WARNING: Grab a drink. 3600 words incoming.
Buying a high pagerank (PR) domain can be an intimidating task. It's not easy to get it down to a science, but I'm going to show you some tips that have helped me secure high PR domains that will very likely keep their PR values over time.
What Is PageRank?
PageRank is a way of measuring the "worthiness" of a page or URL on a website. Created by Larry Page, it is essentially one of the most basic building blocks of the Google search algorithm when it comes to ranking websites. It's a numeric scale that numbers from 0 to 10. A PR of N/A means that the page has no PageRank. A website with PR0 homepage or subpage will have little to no authority as an "important" site in Google's eyes, whereas a PR10 site or page will carry a lot of weight when it comes to being authoritative. Website pages earn PR by obtaining links from other websites, and PR can be increased much easier if the site gains links from other higher pages with PR. The scale functions logarithmically, so going from a PR6 to PR7 is much more difficult than going from a PR0 to PR1.
A more in-depth explanation of PageRank can be found here on Wikipedia.
One critical point to be aware of is that PR can fluctuate. You can gain PR as well as you can lose it. Google updates its PageRank values every few months during the course of a year. If you do not maintain PR by getting links from other websites, then you can expect the PR of your website to drop at the next update. Conversely, if you do maintain it properly, it will not only keep its PR value, but it has the chance to increase as well.
Why Buy A High PR Domain?
There are several reasons why you might want to do this. In the context of this tutorial, it is primarily for the following SEO purposes:
- A high PR domain will generally rank higher in the search engine results pages (SERPs) and much faster than a domain with a lower PR.
- A high PR domain (A) can be used to rank other webpages with little to no PR (B) by placing a link from A to B somewhere on the page that actually contains the PageRank.
- With the rise of blog networks like LinkAuthority, Authority Link Network, and so on, users of those networks can add their own high PR blogs to the network as long as they maintain a certain PR value (usually PR2 or higher). This is usually done in exchange for free credits for article submission, and is a way of reducing the costs of SEO for the end user and encouraging growth of the network for its owners.
- For domainers, or those that simply buy and sell domains, high PR domains are a great way to make money if you can consistently sell them. Domain flipping is commonplace and can be a lucrative market since there are always people looking for high PR domains.
- Renting homepage links to clients if you own an a SEO service. Not particularly my cup of tea, but possible.
- If you can snag a domain that is both aged AND has a particular keyword that you want to rank AND it has a high PageRank... well, congratulations in advance on your #1 ranking.
- PageRank is time-consuming to obtain. Often, you have to wait months for Google to periodically update their rankings and assign PR to various websites across the Internet. It's faster to just buy a domain with PR than to build one from scratch.
How To Buy A High PR Domain
The process is as follows:
- Go to a marketplace for domains and find one with the PR level desired.
- Check to see if the domain is indexed.
- Do a background check on the domain to see if its PR is fake or legitimate.
- Determine if the domain has ever been dropped.
- Check the backlink profile on the domain to see how it gets its PageRank.
- Buy the domain.
I'm no expert at buying domains but I hold quite a few PR2 and PR3 domains in my portfolio that have survived the most recent PageRank update in February 2012, so here's what I did.
- MajesticSEO (free or paid)
- OpenSiteExplorer (free or paid)
- Cekpr.com (free)
- SEO Spyglass, which is part of SEO Powersuite by Link-Assistant (free or paid)
- DomainTools (free or paid)
Step 1: Scouting For Domains
The first thing you need to do is visit a marketplace that sells domains. There are a ton of them out there, but here are the more common ones:
- Domain Samurai
- GoDaddy Auctions
- DigitalPoint Forums
- TrafficPlanet Forums
I have only ever used ExpiredDomains.net, DigitalPoint Forums, and WarriorForum, so I can't comment on the others. Suffice it to say there are lots out there, so just find one that you are comfortable with. Please note that not all of the above marketplaces are free.
