SEO Domain Names and their Benefits

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Understanding how to assess SEO domains is crucial for anyone interested in investing in domains or improving their website’s search performance.

Have you ever wondered why some domain names sell for ridiculously high prices even though they don’t seem to be ‘good’ names on the surface? 

Names like mp3newswire.net, omalley.net and crimetime.co?

In this comprehensive guide, you’ll discover the secret behind these expensive domains; their SEO value. 

We’ll cover everything you need to know about finding and valuing SEO domains, from domain authority to backlink analysis. 

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What are SEO Domains Exactly?

In this article, we refer to SEO domains as domain names that have existing backlinks and authority that can give your website a boost in search engine rankings. 

The SEO value stems from the previous website that was associated with the domain before it expired.

Although SEO domains typically sell for higher prices, they can provide tremendous value by giving your new website a head start in gaining traffic and authority. 

Domain Name Lifecycle

Let’s start at the beginning.

When someone initially registers a domain name, they typically build a website for that domain. As long as the owner keeps renewing the domain name each year and hosting the website, everything continues normally.

However, if the domain registration lapses and is not renewed, the domain expires. The website disappears, and the domain becomes available for someone else to register.

Here’s the important part. Even if the domain name expires, all of the existing backlinks pointing to that domain from other websites will still be there. 

These backlinks don’t somehow magically disappear just because the domain changed hands.

Why are these backlinks valuable?

Backlinks are valuable because search engines like Google use them as a signal for ranking websites. More backlinks (especially from authoritative sites) generally means a higher ranking in search results.

This means an expired domain name that has loads of backlinks pointing to it, will still retain its SEO authority and the benefit of its existing backlink profile.

SEO and Google

To understand the value of backlinks, we need to take a quick look at the history of search engine optimization (SEO) and Google’s famous PageRank algorithm.

When Google first launched in 1998, it quickly rose to dominance because of its use of backlinks to calculate search rankings.

Google figured if other websites deemed a page valuable enough to link to, that was a ‘vote’ in favor of that page’s authority. More votes (backlinks) meant a higher PageRank and ranking in Google.

Of course, people tried to game the system through link schemes and farms. So Google evolved to consider backlink quality into its algorithm. 

Meaning certain websites had more influential ‘votes’ than others. So, getting a backlink from one authoritative website may be more valuable than 100 backlinks from crappy or small websites.

So, for SEO purposes, high authority sites matter more. A link from the New York Times counts more than one from Joe’s Blog.

But that’s not all. The relevancy of the website also matters. Backlinks should be relevant to the content they are linking to. In other words if I get a link from a site in the dog niche, talking about dog food, for example, to a blog post about car loans, then that link is not really very relevant and would not give much value, if at all.

Though Google doesn’t publish PageRank scores anymore, backlink analysis remains a foundation of SEO.

SEO and Domain Authority

So, as we already mentioned, when a domain expires, it retains its portfolio of existing backlinks and associated domain authority.

For example, if Businessblog.com had articles that earned links from Forbes, Wikipedia, Money.com etc, those backlinks remain intact even if the businessblog.com domain expires and is newly registered by someone else.

The new owner of the expired domain can build a fresh website to effectively ‘inherit’ the SEO benefits of these pre-existing backlinks. 

The new site gets an SEO head start.

Savvy domainers use archive sites like the Wayback Machine to view what type of content and links existed on the expired domain previously. 

This helps them understand what type of site to build on the domain moving forward.

The search engines will see the connections and transfer the domain authority to the new website. 

With some expired domains, this SEO authority transfer can shave years off the typical effort required to build rankings.

Tools for Assessing Domain Authority

Okay, so expired domains can pass on SEO authority to a new website. But how exactly do we measure this domain authority?

There are a few main tools used by SEO professionals to understand the domain authority of a domain.

Ahrefs

Ahrefs has two key metrics that are relevant to this exercise:

  • Domain Rating (DR) is a proprietary score from 0-100 that measures the overall authority of a given domain.
  • Referring Domains is the total number of unique domains linking to this domain.

Moz

Moz calls its domain ranking score, Domain Authority (DA). It’s similar to Ahrefs DR score and is also from 1 to 100. These scores try to predict the domain’s search ranking ability.

For our purposes, we’ll focus on Ahrefs Domain Rating and Referring Domains as a simple snapshot of SEO authority.

As a general guide, when looking at the DR (domain rating) score on AHRefs, you can assess how valuable a domain is by categorizing them as follows:

  • DR of 0 to 9: Not valuable
  • DR of 10 to 19: May be worth investigation
  • DR of 20 to 49: Quite good
  • DR of 50 to 69: Strong
  • DR of 70-89: Awesome
  • DR of 90+ : Excellent (You’ve stumbled upon a gem!)

With an understanding of these metrics, let’s look at some real-world examples.

Typical SEO Results for Domain Names

The vast majority of expired domain names have no meaningful SEO characteristics. They’ll have a Domain Rating of 0 to 9 with very few or spammy backlinks. 

After all, if they had any SEO value, most webmasters would have renewed, or sold them instead of letting them expire.

However there is always the off chance that a strong SEO domain is left to expire by accident, after all, even Google.com domain name expired once.

So, by way of example, a random new domain registration, such as ‘greatdealsontennis.com’ would have the following AHRefs metrics:

  • Domain Rating: 0
  • Referring Domains: 0

On the other end of the spectrum, the domain cakehealth.com, which was left to expire on 30th September 2020 had the following strong SEO metrics:

  • Domain Rating: 40
  • Referring Domains: 138

You can see the difference. Cakehealth.com had existing authority via the many backlinks earned from its previous website. These backlinks came from reputable sites like Entrepreneur, Forbes, and CNBC.

