Websites often exist in very competitive spaces online and having every competitive advantage can make the difference. Domain names are an important factor of any website and shouldn’t be casually selected. Certain approaches such as auction domains, expired domains, and even the purchase of existing websites can give your website an extra edge it may need to succeed. While these SEO methods might help you get that #1 spot you’ve been working for, they can also tank a website when done incorrectly.
Know Your Business Model
Websites can serve as passive revenue to supplement an income from a salaried job, or they can serve as sources for primary income. The role of your website in your overall financial strategy is up to you. Depending on how your website is being used, the number of websites you’re creating, and how you see your sites’ long-term use, there are some important considerations to make. For example, having an iterative-based approach of creating affiliate websites is great when your goal is to create as many profitable websites as possible. On the other hand, if your goal is to develop a more brand-oriented, single-site authority website, you may want to invest more time up-front to develop your strategy. Having an idea on how your website will look in the future can help make better initial decision when branding and picking a domain name.
Different Types of Domain Options
Domain name choices are important to give a considerable amount of thought, though not necessarily in the capacity that many might think. The actual domain name itself doesn’t have a whole lot of influence on SEO directly, and is more a consideration of longevity and branding. If you’re planning on putting a lot of time into a single website you’ll want a name that’s flexible enough to allow future expansion into related keywords. For example, bestmixerbowls.com might help launch a niche website site but would offer less long-term flexibility than a choice like mymagickitchen.com. There are options such as expired domains, auction domains, and purchases of active websites to consider. Knowing the pros and cons of each can help make your overall website SEO strategy be more effective and relevant.
Domain names don’t really matter in their most literal sense. That’s to say; superduperbullwhips.com would work just as well as superbullwhips.com for an affiliate website focused on bullwhips. If you’re planning a super-niche website then your name should have some semblance of a relationship to that niche interest, but exact-match domains aren’t that important and are often regarded as a poor choice these days. To be clear, if you have the option of using bullwhips.com over whippersdelight.com take it! Just don’t get caught up thinking that bestleatherbullwhipreplacementhandles.com is going to give you an advantage.
The benefit of newly-registered domains is that you get to create a fresh new website that is built in your own image that doesn’t carry any baggage. It’s like a blank canvas on which you can start your masterpiece without repairing or reorganizing any existing issues. One of the downsides of registering new domains is that they won’t have any ranking power initially, you’ll have to focus on homepage links more than deep article links, and website age itself is a ranking factor. For keywords with medium to low competition, this can be a great option to allow total control over the backlink profile and relevancy of a website. For keywords with stronger competition, sometimes finding a website that’s been aged a bit can help your chances.
- Fresh start
- Control the entire relevance of backlinks & contextual flow
- Control over name
- Most concise .com names are already registered
- Longer to rank, maybe more difficult in some niches (website age is a ranking factor)
- Branding/initial link-building starts from nothing
Auction domains are those which have recently been live websites but registration has expired for any number of reasons. Sometimes domains have been sitting inactive with simple registrar splash pages for 10 years and finally allowed to expire, while other websites may have published a post the month prior to their registration. Auction style websites can offer a tremendous advantage in that they bring the existing backlinks of a website to your SEO strategy. That usually means you can skip out on working to create a blanket of homepage links, branded links, and stressing about anchor text diversification (to a degree) and get right to work on ranking an individual page of your site. Sites that have recently been active or have pages still indexed by Google can also provide actual live traffic to your website as well. In the vast majority of cases you aren’t going to be able to do anything sensational with that traffic, but it can help Google know you’ve an active website.
One of the biggest downsides of auction sites is the effort required to sure-up how existing backlinks are managed. Essentially, you’re going to have a bunch of backlinks floating around out there with links to your domain, maybe some subdomains, and likely some inner pages. If left unaddressed these backlinks are going to turn into 404 errors leaving all that Page Rank unutilized. Using a 301 redirect for all 404s is a very reckless play and generally regarded as bad practice. Taking approaches to redirect certain links from specific referrers is sometimes a good move, but requires some custom rules coded on a server level. Another downside is the price; auction websites have become tremendously popular in recent years and it’s common for very basic websites to sell at auction for a few hundred dollars. When handled correctly, auction domains can greatly expedite your SEO timeline for affiliate websites.
