This was originally part of a private course for interns, but I’ve opened it up to anyone and everyone now. It was written by Scott, a V1 intern who headed the course for some V2 interns, and is now my partner and manages my inventory.
<Disclaimer> A lot of people are having difficulty finding domains. There is a real learning curve, so please be prepared for this. As an option for those that are just starting out, I recommend you prove the model by first purchasing a few domains, or try out our latest service, RankHero.
RankHero allows you to test the viability of this method without having to invest the hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars it takes to find, build, host and maintain your own Private Content Network. </disclaimer>
Properly checking for spam is no easy task… after all, spammers have gotten pretty good at making their sites look legit! It is more art than science and you will definitely get better at using The Force to almost sense spam, instead of just going through the mechanics. :)
But first, a review of the basics–what’s the harm in purchasing a site that appears to have a spammy history (even by the smallest margin)? Because it may not get indexed! The whole point of spending time finding expired domains is to take advantage of their intrinsic value… be it Page Rank or other metrics that help build authority and ranking (PA, DA, Root Domain MozTrust, etc.). If a site was identified as spam by Google at any point in its history, it was either penalized, or worse, de-indexed. This penalty persists well past the drop date and would be in effect even if repurchased and set up again. This is why it’s worth the time to do a proper check before committing to a domain. If there is even one spammy backlink for a domain, that likely means there are many more that Google knows about (remember, OSE, Ahrefs and Majestic only have a subset of all the backlinks in their cache).
As for the basic process of spam checking, Hayden’s original post on the subject is worth a review here. In addition, here’s another of Hayden’s video with some tips on how to efficiently check for spam.
Keep these basic points in mind when you find a domain that has favorable metrics:
- The best view is OSE for quickly spotting spam is the ‘Inbound Links‘ tab with the following filters selected: Show ‘All‘ links from ‘only external‘ pages to ‘domains on this root domain‘ and group by ‘domain‘. From Hayden’s video above, remember you can quickly paste a domain directly into the OSE URL to avoid having to set the filters with each new domain you check.
- The best view in Ahrefs for spotting spam is the ‘External’ backlinks tab with the ‘One Link Per Domain’ box checked. Again, copy/paste a domain directly in the URL to save time.
- Don’t “fall in love” with a domain before checking it for spam. :) Expect it to be spam and you will be pleasantly surprised when it is not.
- Domains that do not resemble actual words have a much higher chance of being spam. For example: njcwt.org. That said, there are always exceptions… perhaps obscure abbreviations of a company or agency may look questionable but are actually legit (e.g. ic4nr.org was actually a good expired domain… for the ‘Iowa Center For Nursing Resources’). If the numbers look really good, it may be worth a check. If the numbers are borderline and you have a lot more to check, best to skip and maybe come back later.
- If the majority of the backlinks are ‘nofollow’, that’s a good indicator of comment spam or, at the minimum, a prior haphazard, unnatural backlinking strategy… either of which is a domain you want to stay from.
- Domains that have identical anchor text for all their backlinks suggest a mass/ forced linking strategy and are likely spam.
- Anchor text that is unintelligible or not relevant to the original site topic is an indicator of spam
- The original site niche should be apparent from the backlinks Titles and Anchors that display in OSE and Ahref. If all the titles and anchors look squeeky clean, then you may not need to open any backlinks to verify. When in doubt, check them out. (Hey, that rhymes!)
- OSE and Ahrefs should be your go-to method for quickly and effectively spotting spam. However, before committing to a domain, you definitely should have a look at archive.org (also called the ‘Wayback Machine’). Start from the earliest available version and quickly go month by month, looking for dramatic changes to the site where someone may have picked it up for shady intent. Big time gaps between snapshots are a good way to spot when a site may have been dormant and was then repurposed.
- The occasional foreign language backlink that exists along with many other natural, English backlinks is worth a quick Google Translate. If all or most of the backlinks are from foreign sites then it is most likely spam. As a very general rule, a one-off backlink from a site in Japan or a country in Western Europe can be ok. Backlink profiles in Han (Chinese) or countries in Eastern Europe (especially Poland, Croatia, Lithuania) have a higher chance of being spam.
- Check whois domain tools for the number of drops. Zero or one drop is the norm. Two drops is “ok” and should not disqualify a good domain… but you may want to be extra diligent with your spam checking. Stay away from anything with more than two drops.
- Be wary of domains that appear to get their value from a single site with many (50+) outgoing links. TBPR and other value will likely not get passed on to linking sites as expected.
- If in doubt about a domain, send it to your fellow intern group for a second opinion.
The bottom line: the best domains are those that were once legitimate businesses, blogs and organizations, lived a meaningful web-life (picking up natural, relevant backlinks with logical anchor text) and were then purposely not renewed. Most of the time, it will obvious when you find one!
Good luck and may The (spam) Force be with you.