Recycling Old Domains


You've finally decided to go put up your next big Web project. What's the first thing you need to do? Right, you need to register a domain name. Now getting a domain name isn't that hard or expensive to do anymore, anyone with a credit card can get a top level domain (TLD) for $7 or less. But with the advent of search engine marketing (SEM), domain name selection has suddenly become a hot search engine optimization (SEO) concern. It is now more practical from a SEO standpoint to "recycle" an old domain (clean), rather than to register a new one.

From Jill Whalen's High Rankings newsletter:

Do not purchase a new domain unless you have to. Due to Google's aging delay for all new domains (see this forum thread: your best bet is to use an existing domain/website if at all possible. If you're redesigning or starting from scratch and you have to use a brand-new domain for some reason, you can expect to wait a good 9-12 months before your site will show up in Google for any keyword phrases that are important to you.

Why are SEOs interested in old domain names? The top two concerns that come to mind are Google's aging delay and PageRank (PR).

Google's Aging Delay

SEOs always find ways to take advantage of gaps within the search engines' algorithms. One of the first Google SEO tactics used was link farming, i.e. setting up a network of interlinked sites to artificially inflate link popularity. Anyone with a decent number of sites could use these mini-networks to propel a target site up the search engine result pages (SERP).

To combat the rise of link farm-based optimization, Google came up with a universal aging delay for new domains. For 6-8 months after site launch, don't expect a new domain to get anywhere near the top of the SERP. Notable SEOs like Scottie Claiborne and Jill Whalen have observed this phenomenon.

The general symptoms of a site experiencing the Google aging delay filter include the following:

  • Site may appear on top for some medium-competition keywords a week or two after launch, then they drop to the bottom of the SERP for 6-8 months.
  • No top rankings even for slightly competitive keywords for 6-8 months.
  • Site may still appear on top for obscure keyword phrases like the company name or the management team.
  • Site PageRank and backlinks are visible, but they don't seem to help the site.
  • No amount of off-page or on-page optimization will help your site can't escape the aging filter effect.

Because of the Google aging delay, SEOs are now more interested in old domains, mainly because these old domains have spent the obligatory 6-9 months Google detention period.

Google PageRank

Old domains enjoy another advantage over new ones. Most of these old domains have a high number of backlinks. During the "old days", people linked to other sites "liberally". It wasn't uncommon to get links from authority sites like .gov's and .edu's.

The previous domain owner may have put up a frequently linked-to site before, but then decided to abandon the domain (maybe he found a more suitable domain name for his site). The original registration expires but the links to the the original domain do not. Sites linking to the original domain seldom update their links to point to the new domain. So while the original domain may have lost an owner, it still enjoys a good number of backlinks. High backlink count/quality = high PageRank.

Instead of starting another link building campaign for a new domain, SEOs decided why not go with an old one? Chances are, you won't be able to duplicate the quantity and quality of the old domain's backlinks anyway.

The Domain Name Life Cycle

The entire life of a domain name can be summed up into 5 cycles. gives a good illustration of the full domain name life cycle:

  1. Available - a domain is available to the public for registration for a period not to exceed a maximum term of 10 years.
  2. Active - a domain is registered and in an active state and can be renewed for a period not to exceed a maximum term of 10 years.
  3. Expired - within a 24 hour period of a domain name going past its expiration date the domain name will be deactivated. All domain services including the web page and email will no longer work. The domain may be renewed during this period. For approximately 40 days the domain name will be available to be renewed without paying any additional fees.
  4. Redemption Period - at the end of the Expired period the domain will enter a 30 day Redemption period. Whois information will be deleted. The domain will still be inactive. The domain may be renewed by its original owner for $175 + renewal fees.
  5. Delete - five days after the end of the redemption period the domain name will be deleted from the registry and will be made available for anyone to register.

Finding that Hot Momma Domain

If you have the resources, there are a lot of expired domain hunting/snatching services online. These companies offer to notify you when a domain of value is available. Once available, they then try to put you first in line on the domain reservation list.

