Nerding Out on Expired Domains, Link Equity and SEO

On Monday, Danny Sullivan published a great post on expired domains (link). More specifically, his post discusses the link equity benefits from acquiring expired domains. For example, I have a website about topic X. I noticed that another website about topic X recently went offline. It’s down. It won’t load. Oh look, the domain is available for purchase. Wow! Really? That domain has 12,000+ inbound links, and it’s a PR4. Could I purchase that domain and redirect all of its URLs to my site? Would that help boost my PR and my rankings? Or would it set off an alarm at Google? I mean, all of the sudden a domain expires, is subsequently purchased and then redirected to another domain – that’s gotta trip some sort of wire in Google’s algorithm, right?

Danny goes through several scenarios, and he even quotes Matt Cutts a few times. The article is very informative, and I’m glad he wrote it. No one has posted about this practice for a long time, so it was great to see something on the topics of expired domain acquisition and link equity. You should read the post, but the quick summary is that there are certain instances where the link credit would remain or pass to new domains. But for the most part, if you are buying expired domains and then 301 redirecting them, don’t expect any significant boost in link credit.

As I was reading this article, I could not help but remember my recent experiences and how they do not really align with some of the points in this article. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not disagreeing with Matt Cutts and Danny Sullivan. They are like the Moses and King David of SEO (I mean, they were there in the beginning, and they are probably the two most trusted sources in the SEO industry). I’m only saying that my observations don’t exactly line up with what they said in the post. I believe there are times when purchasing expired domains can be extremely useful, and there are times when I have noticed that link credit does pass from an expired domain. Here’s some of the strategies I have used in the (recent) past with good results:

  • Launching a new website? Wanna get indexed quickly? I wanted to get one of my websites indexed quickly. I found one expired domain with a DMOZ entry, and I found another expired domain with a Yahoo Directory entry. These domains were related to the topic of my new domain. I redirected them at the same time. Whether or not DMOZ or the Yahoo Directory are important or relevant any longer, my new site was indexed within a few days.¬† Simple and sweet. I can’t argue with science.
  • Building PR and Link Equity for New/Existing Sites. There I was. I had that site for a while, and I wasn’t really paying attention to it. I decided to see if I could increase its traffic and PR from redirecting a few more expired domains. I found a page on the web that had a list of links to sites that were relevant to my site. Wouldn’t you know it? Some of those links were to domains that had expired. After a little bit of research into those dead links and some speedy domain purchases, I had 15 domains at my disposal. I redirected them over time, not all at once. After a couple of PR updates in 2008, I noticed that my site had increased its PR. And believe me, it wasn’t because a ton of other people had linked to my site. The only thing that changed was the fact that I had redirected 15 domains. I saw an increase in traffic from referring domains because the domains that I purchased had links all over the place. And I noticed an upswing in search engine rankings, which lead to increased traffic from organic search.
  • Driving More Traffic from other Google TLDs. Guess what? I bought an expired .es domain and redirected it to a .com site hosted in the USA. I really just wanted the link juice, but I got something more than that: top rankings on Google.es for some important keywords. I guess it makes sense. Have you ever noticed that some of Google’s European properties give you more search options? For example, on google.es you will definitely notice that under the search bar there are options to search the web, search only pages in spanish, or search only pages in Spain. Crazy, huh? I have worked on a few European-based sites, so I have seen these before. I just never thought about them in the context of redirecting expired domains. I guess we learn something every day.
  • Driving More Traffic from Local Search. One of the domains I redirected was the expired domain of a company based in a certain city in America (yeah, I have to be ambiguous about that one ūüôā ). A couple weeks after I redirected the domain, I noticed that I was ranking for long-tail search terms that contained the city where that company was located. It turns out that the company had several listings in local search databases, online phonebooks and directories, etc… If you want exposure in new cities or if you just want more exposure in the city that you’re in, check into an expired domain for a local company that no longer exists. The economy sucks right now. Lots of people are going out of business. Contact some companies and see if you can buy their domain. Don’t be stupid about it. Don’t redirect a bunch of domains all at once. Just try one and see what happens. Maybe it will work for you like it did for me. Then again, maybe it won’t.
  • Don’t Alter the Whois Data! Domain Privacy? Shah, right. Google is a domain registrar and an accreditted member of ICANN (proof). You think your domains are private because you paid some extra money for domain privacy. Well guess what. Google knows it’s you! Don’t pretend that you are getting away with anything here. If at all possible, purchase domains through Escrow and leave the Whois data unaltered. Updating the Whois data is a dead give-away that the domain changed hands. When domains change hands, you can count on the existing link juice to be crushed. Mostly. As Danny points out, Google admits to having systems that do stuff. I assume these systems must do stuff like keep track of businesses acquiring other businesses, businesses merging, and any other instance where a domain might change hands. Hell, Google probably has systems monitoring other Google systems. They’ve thought of everything, haven’t they? If not, people like Dave Naylor, Jeremy Shoemaker and Greg Boser are forcing them to.
  • Servers, DNS, IPs, Oh My. You know how you just bought 50 domains because of this post? Well, before you point them all to the same server, using the same DNS numbers, you need to think about something else: how odd will it look to Google if you buy 50 domains and then point them all to the same server and then have them all redirect to the same site? It’s a dead giveaway. Some registrars are offering a 301 redirect from the registrar, so it’s not as easy to catch the fact that one person just bought and redirected 50 domains to their own site. Or you may look into virtual IPs, so that not all of your domains are sitting on the same IP address. Or you may try to grab a few hosting accounts from various hosts and split up your domains. This makes it seem like there is a true game of cat-and-mouse going on, but there really isn’t. No matter what, Google will catch you. It’s only a matter of time. Just be smart about it. Or at least as smart as possible.
  • Just Buy an Existing Website. Is there a website for sale in your vertical? Why not just buy it and add links to the site (where appropriate)? I mean, buying domains and purchasing links will cost as much money in the long run. Why not buy a website that is already trusted by the search engines and actually getting traffic from organic search? Maybe you could optimize it and add some links. Maybe both of your sites will rank high. And then you’ll have 2 sites in the SERPs. It’s not a bad approach to take, and it’s certainly more white hat than redirecting expired domains.
  • You must remember: The key is to do your research on old domains. Make sure they weren’t up to no good. Make sure they were not blacklisted. Make sure they’ve got a healthy number of inbound links. Only redirect domains that previously contained content related to your site. Also, even though everyone says that toolbar PR is outdated and not important, look for domains that have a PR of 1 or higher. It can’t hurt to have a PR (no matter how worthless/overrated/outdated many SEOs will tell you PR is these days).

