Finding and analysing expired domains for SEO purposes in 2021.

  1. Introduction
    Types of expired domains

  2. Scraping And Finding Expired Domains
    – Using expired domain services
    – Using drop catch services
    – Using SEO tools to find expired domains

  3. Guide on finding expired domains using SEO tools
    – Acquiring your list of domains
    – Running HTTP status check with Xenu
    – Filtering the domains for analysis

  4. In-depth SEO Analysis For Expired Domains
    – The 3 major SEO metrics
    – Looking for Spam
    – Examples of domain analysis and spam

Introduction

Expired domains have always been at the forefront of SEO discussion. Whether building a PBN, creating nifty 301 redirect schemes or simply not wanting to start from scratch : expired domains have always been a go-to solution for the SEO industry.

In this article we will assume you already have a goal in mind for your domains and that you possess some SEO knowledge and experience already. By the end we hope to have increased your understanding somewhat in :

  • The process of scraping and collecting lists of domains.
  • How to check hundreds of thousands of domains to see if they are expired.
  • How to perform in-depth analysis to make sure your domains haven’t been used for dubious SEO practices in the past.

Types of expired domains

Expired domains can be divided up into a few distinct groups. There are always exceptions but generally speaking they can be categorised in this way.

Ranked from most desirable to least

  1. Fresh off the shelf
    These are domains that were resolving (active) up until their quarantine period. The owner either forgot to renew or just abandoned the website. Hard to register, most good domains in this category will immediately be dropcatched or registered within the first few hours of being available.

  2. Domains that have been parked
    Often when a valuable domain expired it will be re-registered by a third party. More often than not the domain is never developed beyond a simple “this domain is for sale” page. Assuming no SEO trickery has been performed these domains are perfectly viable and good to go. It might take Google a while to re-index the site.

  3. Domains that have been re-used or rebranded.
    Example : A golf club has a website that expired in 2017. In 2018 it was re-registered by an SEO company that turned it into a blog with golf related articles that were used to boost ecommerce sites with outgoing links.

  4. Doorway pages, splogs and other auto-generated content.
    These are sites that have had content generated on them by an AI for long-tail ranking purposes. Often have completely clean backlink profiles thus hard to spot. Avoid like the plague.

  5. Spammed domains
    There are exceptions to every rule, but in general nothing good ever comes out of these domains. These are domains that have link-profiles polluted with terms like : gucci handbags, casino, sex and all the things you are trying to avoid when getting clean domains. Avoid like the plague.

Scraping and finding expired domains

If you already have lists of domains and are just interested in doing a thorough spam analysis then proceed to the third part of this article. 

There are three ‘main’ methods for acquiring expired domains that we will discuss in detail. Each one will take a slightly different approach and require a slightly different mindset and tools.

Using expired domain services.

There are a multitude of expired domain services, some of which are completely free.

  1. Expireddomains.net
    Excellent place for starting out. Probably has the largest database in the world of expired domains. They are completely free. Although they do offer some SEO metrics (majestic), no analysis is done on whether a domain is “clean” or not.

  2. Spamzilla.io
    Less domains, but focused on spam detection and domain analysis. Extremely good for major tld like .com but lacking in most regional tld. Extremely well priced at only $35 per month.

  3. Domcop.com
    Coming in at a whopping $106 per month (for access to the full expired database) is Domcop.com. In my opinion they fit somewhere in between expireddomains.net and spamzilla, offering a bigger database than spamzilla but less spam detection metrics. Their guru plan ($198) allows you to ‘unleash’ your own personal expired domain crawlers.

These services take a lot of time off your hands, especially in terms of actually finding out which domains are about to expire. Most people start their journey on expireddomains.net for this reason. Be aware that almost everyone else is using these same services too, thus there might be a lot of competition for high value domains (in some cases, you might spend hours looking for good ones).


Using dropcatch services

Expired domains are 'sitting there' waiting to be registered by anyone who has found them, the art of dropcatching is all about registering a domain the split second it drops/expires.

Dropcatching is an art mastered by few. Whilst it isn’t hard for someone to repeatedly press F5 until a domain is available, by the time they actually press buy the domain will have already been registered. A multitude of various companies will already have tried to register the domain hundreds, if not thousands of times. Anything of value at least.