The domain names themselves should be something that you're interested in. For instance, it doesn't make sense to buy GolfClubsForWomen.com when you're making a site in the cooking niche. This should be fairly obvious, but I wanted to make that clear.
How Much Should I Pay For A High PR Domain?
I personally have only gone up to purchasing a PR3, so I will only speak about buying Pr1, PR2, and PR3 domains. Generally PR1 domains are extremely cheap, anywhere between $2-$10 is good. For PR2 domains, I generally see anywhere between $10 and $20. For PR3, I usually see $30-$45.
Even for beginners I think it's best to stick to PR2 domains and up. The reason is because it is very easy to build up a PR1 domain from scratch with a decent backlinking strategy or promotion, so it's not really worth wasting your time to look for those.
The last set of domains that I got were purchased in bulk from a user on WarriorForum, so I my overall costs were a bit less than the above. Be aware that not only are you responsible for the cost of buying the domain, but also any payment fees (i.e. Paypal or otherwise), renewal costs, privacy protection, and/or transfer costs.
Does Domain Extension Matter? I.e .biz? .info...?
In nutshell, no. PageRank is PageRank, regardless of whatever extension the domain has on the end of it. So they're fair game.
There's one caveat though: in hybrid blog networks that allow you to submit your own blogs to the network, some do not allow anything other than .com/.net/.org to be added. If you're going to use a high PR domain for those networks, stick with the more common top level domains (TLDs) and use the .biz, .info., etc. for your own network.
There Are So Many Domains To Choose From!
Yup. There are thousands upon thousands of domains up for grabs every day. My suggestion is to set a budget and find enough domains to meet that budget. It's best to start off small and experiment first to get yourself comfortable with process. Don't put yourself out of pocket too much in the beginning. Remember, there are LOTS of domains out there.
Step 2: Check To See If The Domain Is Indexed
Once you have your list of domains, it's time to separate the good from the bad. For each domain, you need to check and see if Google still knows that it is alive and kicking. You can do this easily by doing a Google search for the site like this:
Type the above into the Google search box. If you see results, that's good! That means Google knows that the domain is still around and in good order. If you see no results, pass on the domain and move onto the next one. Why? You need to check if the domain is indexed because if the domain is penalized by Google, it won't appear in the SERPs. Don't buy a penalized domain.
Step 3: Check If The PageRank Is Fake Or Real
I'm not going to get into how you can fake PageRank on a domain, other than to see it is very easy to do and there are a lot of scammers out there who will try sucker you into buying domains with fake PR. Protect yourself by checking the validity of the PR on multiple levels. First, use Cekpr.com and type in the domain to see if it has genuine PageRank:
You can see the domain above, mhealthmd.com, has a fake PR of 2. How did they do this? Essentially, they are using a 301 redirect to accomplish the faking of the PR. Essentially, the PR value is being "ghosted" onto the target domain (mhealthmd.com).
You shouldn't stop your investigation here, though. Get a second opinion with another tool. If you have OpenSiteExplorer it will also show redirected domains. But, you can also just use Google by typing this into the search bar:
What you want to see here is a result that matches what you type into the search bar. So, you should see a result in the SERPs that has DomainWithPR.com in it. If you don't, the PR is fake. Here's what happens when you type in that domain I mentioned above into Google with the info: operator:
Sneaky, eh? The result that you're supposed to see is mhealthmd.com in the SERPs if the domain had legitimate PR. But, it's faked, because you see a different domain in the results.
Moral of the story: Check the validity of the PageRank BEFORE you buy the domain, no matter how good the price is. I still see some dorks on DigitalPoint forums trying to sell PR9 domains.
Come on, really? GOOGLE ITSELF is a PR9 domain.
(they faked that by redirecting onto nasa.gov, for those curious)
Step 4: Check To See If The Domain Has Ever Been Dropped
A dropped domain is a domain that was registered for at least a year and has not been renewed by the original owner, and has been essentially hung out to dry. It becomes available to the open market for purchase, and if it's good, is usually snatched up pretty quickly. Now, why would this be?