There. I hope that helps you in your gray hat endeavours. Now, go forth and prosper. I mean, uh, go forth and find expired domains and then redirect them. Jeez. SEOs are nerdy.

Netbook vs. Notebook: Is There a New Sheriff in Keywordville?

We all know that a laptop is a laptop. However, in the wide world of search, you can’t just focus on ranking for laptop. Why? For one, good luck ranking for laptop. The competition is superduper competitive for that term. Next, you’ll probably want to rank for laptops. Again, good luck. Don’t get me wrong. You should definitely optimize your site for those terms. I just don’t want you getting your hopes up. Even in a time of hope and change, I wouldn’t get caught up in hoping that your rankings change so much that you’ll be swimming in $100 bills. It’s just not likely you’ll be able to rank in the top 10 for laptop. But imagine if you could. There are a lot of searches for that term.

Google Keyword Data: Laptop, Notebook, Netbook
Google Keyword Data: Laptop, Notebook, Netbook

Where does that leave us? We must focus on some other generic keywords that also drive a lot of laptop-related traffic. Let’s check out synonyms for laptop. Notebook! Many people refer to their laptop as a notebook, so we definitely need to target the term notebook. Up until a few years ago, that was the main choice as an alternative to laptop. Well guess what. There’s a new keyword on the move: netbook. Just take a look at these historical trends, courtesy of Google Trends:

Google Trends Stats (US) for laptop, notebook, netbook
Google Trends Stats (US) for laptop, notebook, netbook

While the United States search volume has seen a tremendous increase for the term netbook, the News reference volume has been even more dramatic. In the news realm, the term netbook has already passed the volume for notebook, and it looks like netbook and laptop are currently in a dead heat. Where did all of this come from? In Q4 2007 the term netbook appears out of nowhere, and then a year later it’s off to the races. Perhaps a look into the history of netbooks is needed. Or perhaps not. Or perhaps we can borrow a summary from our friends at Wikipedia:

A netbook (a portmanteau of Internet and notebook) is a class of laptop computer designed for wireless communication and access to the Internet.