- Can come with an excellent backlink profile
- Can bring some initial (likely unrelated) traffic
- Can revive old content (careful with copyright)
- Sometimes rank faster, better
- Little control over name, hard to find an appropriate fit
- Existing backlinks may not be related, could have a penalty in place
- Can be expensive
Expired domains are websites that were once active, expired, and didn’t get purchased at auction. These websites can be had by registering a domain name just like you might a new one, though having the knowledge that that name has existing backlinks. In fact, if you register a fresh domain name there’s a small chance that it was a website before and might have existing backlinks without your knowledge! While rare, this scenario does well to illustrate why Google handles expired domains in the way that it does. Expired domains will have their age metrics reset by registrars, and Google might nullify all historical links created before the new registration date.
The reasoning being; the new doggystyle.com specializing in dog toys and pet-training tutorials shouldn’t have to overcome the likely pornographic context of the previous site. My experience with expired domains, backed up by many reports from fellow SEOs, is that initially they will not rank very well but after a period of about 3 months, they still tend to show an advantage over fresh registrations, when used for purposes similar to their old context. This isn’t always the case. There’s always a lot of context needed to make an informed decision and Google is always learning new ways to shut such tactics down, or at least minimize their impact.
- Can come with excellent backlink profile
- Can revive old content (careful with copyright)
- Cheap (registration fee)
- Website age reset after expiration
- Reviving old content might not work
- Limited name control
Live Website Purchases
In most cases, considering the purchase of an existing website isn’t going to be appropriate for most websites. If you’re just starting out with website marketing, this approach is likely to end up costing you more than it will bring you in returns. However, this SEO method can help radically accelerate the timeline for your SEO strategy. The basic idea here is to find websites that are ranking decently for keywords you believe to be of high-commercial value but don’t seem to recognize that themselves.
For example, a website ranking #20 for best dog toys might be some personal blog written by any random dog-lover. The recognition here is that a website that isn’t maintained by an SEO, that is already ranking for keywords you want to target, could likely rank well if given some quality SEO. The main advantage here is that a lot of the annoying initial work needed to get a website established has been taken care of and that you know that site can rank for your keyword. For personal bloggers, an offer of $1000 for their website might seem exactly like the big break they’ve been waiting for.
For the seasoned SEO, this price is likely to be far less than the cost of content development and initial backlinking to get a site to that point. As with most things related to money and business, there is an investment cost vs. return consideration to be made here. The downsides of this approach are largely is that mismanaging an SEO approach after such a purchase is going to end up costing you more money. These types of opportunities are also hard to find, take a seasoned eye to audit properly, and have to be negotiated on a site-by-site basis. In a word; these types of website deals are unpredictable.
- Website age stays intact
- Existing rankings (don’t buy something not ranking somewhere already)
- Often existing traffic
- Initial backlinking taken care of
- Often most expensive option
- Negotiations on a case-by-case basis
- Dealing with escrow purchase (usually easy, use trusted sources)
- Seller might not be upfront about existing issues
Broader Domain Name Considerations
In addition to understanding the types of domains, there are some other more indirect considerations to make. For websites geared towards being super niche, are not likely to ever expand into related keywords, a lot of considerations can be skipped. For more brand-based approaches, it’s important to consider many different aspects of how your website will be perceived for years to come.
First, check out the existing landscape. This involves competitor names, social media profile availability, registered trademarks, and even entries into the Urban Dictionary. If your new brand-name is Taiwanese slang for some obscure sexual fetish you’d want to know that before starting out. Social media profile names aren’t a deal breaker, even for larger sites, and unavailability is commonly sidestepped by simple additions of “the” to the front of names (theMoneyMound for example).
Having a brand name similar to a competitor’s is something to watch out for as well. In small niches you’ll just run into a lot of confusion while in larger niches you’re likely to receive cease and desist letters from lawyers. To get an idea if you’re brand name runs the risk of legal action against it, search around the United States Patent & Trademarks Office website to see if your name is currently associated with any registered trademarks.
Domain names are a key consideration to make when developing any new web property. They are what returning visitors remember your website buy, and can be serve as an anchor of trust for those websites taking an authority approach. Auction domains, expired domains, and even the purchase of live websites can all offer distinct benefits when pursing keywords from an SEO standpoint. Considering the benefits and potential risks of each when developing your initial SEO strategy can help your website succeed where others might fail.
There are always examples of websites that use these approaches poorly that can be used to dissuade from future use. There are also examples of such websites that have used them and found an abnormal amount of success. As with everything, your expectations should fall somewhere in the middle. These domain considerations can help give your website an extra edge in the SERP, but shouldn’t be expected to do anything magical. You’ll still need to build quality backlinks, have quality content, and have done quality keyword research for your site to succeed. Having a quality domain name strategy is simply one facet of a larger overall strategy for website success.