The reason is because even dropped domains can still maintain their original PageRank. So, you can find dropped domains with valid PR on virtually any marketplace.
You can check to see if the domain has been dropped by using DomainTools. The free version will suffice. First, perform a WHOIS search of the domain that you want to buy by typing the domain in the search box. You should see a result like this:
You can see that domain has dropped at least once. It's not uncommon to find domains even with valid, legitimate PR that have been dropped 2-3 times, maybe even more.
Non-dropped domains are typically cared for a lot better than dropped domains. They've always been renewed on time, and generally have a better backlinking profile behind them, backing up their PR. They also cost a little bit more than dropped domains.
That's not to say that you can't have the same care applied to a dropped domain, though. But, because there are so many domains out there for sale, I would say to pass on a dropped domain and try to find a non-dropped one.
Step 5: Check The Backlink Profile On The Domain
So you've gone this far, and you've managed to find a domain that is indexed, has a valid PageRank, and has never been dropped. The next step is to investigate the backlinking structure of the domain. The reason you need to do this is to see how easy or hard it will be to keep the PR value after the next Google update.
In short, domains that are most likely going to keep their PR will have links coming from other high PR domains that are not likely to be removed now or in the future.
To investigate backlinks, you can use either MajesticSEO or SEO Spyglass. Both have a free trial version that will work for what you need to do. I like to use SEO Spyglass myself, as it tends to find more links than the free version of MajesticSEO does. I only use the free version, and it works on both PC and Mac so that's a bonus too.
For now, I just took a random domain arborvue.com I found on the DigitalPoint forums. It is advertised as a PR3 domain. I took it and plugged it into SEO Spyglass like this:
Once to type in the domain and click Next, SEO Spyglass will begin gathering all the links it can find that are linking to arborvue.com.
This process shouldn't take too long unless the domain has thousands of links. We're not looking so much for the quantity of the links discovered, but the quality of the incoming links to the domain that are still alive.
Once the initial discovery is complete, SEO Spyglass will ask you if you want to analyze the domain for its backlink factors. Select Yes to continue, and you can undergo another analysis to see if the links are still alive, what the anchor text is on the link, the PR of the page being linked from, etc. You can choose what factors you want to see from the criteria below:
Just to make this easier I left everything at their default values. Click Next to continue.
Warning: This process can take a LONG time, especially if there are thousands of backlinks to analyze.
After this is done, you'll see the results screen that looks like this:
The screen above is sorted by PageRank values, from highest to lowest. What you're looking for is high PR links from other websites where you see that the anchor text does not say "Not Applicable". You can see from the above screenshot that there are at least 4 high PR links pointing to arborvue.com. This is a good sign, but we need to check to see if the links still exist on those pages. Visit each of those links and scan the page for the anchor text. If you find it, great! Continue through the list of links in SEO Spyglass and see if all the high PR links are still there or not.
The Most Difficult Part Of Buying A High PR Domain: Judgement
Now comes the hard part. Once you find all the links that exist, and you're satisfied that THOSE pages have legitimate PR as well, you need to do a judgement call and ask yourself the following:
How likely are these links going to stay on those pages now and in the future?
This is a tough call sometimes, because you don't know how often those linking pages are updated, so you can't really tell when they're going to be deleted. They may in fact never be deleted, and then you'd have a real gem on your hands assuming that PR was maintained on both sides over time.
Another thing you need to examine is the type of link you find and ask yourself whether it's going to stay there or not. For example, homepage or blogroll links vs. blog comment links. Sometimes, homepage links get deleted when the owner updates their list. But, how often does that happen? There's no way to tell with 100% accuracy, so you have to take your best guess sometimes.
Okay Andre, What's YOUR Best Guess?
