June 23, 2021
A DOMAIN EARNING $200/MO AFTER 10-HOURS OF WORK: A CASE STUDY
About the Author
Mushfiq has been buying, growing, and selling website assets since 2008. His first exit was in 2010. Since then, he has done 175 website flips with multiple 6-figure exits. His free newsletter, The Website Flip, covers case studies on his portfolio of sites, website flipping guides, and exclusive websites for sale.
Building a niche website on an aged domain is a great way to get a head start. However, performing due diligence is key
In this write-up, I explain why I use aged domains, due diligence tips, a case study of how I spent only 10-hours to make $200/mo in an extremely competitive niche, and open questions.
Let’s get into it!
Why Aged Domains?
Aged domains are a powerful tool when it comes to building a niche website quickly. While due diligence is extremely important, there are three major benefits to starting out with an aged domain.
1. Tap into the existing backlink profile
Backlinks are one of the most important factors in SEO. A brand new domain isn’t going to have any backlinks since it hasn’t existed before, but that’s not the case with an aged domain. Since a website once existed on that domain name, there may be backlinks pointed to it.
Especially if the site was popular, around a long time, or did white hat SEO work. This means that a new site on that domain can start with some strong backlinks already pointing to it. This allows a site to compete for keywords, topics, and traffic that a truly new website would have no chance of ranking for.
A good existing backlink profile isn’t just a major starting boost to any new site I build, but it is something I can build off of to get even authority in Google’s eyes.
Every good backlink that an aged domain already has pointing to it is one less good link that needs to be acquired through outreach and expensive time-intensive SEO.
2. TAP INTO THE SITE’S PRE-EXISTING BRAND
A good brand is a powerful thing. Even if the brand only has a reputation in a narrow niche, that can still be very useful. Sometimes that’s even better. Building a new site on an aged domain with a brand history gives the possibility of many links from review sites.
That’s a lot of built-in trust and authority – two things Google mentions as being among the most important factors for ranking a website.
This also means there’s no need to build a brand from scratch since there is already possible history and reputation that can be further built upon. That can be a very powerful tool for quick growth and scaling.
3. BYPASS THE GOOGLE “SANDBOX”
The “Google Sandbox” is annoying for a variety of reasons. Not only does it take many months, or sometimes even a year or more, for great new content to get its change in the search engine rankings, but that’s a long period of dead time where there’s no monetary return on your investment into a new website.
Starting with an aged domain allows me to skip the Google sandbox and see right away how the articles are performing. The site starts earning income far sooner, and there’s no 9-12 month dead period where I’m waiting for things to happen.
Skipping the sandbox early also speeds up the process of being able to figure out what outreach or SEO work is actually going to be needed for certain articles to rank. This makes scaling a site’s rankings (and earnings) a much faster process, as well.
DUE DILIGENCE TIPS WHEN BUYING AN AGED DOMAIN
At a high level, I look at the following data points for each age domain acquisition:
- Check AHREFs Metrics
- Check Referring Domains
- Check Backlinks and relevance to the site you want to build
- Check Best By Links Pages
- Check Archive.org website history
- Check Google index with “site” operator
- Check Trademarks
The above data points help me answer the following questions in detail about the specific domain and how it fits into my criteria.
WHAT WAS THE SITE HISTORY?
The prior site history is extremely critical. The tool I use is Archive.org. I plug the domain into the site and immediately, you will see a history of “snapshots”. Archive.org has kept an index of sites and what they looked like in the past.
When analyzing, I am looking for:
- Any site snapshots that show a different irrelevant site. For example, if your domain is about pets, and you see a non-pet site, this is a red flag
- Any snapshots that show adult, casino, Chinese, Russian, etc sites is a red flag
In short, we are trying to verify if the site’s history has been relevant.
ARE THERE QUALITY BACKLINKS?
You are buying an aged domain for its backlinks (mostly). Therefore, using tools like Ahrefs or SEMRush, we need to verify the backlinks.
Red flag backlinks include:
- Adult, Russian, Chinese, casino, and similar sites
- Sites that are not related to the topic of the site
- Private blog network links
In addition to this, reviewing the anchor text profile is critical as well. It’s good to have a majority of links being brand name anchor texts rather than keywords.
ARE THERE ANY LIVE TRADEMARKS?
This is a deal-breaker for many branded domains that may still have live trademarks. You need to understand how to analyze domains for trademarks.
Search for the domain on the USPTO trademark site. Cross-check if the trademark name is used in the same industry you will build a site in.
IS THE DOMAIN BRANDABLE?