Guerilla SEOs can still hunt for expired/expiring domains, albeit the old-fashioned way. For TLDs, you can manually search for expiring/expired TLD lists. But because you're competing against commercial domain hunting/snatching companies, I'd say the chances that a guerilla SEO will be able to get an expired high PR TLD are very slim.

For Philippine domains, you can refer to dotPH's Top Unregistered dotPH Domains page. This gives you a list of previously registered domain names which you can enter into a PageRank checking service. dotPH domains are a little expensive compared to their TLD counterparts but if you are working on a Philippine site, .PH domains provide an extra ranking boost.

A random test on some of dotPH domains listed in the unregistered domains list unearthed a few SEO gems:

Imagine my surprise when I managed to find an expired PR4 domain in the list. A quick backlink check with Altavista showed 125 backlinks, with a good number of links coming from PR2 to PR4 pages. I knew right away that I just had to get this domain no matter what.

The best thing about it is the domain's already listed in the Yahoo! Directory and the Open Directory. Being in these heavily scraped directories is SEO link popularity nirvana. It takes months, some even years, to get inside DMOZ. To get inside the Yahoo! Directory, one must ready to shell out $299 (nonrefundable) for the chance to submit the site for review. There's no assurance that the site you submitted for review will even be added to the directory.

The old domain owners already completed two of the most difficult SEO tasks for me. All for just P1,649.


Getting a site up the SERP for competitive keyword phrases is not an easy task. Any advantage you can get over the competition is a good thing. Finding an expired domain that has high PR will allow SEOs to concentrate on other SEO tasks like search engine copywriting, on-page optimization, etc. Old domains also have the added bonus of having already escaped Google's aging delay. High PR and an aged domain are key to your site's SEO success. If you can find an expired domain that has these two qualities, consider recycling that domain for your site.



Finding an expired domain that has high PR

Is largely a waste of time from the Google SERPs POV. :)

It is commonly believed that Google wipes the link "slate" clean when a domain expires. Do you believe otherwise?

> It is commonly believed

> It is commonly believed that Google wipes the link "slate" clean when a domain expires. Do you believe otherwise?

That is true for .com and possibly a few more TLDs but for most local TLDs it's not. The above description of how domains expire is not correct when it comes to most domains outside .com. Each country have very different rules and ways to handle this.

aged domains are key...

but expired domains are trash.... (at least with google)

from my experiences even if the EXPIRED domain is old, has backlinks & pagerank it will still get sandboxed. i'll even go out on a limb and say that buying an expired domain is worse than starting from scratch.

in fact, out of the 5 i've purchased, all have had an extremely difficult time just to get back into the index. 2 needed re-inclusion requests just to get re-indexed, and are still sandboxed over 16 months later....

i agree that an AGED domain is GOLD - but EXPIRED domains are trash.

Successful Stealth Transfer

One option is negotiating with the owner of the expiring domain to keep the registration info in their name while still transfering legal ownership. Runs afoul of the new registrar rules but it does make the domain sale invisible to Google preventing assignment of penalties.

> but EXPIRED domains are

> but EXPIRED domains are trash.

It seems that you are working on a very limited scale if you think so. But please try and convince everyone you are right - it will just leave that market more profitable to the rest of us. I could prove you are wrong but why would I? :)

I would echo Mikkel's

I would echo Mikkel's observations: the "expired domains are trash" may not apply for all ccTLDs.. there are some gems to be found on expired ccTLDs :)

Please don't promote that

Please don't promote that too much, snipermilk :)

For someone who has never played this game before... will one of these domains fare outside their natural marketplace? If I were to find a .ph domain that matches my niche and is "golden", would I be able to successfully convert it to good use in the US marketplace?

But be careful!

Sometimes there are reasons the domain has been abandoned - it may have had adsense banned, or it may have been generally banned in Google, or another SE.
For adsense, you can ask Google (and there are recent cases of people claiming their entire adsense account was banned because they bought a domain that had previously been banned. See WMW)
For general banning - the wayback machine is the first means that occurs to me, just to see if it used to look spammy, as a way to 'check' an expired domain.
Buying an extant domain name is more likely to be successful, as it is easier to check the 'quality'.

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