Primarily designed for web browsing and e-mailing, netbooks rely heavily on the Internet for remote access to web-based applications and are targeted increasingly at cloud computing users who require a less powerful client computer. Netbooks typically run either Linux or Windows XP operating systems rather than more resource-intensive operating systems like Windows Vista or Mac OS X. The devices range in size from below 5 inches to over 13, typically weigh 2 to 3 pounds (~1 kg) and are often significantly cheaper than general purpose laptops.

Netbooks represent a greener alternative to larger laptops due to lower power demands, fewer toxic components, and a resource-efficient approach to computing and some models have achieved EPEAT gold and silver ratings.

The Wikipedia entry goes on about the history of the netbook, from Psion’s line of Netbooks to the One Laptop Per Child project to the Palm Foleo. But the real change in netbook-related search volume came in 2007 when Asus released the ASUS Eee PC. And it wasn’t only ASUS. Everybody had to play catch up and copycat. Following the ASUS EeePC, Everex came out with the CloudBook, MSI developed the Wind, Dell released the Inspiron Mini, HP put out the HP Mini, and many other similar models were on the assembly line for production.

In early 2008, Intel announced that it would be quitting the One Laptop Per Child program, but that didn’t impact search. In fact, in early 2008 the search volume trend for netbook really started to rise. Why might this be? There’s probably many more verifiable and accurate reasons than this one I’m about to throw out there, but I’m going to start with the US economy in 2008. Netbooks are inexpensive, small, underpowered laptops. The key word (no pun intended) in that list is inexpensive. Netbooks average about $350. And just in case you think this post is too long and off base, just check out this link. Today on Amazon, the top 3 bestsellers in Computers & PC Hardware are netbook computers. And there are all under $375. Don’t believe me? Here’s the screenshot:

Amazon Bestsellers: Computers & PC Hardware
Amazon Bestsellers: Computers & PC Hardware

There you have it. Netbooks are cheap. They are lightweight. They don’t have a lot of the unnecessary bells and whistles that 99% of people will never use. Netbooks are perfect for people who just want to surf the web and check email. In the next few years, netbooks will make it easier for more and more people to get online, and it’s only natural that many of the major companies get involved in the netbook market. Already there are several models from brands such as Acer, Lenovo, Samsung, MSI, Sylvania, Toshiba, ASUS, HP and Dell.

Google Trends: netbook and netbooks
Google Trends: netbook and netbooks

Lastly, here is a look at the terms netbook and notebook vs. the plurals. For those of you wondering, the term netbook has already passed notebooks in terms of search volume. This is another sign that netbook term is only going to become increasingly competitive. If you are running an SEO campaign for a company selling laptops, notebooks and netbooks, I hope you consider placing a lot of focus on netbook-related terms. You are not on the ground floor of ranking for netbooks, but the good news is that you still have a good shot at setting up your site for great netbook-related rankings in the future.

With SEO Walter Sobchak, You’re Entering a World of Pain

Walter Sobchak: Shomer F'ing Shabbos
"Shomer F'ing Shabbos!" - Walter Sobchak

I’m a big fan of Walter Sobchak. I’ve watched The Big Lebowski about 100 times in the past year. There are just so many aspects of this movie that make me think and laugh. And then laugh again. And then think some more. In a movie with several well-developed characters, there are certain personality traits that direct more of my attention to Walter Sobchak. For example, I enjoy watching him play dumb when part of the fault is his. Like when they walk out of the bowling alley and the car has obviously been stolen, Walter issues this line: “It was parked in a handicapped zone, perhaps they towed it.” The way he says that line really makes me laugh out loud.

The trait I most envy is Walter’s ability to speak his mind. Let’s face it – we all have opinions, no matter how well-informed or uninformed they are. While¬†most of us are eager to keep our opinions to ourselves, Walter has no problem letting his opinions out for the world to hear. And he often does it with a persistent tunnel vision, as he relates nearly everything to Vietnam. In fact, Walter Sobchak will reference Vietnam in an improvised eulogy, in an argument about a stolen rug,¬†in an explanation of league bowling rules, etc… It’s a defining characteristic of Walter Sobchak, and I love it.