I like to buy branded domains, e.g., Nike.com vs bestrunningshoes.com. A branded domain gives you options to branch out into many topics and also helps you increase your chances to get the maximum valuations if you decide to flip the website.
CASE STUDY: $200/MO+ WITH 5,000 VIEWS/MO IN HIGH-COMPETITION NICHE
I’ve always wanted to create a site in this niche but due to the sheer competition, I always stayed away. Building a site in this niche from scratch on a brand new domain would require years of effort, high authority backlinks, and no guarantee of success.
Therefore, in December 2019, I acquired an aged domain in the renewable energy niche with a very powerful backlink profile. I leveraged this site’s authority to build a site in this vertical.
WHY DID I CHOOSE A COMPETITIVE NICHE?
There are four main reasons:
- I have a technical background in this niche
- The industry is growing year over year
- Many keyword opportunities both information and commercial
- Many monetization opportunities, specifically lead generation, display advertising, and affiliate marketing
- The ability to flip the website for a large multiple due to the niche
Why was this domain special?
The stats of the primary domain are as follows:
- AHREFs DR of 42
- Referring Domains of 201
- Backlinks from New Yorker, Energy.gov, Smithsonian, Utility Dive, PNNL.gov, and many other niche relevant authority sites
- Domain aged sine June 2010 (11 years old)
The main reason for choosing this domain was because of the unobtainable backlinks that were extremely niche relevant. Obtaining links from Energy.gov, a US government agency, is impossible (in a reasonable time period) for a site built on a fresh domain.
WHAT ARE THE RESULTS?
The traffic trend of the site is shown below since the day the site was recreated:
Here is a breakdown of the revenues.
|Amazon Associates ($)||Ezoic Ads ($)||Total ($)|
The site primarily generates revenue from Ezoic with a high EPMV of $30+ due to the niche. Both revenue streams are ramping up as a function of the traffic.
The cost breakdown is primarily the domain name and the content. The domain was $1,500. Of the 90,000 or so words of content, I personally wrote 20,000. The remaining 70,000 was paid at 5 cents per word to a writer found on Upwork. This writer is a niche expert.
The content costs came out to $3,500 and the domain was $1,500, equating to $5,000 in costs.
TAKEAWAYS AND NEXT STEPS
After setting up the site in early 2020, the site did not get any effort from me. I let it sit and it has grown month over month to over $200/mo now.
I did not add any new backlinks due to the pre-existing backlinks.
The site is at a position now where more effort can be put into it to 10X growth.
My next steps with the site are as follows:
- Introduce solar lead generation revenue stream
- Perform interlinking of content for better on-page SEO
- Add new content as the site has not had new content for awhile
COULD THESE SAME RESULTS BE ACHIEVED WITHOUT AN AGED DOMAIN?
In many cases, they can. It depends on the competition of the niche. Aged domains are no guarantee either but do give you a heads-up in terms of backlinks.
One thing that is certain is that starting with a new domain means much more work, much more time invested, and almost certainly more money investment to ramp up SEO efforts to get the same results.
Going with an aged domain definitely saves on time, energy, and the amount of link building that needs to be done to see results. This also means the website starts earning early instead of waiting months or even a year to get out of Google’s Sandbox.
ARE THERE RISKS WITH AGED DOMAINS?
Yes. Not all aged domains are created equal. There could be bad backlinks. Some aged domains may have links from PBNs that get found out later and lose authority. There could be a manual spam penalty from Google.
If the keyword research is bad or writing isn’t good enough it’s possible an aged domain won’t be enough. Especially in competitive niches.
There are risks with aged domains. Due diligence is essential to minimizing risk and maximizing potential profits.
DO EXPIRED DOMAINS STILL WORK?
Absolutely. The key is finding the right expired domains. If a website hasn’t existed on the domain since 2004, the history probably isn’t going to help. Is the link profile good? Was there a trustworthy site on that domain recently?
A good expired domain is going to be a major boost to building a website from scratch. A domain that doesn’t have a good history or solid links isn’t going to do much, if anything, to move the needle.
SHOULD I BUY A STARTER SITE OR AN AGED DOMAIN?
This is the ultimate build vs buy decision. You can build from an aged domain, or buy a starter site that’s already built out.
You can find starter sites for sale that get some traffic, have content, and may earn a small amount from various brokerages, marketplaces, and Facebook groups. Check out the places to buy such sites here.
I’ve had success building sites on aged domains. It comes down to due diligence at the end of the day.
However, I have also had failures with aged domains. It’s not always a hit or miss. It always depends.
The primary reason I prefer such domains is because of the at times unobtainable backlink profiles that many have. That’s the upper edge we are all looking for.
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