Domain registration fees are a lot like property taxes—if you don’t pay them you lose your property. For many reasons, businesses often fail to renew their domain registration and let their domains expire. While this completely washes away the current owner, it has no way of addressing all the backlinks pointing to the domain. When the next owner purchases the domain, these backlinks will still be there. If a new business comes along for which this same domain name could work, and most of the backlinks are relevant to their product or service—they can get a huge leg up by capitalizing on the existing backlink SEO ranking power. This isn’t always easy, possible, or even recommended. This article takes a look at the rankexec.com website to illustrate how a new company capitalized on the SEO service related backlinks of an expired domain to help bolster their own search engine rankings.
Yesteryear’s SEO Services
Back in the early 2000’s, SEO was a piece of cake. More specifically—ranking websites in Google’s SERP pages was a piece of cake. The real novelty of their search product at this point was simply the ability to find websites, as opposed to their dynamic approaches of quantifying value seen today. Essentially, a websites PageRank was influenced almost entirely by backlink quantity rather than having quality backlinks. These are referred to by many as the golden years of Internet Marketing—when email open rates exceeded 80% on the regular, when AOL was still thriving, and when Amazon was still focused on books. While the game might have had a lot fewer players, and the rules may have been a lot looser—the fundamentals were basically the same as they are today. The process of SEO involved working to rank websites, keep a record of one’s progress, and to manage actions such as outreach and backlink recording. Rank tracking is an almost assumed service by most enterprise tools of today, such as MoZ, SemRush, or aHrefs. In the early-to-mid 2000’s however, this was still a pretty niche service—catered to a much smaller demographic.
One such company, RankExec, offered a product that tracked positions for as many as 100 search engines, was multi-threaded, had an automated checking system (had to advertise it), and even did competitor tracking. All things considered, this was a pretty powerful SEO service. Products that don’t evolve die, and sometime in 2014 the final nail was put into the RankExec’s product and the domain took on a new look—advertising various SEO services. To the general public, this may have appeared to be a simple change in services offered. For anyone willing to take a peek at historical WHOIS data however, it’s clear that some changes in ownership had likely occurred. The most-likely explanation for this is that the original RankExec product was no more, they let their domain expire, and someone with an SEO related business stepped in. The backlinks fit, the name fit, and all things considered—they probably made a decent decision.
Ranktracking Turned Website Valuation
Whomever the new owner’s of this domain were, they realized that there were still a lot of RankExec branded backlinks floating around on the internet. Not only were most of these links branded—being as the original rankexec.com had mostly homepage links—but they were also found within the context of SEO services and online marketing. While this website was no miracle (they would rank #1 for SEO services overnight) it likely provided them a large amount of momentum during their initial days. Google has repeatedly, since as far back as 2008, stated that they try to reset PageRank for expired domains. While this is often the case, in practice it often doesn’t happen. Google is great about overstating their ability to detect actions that would compromise the sanctity of their most-profitable product—search. After all, if you thought you could purchase an expired domain with a killer backlink profile, fire up an automated link-building software, and be at the top of page 1 for your keywords—would you consider spending money through AdWords?
Most people would take the cheaper route and Google knows that. For them, it’s simply the price of doing business. One of the ways they seemingly hedge that risk is to spread information about how they’re cutting back on all the SEO methods they regard as ‘shady’ in very public ways. Truth be told, results from so-called shady methods are often viable for much longer than Google would have people believe. For instance, it wasn’t until 2011 that Google rolled out their now-infamous Panda updates to address issues of thin content. By Google’s own verbiage, their decision to null Page Rank for exchanged websites relies heavily on whether existing backlinks are relevant to the new website. In the case of RankExec—they were still pretty damn relevant! A good litmus test here, is to consider if the website hadn’t changed ownership—would the new appearance/product/service seem logically related to the former. If so, there’s a strong chance that the vast majority of the existing backlink profile would be as well. Juicing up some of the existing backlinks through Web 2.0 backlinks can help bolster the overall Page Authority of the backlink profile as well.
Expired domains were once one of the most cost-effective ways to provide additional Page Rank to a website. Purchasing websites that had strong backlink profiles could effectively transfer all that juice via a 301 redirect. Google has grown very wise in their maturity, and has a lot of ways to safeguard the widespread usage of this. However, results from within the trenches of real-world SEO work tell a different tale. Finding old domains through auction or expired domain scraping can still offer powerful advantages for new businesses. If you find a name that fits your website well, and it’s backlinks are well-suited and relevant to your industry—chances are you can still capitalize on that website’s Page Rank. The process of identifying such websites can be difficult and isn’t cheap. Finding a website such as rankexec.com that matches to a new business model is extremely difficult—but can be done with enough time and determination. Afterall, there are over a billion different websites floating around out there!