Domain Names, Developed Domains, and Expired Domains

When it comes to search engine marketing, one issue that many people struggle with is the domain name. There’s some confusion out there regarding domain names and how they effect a site’s ability (or inability) to rank well in the search engines. I thought I’d talk a little bit about domains in general, mention some issues involved when it comes to domains and rankings in the search engines, and how one might go about searching for and evaluating domain names.

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Domain Names in General
Several years ago (I actually don’t remember exactly when it changed, so if you know please comment to let us know), the keyword in the domain name had an effect on rankings. So, before 2003 or so, if you had your main keyword in your domain name and your site was about that subject, then you had a good chance of ranking well in the search engines for that main keyword.

Nowadays, after 2003, having your keyword in the domain name really started to not be as significant. It kind of stopped being a factor when it came to the actual search engine rankings. Many people still say that having your main keyword phrase in your domain name is a big factor when it comes to search engine rankings. However, this effect can be confused with the fact that many other sites link to that domain name with the keyword phrase because the site is about that subject. Anchor text still is a big factor. Let’s take, for example, a site like www.companyname.com. The site tends to rank for that company name because the majority of links pointing to that site use the company’s name as the anchor text. So, it’s going to be difficult to “out rank” a company for the company name; because of the anchor text, not because a company owns “companyname.com”.

Domain Name Age
Some say that an “aged” domain name, one that has been in the search engine’s index (mainly the Google search engine index), is a help when it comes to search engine rankings. So, when some consider domain names there’s a big push now to buy domain names that have been “aged”, domain names that are a few years old.

There’s a lot more on the subject of domain name aging, and Google has a patent out there that explains how Google might be using domain age as a part of their search engine algorithm.

There are a few things that can effect search engine rankings; someone can buy an older domain name that has links and traffic and is “aged”; they can buy it at an auction or just buy it from its current owner. They can continue to use that domain name that they buy. Or, they can purchase the domain name at an auction and set up a 301 Permanent Redirect from that domain name to their current site.

Domain Names and Rankings
When it comes to analyzing search engine rankings, you might consider going to Yahoo! and performing the following search on a domain:

linkdomain:domain.com -site:domain.com

This search at Yahoo! will show all of the links from other websites that are pointing to the domain name. By adding the -site command to the search, it excludes internal links on that domain name.

By looking at the linkdomain search result, at Yahoo!, you might be able to figure out that someone is redirecting a domain name from another older domain name to the domain name you’re currently analyzing. There are tools that will help you analyze the links, as well. Many SEOs prefer to get links by using such techniques like linkbaiting; they may combine that technique with the purchase of domain names with links and redirecting them.

One thing that you should be aware of is that it is possible to change a site’s overall search engine rankings by redirecting domain names. For example, if you find that suddenly you lose search engine rankings, it’s possible that a competitor has bought some domain names and redirected them to your site. Let’s say, for example, you have a healthcare-related website. The site has about 500 links to it. What would happen if your competitor bought some domain names (that had a total of about 1000 links) and redirected them all to your site? What if the domains your competitor bought are telecom-related? Now, when the search engines look at your site the majority of links are telecom-related. Would this have an effect on your search engine rankings? Now your healthcare site is telecom-related?

Buying or Acquiring Domain Names
There are several reasons why one domain name should be redirected to another domain name. One company could acquire another company; the other company’s domain names should be redirected using 301 Permanent Redirects to the main company’s site. Another reason, though, that domains would be redirected is that you want to increase your site’s links and link popularity. In this case, you could search for sites that are related to your topic and try to acquire sites (or domains) from their current owners. Or, you could buy expired domain names or domain names that haven’t been renewed by the current owners.

Search the web for your site’s competitors–some that may rank better than your current site–and try to buy those sites from the current owners. This method could prove costly, though, but it’s possible to find sites who owners don’t know why you’re buying their site.

Every day, about 25,000 domain names (last time I checked) expire and become available to the public for anyone to buy. They’re put back in the pool of domain names that anyone can register. You can get ahold of this list, and download it via FTP a day in advance. An analysis of the domain names by checking backlinks, etc. will reveal that most of those domain names are probably not in the search engines anymore. Domains are typically removed from the Google search engine (they are banned) when a domain gets to “pending delete” status. Curiously enough, though, Google at the moment doesn’t have a good handle on .org domains–most .org domains still remain in the search engine index.

Every day, there are thousands of domain names that aren’t renewed at certain domain registrars–and the registrars have found that there’s a market for domain names. So, some registrars tend to put up the domains at auction to raise more money. They automatically renew the domain name when their customer doesn’t renew the domain name–the registrar puts a “holding page” on the site and renews the domain for an additional year. When the domain name is sold at auction, the domain is transferred from the old owner to the new owner, possibly you. There are several domain name registrars who do this, including Network Solutions, Dotster, and GoDaddy. The “trick”, though, is to go through the list of thousands of domain names and identify domain names that you might be interested in.

Let’s say, for example, you want to find domain names that are available through GoDaddy’s TDNAM aftermarket service that are related to your site’s subject. Simply go to tdnam.com, and find a domain expiring today. Look at the domain’s “holding page” and identify some unique text on the page that has the date on it. Search for that unique text in your favorite search engine with quotes and add your keyword like this:

“This domain name expired on 03/18/07 and is pending” keyword

You could search for the phrase in quotes, which would most likely reveal a bunch of domain names…adding your keyword will narrow the list down further. First, though, you would need to sign up for the TDNAM service (link provided below):

Have questions about domain names or expired domain names? Feel free to ask, I’ll do my best to help answer whatever questions you have.