Today’s Ask an SEO question is a fun one that’s sure to start lots of controversy, so I’m asking our editors if they can do something we rarely do: enable comments for this post!
In the spirit of controversy, let’s foster that and see what happens.
Today’s question comes from Kaan in New York. Before we get into that, I have to get the obligatory reference out of the way.
Kann’s question is:
“Is buying an expired domain in a similar niche with a good DA/PA score considered a reasonable strategy? I want to redirect the backlinks of the expired domain to my new website. I’m not sure if it is a blackhat SEO tactic. If so, I obviously won’t do it.”
Redirecting expired domains is something that’s been around in the SEO world since about 30 seconds after the first SEO discovered PageRank.
It’s been around so long that the first person to do it for SEO probably did it before the term SEO was even coined.
The thinking was simple: if a domain had a ton of links, I could redirect it to my page and all those links and their
juice domain authority PageRank would transfer to my new site.
And guess what?
In the old days of SEO, this was a tried-and-true tactic that got results.
For a while, it got really involved, and people were exploring whether penalties would transfer over 301s and what effect that had on both recovering or hurting your competitors.
A lot of time was wasted on this for not much long-term results.
Here’s Matt Cutts in 2013 answering a question about PageRank damping factors across 301 redirects.
It’s not explicitly stated, but we know why the person asked this question: He’s employing the strategy above.
Now here’s the controversial part: This strategy really hasn’t worked in a while.
Here’s John Mueller saying just that.
No. We don't use DA, and redirecting expired domains hasn't made sense for a long time now. People still do it, people do lots of things that don't make sense, even outside of the SEO world 🙂
— 🍌 John 🍌 (@JohnMu) October 9, 2019
That hasn’t stopped people from doing it.
There’s a huge industry selling expired domains and a ton of black hats and black hat forum posts about it.
There’s even some anecdotal evidence that it does still temporarily work, but nothing that is easily repeatable or verifiable.
(After all, if you’re doing black hat stuff, you aren’t going to share your URL with us to look at – are you?)
Let’s look at this technique from a user’s point of view.
An expired domain is not something you do, it’s something you buy.
It doesn’t make your site more useful, more relevant, or help your site better address the user’s desired query or task.
So why would Google want to reward a site based on how much money the webmaster spent with third parties, rather than based on how relevant and useful it is to the searcher?
The answer is, they wouldn’t.
Expired domain redirects may have been a quick “hack” to get some instant rankings back in the day, but it rarely (if at all) works today.
As Google has grown, they’ve gotten better at knowing what the site used to be, what it’s redirecting to, and whether they’re really the same “entity” or something altogether different.
My personal theory is that some value may transfer if it’s super clear to Google that both sites are the same entity.
Think, for example when Tesla moved from Teslamotors.com to Tesla.com and redirected.
If I were Google, I’d want that authority from Teslamotors.com to transfer to Tesla.com because it’s good for users. This could even take some time to happen.
But if they had bought some random expired domain and redirected that, then obviously I wouldn’t want that value to transfer.
When you start looking at sites in terms of entities, this isn’t as hard a problem as it seems to solve for in code.
So to answer your question:
Many SEO professionals will tell you that it works, but it’s extremely likely that you won’t get any benefit from redirecting an expired domain at all.
I wouldn’t spend my money on it or count on it as an SEO tactic.
Editor’s note: Ask an SEO is a weekly SEO advice column written by some of the industry’s top SEO experts, who have been hand-picked by Search Engine Journal. Got a question about SEO? Fill out our form. You might see your answer in the next #AskanSEO post!