Let’s examine why these SEO metrics translate into real-world domain value.

Backlinks can directly benefit a website and business in three ways:

  1. Referral traffic: Backlinks result in direct visitors following links to your site from the referring site. So, if CNBC.com linked to your domain from one of its articles (backlink), then readers on the CNBC might click on the link and end up on your website/domain..
  2. Higher rankings: As explained above, more backlinks can boost the domain’s search engine results rankings for various keywords.
  3. Credibility: Links from authority sites can lend legitimacy and trust to your domain.

In addition to the SEO bump, existing backlinks also save you time and money. Building high quality backlinks can cost thousands of dollars. On the other hand, by buying an SEO domain you get those backlinks instantly.

Let’s break down the resources and cost of each option.

Building vs Buying Backlinks

You essentially have two options if you want an SEO boost from backlinks. 

Option 1 is to invest time and money to build backlinks from scratch. Building backlinks organically by creating link-worthy content can work, but it takes lots of effort over an extended period of time.

Option 2 is to  buy an expired SEO domain name which already has backlinks pointing to it. Buying an SEO domain essentially takes advantage of the link building work done by the previous owner. So, you gain the benefits without the hassle (but at an additional initial outlay of funds).

Consider the following estimates:

A single backlink from a strong site like Forbes or Entrepreneur can cost $500+ to obtain, and that is if you’re lucky and they actually link to you. 

This requires you to produce some exceptional content, and then spend time and effort reaching out to these big websites with the hope of getting them to notice your article and link to it.

A good SEO domain would have anywhere from 50 to 200+ valuable backlinks.

This means that building the equivalent number of links organically could take months, if not years, and cost you thousands of dollars.

Valuing SEO Domains

Clearly SEO domains can provide tremendous strategic value. But what are these domains worth in dollars?

Here’s a simple formula you can use to estimate the SEO domain value.

Backlink Valuation Formula

For each strong backlink that an SEO domain has, we can estimate a cost of $250.

Let’s say that you come across an expired domain with 100 referring domain backlinks. 

Then by multiplying the number of referring backlinks (100) by the average cost for each backlink ($250), you get a valuation in the range of $25,000..

This formula provides a good starting point, but you shouldn’t take this estimate in isolation. 

You will also need to assess contextual factors like relevance of the links and the amount of spammy links.

The best approach is to combine SEO metrics with traditional domain valuation factors like brandability, length, extensions, traffic, etc. 

So, while SEO can nudge a domain into a higher valuation tier, it shouldn’t solely dictate the price of the domain.

Finding SEO Domain Names

So where can you find these expired SEO domains? 

Here are some places to scout for recently expired domains that still have value:

  • SEODN – This site specializes in providing SEO-optimized domain names, many of which are expired domains. You can filter by exact match keywords, search volume, and other SEO metrics to find one relevant to your niche.
  • ODYS – A global domain marketplace that lets you filter for expired domains and sort by traffic, backlinks, and age. ODYS does a good job at screening their expired domains beforehand to ensure they are legit. You pay a premium for this but your mind is at rest.
  • DomainGang – This site publishes daily lists of recently dropped domains across TLDs like .com and .net. Scroll through each day’s list for domain names containing your target keywords.
  • ExpiredDomains.net – One of the largest databases of newly expired domains. Input target keywords and filter by metrics like Moz Domain Authority and number of backlinks to uncover hidden gems.
  • GoDaddy Auctions – GoDaddy lists many of their recently expired domains for auction on this site. Review auction domains for SEO metrics like backlinks and organic traffic.

The key is looking for domains in topics you’re knowledgeable in, and doing due diligence on backlink relevance. 

You don’t need to go through all the backlinks. Use the 80:20 rule and focus on the 20% of ultra-relevant and strong backlinks, to get an understanding if the backlink profile of this expired domain is good enough to consider purchasing it.

Check expired domains weren’t penalized by Google

When evaluating an expired domain, it’s crucial to check whether the site was previously penalized by Google for spammy practices or other violations. 

A domain with manual penalties applied in the past can seriously hurt your SEO, even if the shady links or content have been removed.

To check a domain’s penalty history, in third party tools like Moz and Ahrefs. Look for major drops in organic search visibility or keywords rankings on the domain.

These can be signs that the domain was hit with a Google penalty.

Contact the domain’s previous owner if possible to inquire about any Google penalties they received. Most reputable sellers will be upfront if actions were taken on the domain.

Avoid purchasing formerly penalized domains, even at temptingly cheap prices. The negative SEO equity can linger and get passed on to your site. 

A clean domain is always preferable to ensure trust and authority with Google from the start.

To conclude here’s a detailed video from Gael, an expert in website building who give us his take on expired domains and their value.

Conclusion

Finding high quality SEO domains takes practice, a lot of research and subscription to the right tools, like Ahrefs. But by investing the time and effort, you can get huge strategic value. 

Monitor domain name auctions and marketplaces regularly, and pounce when you find an SEO domain that meets all your criteria.

While SEO characteristics are valuable, make sure to consider the entire domain name and your planned use case. SEO domains can provide a strategic head start, but other branding factors also contribute to long term success.

In the next guide we will show you how to make use of comparable sales of domain names, ie, looking at similar domains and what they have been sold for.

For the full list of knowledge articles head on to our Domains Investment Hub.

AUTHOR

I am a branding and naming consultant with 16 years of experience. I believe in building a strong brand name that identifies your visions and that of your business. A brand identity motivates you and your team to achieve success.