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Everything you need to know about expired domain names

If you’re launching your business on the web or planning to migrate your website over to a new domain, you might take the opportunity to buy an expired domain. If it is a good match for your business, this second hand site can appear to be a great deal.

However, before you go ahead and purchase an expired domain, there are a number of things to consider.

What is an expired domain name?

An expired domain name is one that has previously pointed to an IP address, but doesn’t any more. The Internet hosts websites as IP addresses, not domain names, which means every web server requires a Domain Name System (DNS) server to translate domain names into IP addresses.

If you search an expired domain name, a DNS won’t be able to make the connection to an IP address and it won’t lead anywhere. Fortunately, once a domain name expires it’s not out of the game for good; an expired domain name can be ‘reused’ to point to a new IP address and create a new website.

How do you buy an expired domain name?

Let’s start with a bit of background and look at the key players in the domain ownership business:

  • The Registry is the name of the organisation that is responsible for maintaining the record of domain names for a given top-level domain (TLD) like .com or .org. 
  • The Registrar is an organisation that is authorised to register domain names.
  • The Reseller is a person of company that sells domain names on behalf of a registrar.
  • The Registrant is a person or company that purchases and ‘owns’ a domain name. Technically, no domain name is actually ‘owned’, but leased. More on that in just a minute.

Can an expired domain name be bought?

Well, yes. Once a domain name is registered, it is not owned, but ‘leased’ for a finite amount of time (usually 1 to 10 years). Most of the time, a person or business will set up their domains to auto-renew with their reseller, to avoid having to worry about renewals.

If a domain name is not renewed, it can be ‘leased’ by someone else. The process of buying an expired domain name is a bit different from that of buying a brand name, or registering one of your own domain ideas.
There are a couple of ways you can go about acquiring an expired domain name, depending on the expired domain name’s type:

  1. If the expiry date is 1-30 days in the past, it is within the redemption or ‘grace’ period. This means it can be recovered by the most recent Registrant of the domain, but for a greater fee than if the domain been renewed on time initially.

  2. If the previous Registrant fails to renew their domain after 30 days, they forfeit ownership of the domain. Anyone who has registered an interest in purchasing the domain name will be informed when it comes up for sale, and invited to make a purchase.

  3. If there are no backorders placed on a domain, or the person who placed the backorder is no longer interested in purchasing the domain, it is usually auctioned off to the highest bidder. The auction period tends to last 7 days.

  4. Any domain name that is not sold during the auction period is referred to as a closeout domain name, meaning it is entered back into the Registry. Resellers like Novanym are like middlemen, able to hold domain names from the Registry and transfer ownership of a domain to any person or business who purchases that domain.

  5. A deleted domain name, in the context of expired domain names, is one that has been dropped from the Registry—no record of it exists. So long as you get in there first, a deleted domain name can be registered in the exact same way as any other unregistered domain name.

    There is, however, considerable competition for ‘dropped’ domain names, meaning the most effective method of acquiring a domain name is through a reseller.

Should I buy an expired domain name?

Just because you can buy an expired domain, that doesn’t necessarily mean you should. Just because a domain name has expired, that doesn’t mean it’s squeaky clean. In fact, the past legacy of an expired domain can do damage to your search engine ranking.

Expired domains can increase your bounce rate

Depending on the effectiveness of the branded marketing efforts of the person or business who previously owned the domain, you might find your site attracting unwanted and irrelevant traffic.

Say, for example, you purchase the domain letsgetskipping.com. If you’re a waste removals company, you’re likely seeking contractors or homeowners looking for waste clearance solutions. You’ll focus your marketing on B2B channels and maybe do some link outreach to home clearance or construction sites to help customers and Google learn what it is your business is about.

If the previous owner of the letsgetskipping.com domain was an online retailer of jumping ropes, say, their past marketing and link-outreach efforts also have a chance of sending search traffic your way—just not the kind of customers you want. If these customers reach your site and find it’s not what they were looking for, they’ll quickly leave your site and seek information elsewhere. This behaviour can be detrimental to the search rankings and visibility of your site, which can take a lot of time and effort to recover from.

Expired domains can earn penalties for spammy backlinks

One long term goal for businesses buying expired domains is to build a high level of domain authority. Domain authority is largely determined by link metrics, the collective term referring to the criteria for ranking search results

A domain that already has plenty of inbound links from other sites is considered to have high domain authority, because every link is considered an endorsement from one website to another. The more quality endorsements, the more authoritative, relevant and trusted your website will become in the eyes of search engines, and the higher it will rank.

Search engines like Google have advanced ways of determining the value of inbound links to your site, these include relevancy ranking factors: links that are determined to be relevant are those that pass between domains and content that cover similar topics.

Let’s use the previous example. If all the previous links to your new domain were previously in the context of purchasing jumping ropes, that’s largely irrelevant to your waste removal business.

What’s more, if a domain has been penalised in the past for spammy link-building practices, your new site might inherit that from the domain too.

How to vet an expired domain

When a domain is expired, there will always be footprints left behind that allow you to vet the history of an expired domain.

If you’re considering purchasing an expired domain, there are a few ways to check what you might be getting yourself in for:

  • Check to see if the domain and/or brand has any sort of bad reputation. A simple Google search will likely suffice, or check to see what kind of site the domain was previously associated with using the Wayback Machine. A domain checker site like whois can also give you details of IP addresses that were previously associated with a domain.
  • Check their backlinks using a tool like Moz Open Search Explorer or Link Research Tools to run a backlink report. Is the profile full of nothing but spam? You should also check to see if any other domains 301 redirect to the domain.
  • Make sure the domain is clean. Norton Safe Web is an initiative by Norton security that tracks websites for malicious codes and malware. You can check if a domain has previously been blacklisted for malware using the resource. 

It is vital you perform these checks to help you understand whether a domain has been associated with bad practices in the past. Spammy content, dodgy backlinks, malwares and malicious code damage the authority of a domain, which is tough and not always timely to regain in the internet world.

Remember, brand new domains are being registered every day, and our unique business names each come with a perfect .com domain.
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