Dropcatching domains yourself is hard and it is best not attempted by yourself without the technical know how. For the fastest possible domain registration time you would need to be signed up as a registrar. Depending on which domain extention you choose, this alone can costs a few thousand dollars per year. Not to mention the server costs and programming skills required to hook everything up.

Luckily, there are a few dropcatch services that make life a lot easier for SEO professionals.

  1. Dropcatch.com
    Utilises a bidding system in which people can bid for domains that they then try to dropcatch for you. Whoever bids the highest “wins” the auction. This doesn’t mean that you actually end up with the domain, just that they will try and dropcatch it for you. Focuses mostly on org/com/net.

  2. Catchtiger.com
    Pretty much the same as Dropcatch except they focus on European top level domains.

Using SEO tools like ahrefs, semrush and majesticSEO to find expired domains.

A nice trick most people don’t know is that most SEO tools can be used to easily find expired domains with links from highly authoritative websites.

Lets say that you are looking for expired .org domains. Common SEO sense dictates that if a site has a link from bbc.co.uk it’s probably an authoritative domain. We will use this as our starting point.

What we will be doing in this guide :

  • Download all domains that bbc.co.uk is linking to
  • Take the list of thousands of domains and do a bulk http status check
  • Take the domains with no http status and run them through godaddy bulk checker
  • We now have a list of expired domains, available to register with a link from bbc.co.uk.

I’ll take you through the process step by step. In this example I’ll be using ahrefs but the same results can be achieved in semrush and majestic more or less. (instead of using the linked domains tab just download lists of referring domains to check)

Step 1 : Download linked domains/referring domains from Ahrefs (or semrush/majesticSEO)

Select “linked domains” in the left sidebar. In our example we are looking for .org domains so make sure to select that too in the top menu bar. Export the domains to CSV and continue to the next step.

Step 2 : Bulk http check domains for availability.

In this specific example, we ended up with a list of 26,725 domains. There are various ways to proceed.

The first option is to directly check the availability of the domains with a registrar that has a bulk-check function.

This is perfect for smaller lists that don’t require hours of copy & pasting. A good example is Godaddy’s bulk domain name search, unregistered users can bulk check availability of 500 domains at a time. For registered users this is bumped up to 3000.

The second option is to first do an http status check first on all the domains to make the eventual list more manageable. It can be painful to copy and paste lists over and over again into godaddy.

An http status check is basically a ‘ping’ to the domain to see what kind of response it gives. If a domain gives any kind of http response it is not expired, since an expired domain can’t return any status code.

There are a lot of different (free) tools that can do this but for this example I will use Xenu link sleuth.

Download and install Xenu and then go to Options -> Preferences and copy the following settings :

Make sure that “Maximum depth” is set to 0!

Now it’s time to import our list that we got from ahrefs. Click on file – > Check URL list and select a .txt file where you have copy/pasted your linked domains from ahrefs. Make sure to add “http://www.” to the front of all the domains you are going to run through Xenu. (click here for quick solution from textmechanic)

Xenu will start checking all your domains. When you finish the list will look something like this :

We are only interested in the domains with status “no such host“, every other status implies that there was some kind of response and the domain is therefore not expired.

Export your list by going to file -> Export to tab seperated file.

From our original list of 26,725 we are now left with 2392 domains that returned no status code. We will now continue to Godaddy bulk domain checker and see which ones are actually available.

After running everything through godaddy bulk checker we are left with 1075 .org domains that are free to register containing a bbc.co.uk link.

We don’t know much about these domains yet though, except that they are expired and have a bbc.co.uk link. This is where we delve deeper and give all our domains a thorough analysis. Our goal is to end up with only high metric, spam free domains.


In-depth SEO analysis for Expired domains

We now need to narrow the list down to actually find something we would like to register. Two things are of utmost importance : Metrics and history.

Domain metrics, what is really important?

In our opinion there are 3 major SEO metrics that are worthwhile to pay attention to.

