Buying domains for their backlink profile isn’t new to the world of SEO – it’s been happening ever since webmasters realised they could manipulate links for higher rankings.
However, over the last few years I’ve noticed an increase in the amount of businesses adopting this tactic rather than conventional link building methods.
My guess is that since Penguin first launched in 2012, traditional link building has become difficult and content marketing unpredictable, it’s seen as a much easier option to invest in a domain and redirect all the equity to your website.
This tactic can be extremely risky, both in terms of seeing the value and potentially passing on nasty penalties and/or manual actions to your web property. Genuine websites with clean profiles are difficult to find, and when you do they’re usually not for sale or extremely expensive.
This leaves you with domains that are usually toxic, filled with manipulative backlinks and often carrying some kind of penalty. However, there are still domains out there that have either expired or are simply not being maintained anymore.
There is also a question of relevance – redirecting any old domain isn’t going to pass much value.
Google have made it clear that if the purpose of the website/content is drastically different then it will lose value. Google doesn’t want you redirecting for link equity alone and passing value through an unrelated domain or page would not be in the user’s interest.
However, if your product/content/offering matches then a redirect can serve the user and also pass on some big wins in terms of link equity and rankings.
When you’re performing any kind of redirect, even as part of a site migration, you need to carefully map the URL’s so that you’re redirecting users to a useful alternative rather than a page with a completely different purpose.
Time and time again we see poor URL mapping causing significant drops in rankings, and we often see whole domains redirected into one page!
This may give a short term boost in rankings but it only takes 10 – 20 weeks for it to fade.
I’m not going to run through a detailed site migration checklist in this post but if you’ve got one coming up you should definitely check out these posts:
With so many risks involved and the difficulty of finding clean domains, using this strategy can seem arduous, but by taking the time to do a little research you can uncover some significant opportunities to collect link equity from really authoritative domains.
Take this page on the BBC for example: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/moneybox/2044968.stm
Two different websites; one a travel resource which I am guessing you could pick up for a reasonable price and the other is to a 404 page with the website still under construction. If I were in the legal or travel sector, I may consider trying to purchase these domains and redirect them into relevant content on my website.
You’re not only getting links from the BBC, you’re getting all the other link equity these sites have including Washington Post, The Telegraph and Money Saving Expert.
It’s not just the BBC with legacy pages to take advantage of:
How has someone not bought up this opportunity?
There are tons of high authority domains with links that are broken or pointing to websites that are no longer maintained. You could simply suggest your website/resource as part of a broken link building exercise or you could find the owner of the domain and redirect if it makes commercial sense to do so.
Alternatively, you could always head over to Flippa and make your way through some of the websites for sale, although a lot of them have already been SEO’d to death. Use a tool like Majestic or ahrefs to check referring domains and links.
It’s an old hack
Please remember, this isn’t the basis of a long term SEO strategy. There is no telling how long the benefits will last and you must use due diligence before redirecting any domains to make sure toxic signals aren’t going to be passed on.
Even buying the domains and cleaning them up is risky so I would personally stay away from anything that looks suspicious.
Ultimately Google doesn’t want you buying up domains for link equity, so you can guarantee at some point down the line any value passed will cease and you’ll have to think again. This will not replace your PR, content marketing and other link building activity – it’s a growth hack for short term wins.
I would only consider using this tactic if the topic of the website in question was linked closely with your industry or of interest to your target audience. Would your website be a better destination for the intended user?
Personally I’d struggle to justify it as it wouldn’t be hard for Google to roll out a penalty for websites with suspicious domains redirecting; it’s business decision.