The Dude, Donny and Walter
"Eight-year-olds, Dude." - Walter Sobchak

Why exactly is Walter appearing on an SEM/SEO blog? I dunno. He just is. So let’s just run with it. What if Walter Sobchak was an SEO for a massive retail brand? Maybe even a Fortune 500 company? Imagine if he ran the show. Do you think things would get done faster or more efficiently? Or would he be arrested and lose his job? I think Walter Sobchak would be a fantastic SEO. Let’s take a look at some of his well-known quotes, and I’ll explain why he’d be the perfect SEO for your website.

“This is what happens when you f— a stranger in the ass!”
Remember the time when your IT guy launched a new home page on Friday night at 9:00pm? And no one was there to make sure it worked correctly? And no one was there to make sure the tracking code was added to the new page? And also, he really does not like you because the hot office girl is nice to you and mean to him. So he decided to take out that optimized text-based navigation and replace it with uncrawlable javascript navigation because he hates your guts. Yeah, I think Walter would put on a vintage suit, head over to that guy’s house, and bust¬†that guy’s¬†windshield with a crowbar. And that IT guy would totally deserve it because he just caused a lot of problems for a lot of people. He usually gets away with such passive aggressive behaviors, but not when Walter Sobchak is your SEO.

"New 'Vette? Hardly, Dude. I'd say he's still got about $960 - $970,000 left, depending on the options." - Walter Sobchak
"New 'Vette? Hardly, Dude. I'd say he's still got about $960 - $970,000 left, depending on the options." - Walter Sobchak

“Life does not stop and start at your convenience, you miserable piece of s—.”
This line is issued when Donny decides to listen at his personal convenience. Walter does not like that. He wants people to adjust to life and use some friggin’ context clues. Knowing this, I think Walter Sobchak would really get tired of IT/Dev project lists and calendars. Not because they have not been listening to the conversation. Not because the Dev team¬†fails at¬†context clues. Rather,¬†Walter knows they are only using that project calendar as a work shield. That stupid calendar shields them from having to do work. It’s a really convenient tool.¬†Don’t wanna tell the boss you’re just not gonna do that¬†proposed project? Don’t have the guts to¬†actually say that a co-worker is being too demanding? Wanting to keep it politically safe? Well, you’re in luck because you can use the new-and-improved Project Calendar.¬†¬†But I warn you: Walter’s not going to take it any longer. When the Q2 project calendar is mentioned, Walter’s going to issue this line. He’ll most likely berate you until there are tears streaming down your face. And from that point on, he’s going to issue this line at every meeting because he knows you have a natural allergic reaction to working. Plus, he knows that you are being very passive aggressive. And even though Walter¬†likes aggression, he considers pacifism an emotional problem.

“The beauty of this is its simplicity. If a plan gets too complex something always goes wrong.”
When Walter and the Dude are heading out to the drop-off point with the million bucks, Walter informs the Dude of his plan to keep the money. The plan is so simple, it’s practically a swiss f’ng watch. This quote gives us a real insight into Walter’s outlook on life, and there is no doubt that this ideal permeates Walter’s SEO approach. Keep it simple. A good SEO should always be able to keep things simple.¬†After all, SEO is simple in theory. Develop good/compelling content. Get¬†links.¬†Open yourself up to the search engines.¬†Those are pretty much the main tenets of SEO. Walter adheres to these SEO tenets. He explains things so easily that even the most senior-level executives can understand every last item on the SEO list, no matter how complicated. When a colleague offers up the idea to turn the website into a flash animation with all sorts of bells and whistles, you can be certain that Walter will have something to say about that.

“That’s right, Dude. 100% certain. ”
Walter is good at solving mysteries. Just give him a few pieces of unrelated evidence, and he’ll determine a cynical prognosis for your website. Furthermore, Walter Sobchak is the most confident SEO you’ll ever meet, so you’ll believe every word he tells you. He’s the right guy for any SEO job. As an SEO, you can’t be meek about ideas and recommendations. You’ve got to kick down the door and let people know that you’ve got it all figured out. While you may not have anything really figured out, people will believe everything you say about SEO if you believe you have everything figured out. I’ve listened to really good SEO’s complain about SEO items not getting done, and I’ve seen really bad SEO’s get a lot of bad SEO done on a site. The difference really is confidence. And probably some other stuff, too, but let’s not worry about that.¬†In conclusion, if you’re recommending a complete¬†site makeover to correct for a low conversion rate, you’d better be sold on your own recommendations. That’s the only way it will get done. Walter Sobchak knows this. He didn’t have to learn it. It’s just always been part of his skill set.