  1. Moz Domain Authority (DA)
    The gold standard when it comes to SEO domain metrics. Often abbreviated to just “DA”. Anything over 10 is acceptable (for lower end SEO usage). Expired domains that aren’t spammed with a DA of over 30 are extremely rare. (almost impossible to find)

  2. MajesticSEO Trust Flow (TF)
    Often abbreviated to TF. MajesticSEO have been around for a long time and their trustflow metric is often used in conjunction with DA to get a good idea if a domain is worth.

  3. Ahrefs Domain Rating (DR)
    Everyone knows Ahrefs for a good reason. Their DR is often used as a secondary metric to measure a domains overal value.

This is when i run all the available expired domains I found through a tool to bulk check metrics. For now I’m mostly interested in DA and TF. There are a lot of free tools that can bulk check moz Domain authority but I personally prefer DomDetailer.

Analysis of the domains I found from bbc.co.uk – Sorted by DA. At first glance it looks promising.
People will have different views on what metrics are the best or what their minimum requirements are. It's best to have positive signals in all three metrics. For instance I would rather have a domain with a DA of 8, TF of 8 and DR of 8 than one with 14 in simply one metric. 

I personally like to have a nice mix of all metrics. I generally care more whether a domain has a solid history and good referring domains than just meaningless metrics. In the end each case/domain is unique and should be treated as such. Everyone will eventually form their own selection criteria over time. 

Looking for spam

When analysing domains I advise to look at the following things :

  1. Check backlinks (both source & destination URL)
    A good starting point is to have a quick glance at what kind of backlinks a domain has. You can do this for free with ahrefs or use your personal tool of choice. Seasoned SEO veterans will be able to spot a spammy domain at first glance. If you are still trying to get the hang of it : look for anything out of the ordinary that doesn’t match what you would expect. Foreign character symbols, anchor texts like “free casino” or “nike air max jordan discount” are good examples of domains that can be immediately discarded. Also look at what URL on your expired domains the backlinks were pointing too. myexpireddomain.com/viagra-cialis-10mg-cheap is a sign someone was hosting bad content on the website at some point in time.

  2. Check Archive.org
    Archive.org lets you see snapshots of a domains history. Essentially it’s like looking through a timemachine into the past. See if the domain has been used as a PBN in the past or has been hosting content that you wouldn’t want to be associated with.
    Some blackhat SEO’s block archive.org from crawling their site. A recent gap in archive.org’s history where no snapshots have been found could be a possible red flag. In the most ideal situation you should have to go no further back than 1 month to see the site in it’s original state.

  3. Do a site: command in google
    In an ideal situation you would still want some of the sites old content indexed in google, this is a sign the domain was healthy and indexed at least.

  4. Check SEO tools for indexed pages/historically ranking pages.
    When the above three steps fail to detect a spammy domain, this is your last go-to. Ahrefs, majestics and Semrush all have similar options. Ahrefs and Semrush constantly crawl the search results, seeing which websites are ranking, they then save the ranking URLS. Since they are scraping this information from the SERPS directly, there is no real way of blocking this via the “regular” methods like robots.txt.

    So if you see that the expired domain you are investigating has ranked for spammy search queries in the past you might want to rethink the purchase.


Examples of Domain analysis

I will take one of the domains I found earlier and be performing the 4 checks from above on them.

Domain : utzoncenter.org

Backlink check : Clean

Archive.org check : Clean but no history from 2018 onwards. The domain appears to have been some sort of cultural centre/museum in a small Danish town.


site: check : nothing indexed

Historically indexed/ranking pages : Spam detected

Ahrefs has seen that the title of the index page used to be “Coloring sheets animal printable”. Knowing that the domain has nothing to do with the title I’m going to assume that the site was either hacked or re-used by generating content on a massive scale.

This domain is a perfect example of how everything can look fine on paper at first glance. Often you need to dig deep to find out if a website has a clean history or not.

Another example from the BBC.co.uk domains is kanchi-sathya.org. It’s backlink profile seemed fine but closer inspection in archive.org revealed the following snapshot :

Knowing that this kind of stuff is spam is a sixth sense you will have to train by practice and repetition. The website started out in 1999 and was the personal website of a spiritual guru in India. After a 3 year hiatus in archive.org it seemingly returns as a webshop with thousands of completely unrelated pages. It looks like the domain was utilised as some kind of e-commerce automated blog. A tell-tale sign of expired domain abuse.

Leave a Comment