirects to map the old site’s pages to the most relevant ones you’ll create.
Take this example – the amount of LRDs to an individual page falls off a cliff once you get past the first two pages (and they’re both variations of the home page.)
General rule of thumb – the more concentrated the links are to a handful of pages, the easier it will be.
OR, SKIP MOST OF THE WORK
The last option I want to cover is the “easy” way to do this – pay someone else to find a domain worth buying and build a starter site on it.
Getting a turnkey affiliate site means your work is browsing the available sites, giving the manual review steps a check, and then forking over the cash.
If you’ve got capital to deploy and time is your biggest constraint, this makes a ton of sense.
This also takes some of the guesswork out, as you can see if the site has started to pick up any traction on longtail terms since it’s already live and indexed.
That alone can be a huge cost-saver.
When working with expired domains, there’s no guarantee that the old links are going to “carry over” once you rebuild your site on the domain.
Turnkey sites remove a lot of that uncertainty, because they’ve already been built and pushed live.
Those are really the options you’re looking at when getting into expired domains.
You’re either going to be doing a ton of manual work, using a tool to trim the fat, letting someone else build a list, or buying a domain or turnkey site from an individual/service.
Whatever path you choose, make sure you run through the steps I outlined in the mandatory manual review notes to ensure you know what you’re buying.