"You think I'm f'ing around here? Mark it zero!" - Walter Sobchak
"You think I'm f'ing around here? Mark it zero!" - Walter Sobchak

“Has the whole world gone crazy? Am I the only one around here who gives a s— about the rules?”
Walter Sobchak likes rules. He enjoys structure. In fact, one time he was sitting in a planning meeting, and he had to listen to some marketing VP talk about synergizing department learnings and strategies. Walter, who gets easily pissed off when people simply create new words out of thin air and then use them in¬†strange contexts, did not like where the meeting was going. The VP talked about diverting search marketing budgets to the Dev side of things, so they could build some useless and unneeded functionality into the website. Walter knows that the goal of every business is to make money. It’s very clear cut and simple. It’s the #1 rule of business, and here is some dude trying to use a decreasing ROI as leverage to build some video player into a retail website. Well, turns out that Walter re-inacted the scene where Smokey is over the line. Walter advised the VP about the detrimental effects of a smaller budget for paid search and SEO. When the VP talked back, Walter reinforced his position. A world of pain was about to be entered. Not wanting to enter a world of pain, the VP withdrew his suggestion. And everyone lived happily ever after.

“I’m perfectly calm, Dude. Calmer than you are.”
Even though Walter might pull¬†a gun on a fellow bowler, he relishes a calm lifestyle. He can yell and scream, but he’s going to finish his cup of coffee. Some people might think that Walter is high-strung like a walking time bomb. In reality, however, he is very laid back. The only time he gets amped up is when people try to take what is his or break the rules. “What’s mine is mine.”¬†Walter is simple. What you see is what you get. He¬†likes to bowl. He’ll watch his ex-wife’s dog while she is on vacation. He likes a good cup of coffee. He likes to stay home on Shabbos. His approach to SEO is just as calm. Walter likes to sit down and investigate websites. He will take the same calm approach with your site. It might surprise you because you have seen him pull a weapon in public place, bite a man’s ear off, and throw a paralyzed man onto the ground. But in the end Walter stands up for what he believes, even when he is wrong. That’s the kind of SEO you want for your job. If he’s going to fail at something or get something completely wrong, he’s going to do it going 100mph. I like that consistent attitude.

“So you have no frame of reference here, Donny. You’re like a child who wanders into the middle of a movie and wants to know…”
As mentioned earlier in this post, Walter Sobchak gets really pissed when people wander into a conversation at their convenience and subsequently forget how to use context clues. He holds¬†a higher level of disdain for people who wander into a conversation and then start making final decisions about items being discussed. I’m sure you have been there when people do this in your Tuesday afternoon meetings. It’s especially aggravating when SEO idiots decide to pay attention to the 10-minute SEO part of the meeting and then speak up as if they’ve even been listening to anything you have been saying for the past 5 minutes. Then they start telling you how to do your job. Then they start telling you what SEO strategy makes the most sense. Fear no more because Walter Sobchak will not stand for any of that. He’ll remain calm, but he will make sure those SEO idiots know exactly where they overstepped their boundaries. Over the line!

I honestly hope you find an SEO like Walter Sobchak. And if you are currently an SEO, please don’t bounce from this post without taking some of his traits to heart. Keep it simple. Keep it calm. Follow the rules of business. Be confident. Let people know where the line is. Don’t be afraid to stand up for your beliefs. You’ll be a better SEO for it. And probably a better person, too.

Goodnight, sweet prince.

The SEO Blog You Don’t Want to Be On

It’s 2009, and people still suck at SEO. This especially goes for e-commerce sites and online retailers in pretty much every vertical. I simply can’t believe how most marketing experts simply don’t get it. When it comes to title tags, meta tags, Alt tags, and header tags, you need to listen to your SEO team. I know these awesome SEOs are out there right now, recommending changes to your site that will bring you a lot of traffic. But you’re probably an SEO idiot. Symptoms of an SEO idiot include ignoring your SEO team, placing more value on site aesthetics and less value on SEO, and often not placing SEO in a top spot on your online marketing priority list. This blog is for you. I hope you learn something.