In general, I think that links tend not to be deleted on the following:
- Older sites in general (check WHOIS date of the domain registration to see how old it is)
- Old personal Blogger, WordPress, Movable Type blogs, etc.
- Educational institutions
On the flip side there are domains that I think, once you check their backlinks, should be avoided because of what you find. For example, links FROM:
- Pornographic sites
- Gambling sites
- Pharmaceutical sites
- Any site that frequently changes content
- Terrible backlinks like forum profiles, blog comment spam, high outbound links (OBLs) etc. These were most likely used for pure SEO back in the day when Google didn't give a damn about quality.
- Foreign sites (I just don't know the language to judge whether the links are legit or not).
- Pure SEO sites. I'm talking about other websites that exist solely to boost up the PR of the domain that they're selling, and once you buy, they take those high PR links away from you. Usually they have high PR homepage links to the domain that you want to buy, and several of them. Once you buy, the seller deletes all those links on his/her domains and your PR goes poof eventually. You can spot these a mile away by examining those pages, which usually have some terribly spun content on the page, or they're using the default WordPress theme on it. Avoid these like the plague.
When you're not sure, don't buy. It's as simple as that, because as I mentioned before there are thousands of domains out there that are legitimate candidates for your purchase.
Step 6: Buying The Domain
Congratulations, you made it! Now you have the fun task that consists of the following:
- Interviewing the seller (if you're buying on a forum) to make sure the THEY are a legitimate source of domains.
- Domain transfer (domain push)
- Enabling privacy
Buying a domain from GoDaddy Auctions, for example, is a little bit easier because there is a lot of trust in that service. When you buy from some random guy on a forum, the process can be more difficult as you can get scammed easily even if the seller has a domain with valid PR. So, continue your due diligence and investigate the seller if you're not using a specific domain service like the ones I mentioned previously. If the deal smells fishy, walk away.
99% of the time payment is simply handled through Paypal. I always insist on paying via the "Goods" selection in the Paypal interface as opposed to the "Gift" option, because you at least are somewhat protected in case the seller doesn't deliver. Even then, Paypal still might fight you on that because the "goods" are digital goods, in fact. But, at least you have (part) of a leg to stand on. If you send money with the gift option then you're out of luck if you need help from Paypal.
Domain Transfer and Domain Push
If the deal goes through, you'll need to get the domain pushed to your account. The seller will transfer the domain from their registrar to yours. If you aren't using the same registrar, then just open an account with whatever they are using so that you can receive the domain there. The transfer is typically called a "domain push", and can take several hours, sometimes even days depending on the registrar. In the case of GoDaddy Auctions, for some reason they take up to 1-2 weeks to transfer the domain to you. I'm not sure about the other services like FreshDrop.net, etc. I've bought all of my domains from forum users so the domain pushes never took more than a few hours or so, sometimes even in minutes.
Privacy: Enable Or Don't Bother?
There are some that say ownership transfer affects PageRank, and those that say the complete opposite of that. The reason they argue this is because there will be a change to the WHOIS information on the domain, and so the theory is to enable privacy to hide the fact that the domain ownership has changed hands. The Internet-hearsay theory is that there is a negative effect on the PR value.
I'm going to be brutally honest here and say that I don't have the experience to tell you whether or not the WHOIS information affects PageRank. I simply don't have the data to back up a statement on it, nor could I find any authority site with that data.
So here's what I think: WHOIS information might affect PR, but even if it does, I can't imagine that it is that huge a factor in determining PageRank. Domains are bought and sold all the time, and if it really was an issue I suspect that you'd hear more about it.
That said, I enable privacy on all of my domains anyway, so on my high PR domains they have that enabled too.
The ultimate takeaway from this is as follows: it's your domain now, do whatever you think is best with it.
Review Of The Process
- Determine a budget, and start shopping for domains. Make yourself a shortlist.
- Check if your domain is indexed.
- Check if the PR is fake.
- Check if the domain has ever been dropped.
- Check the backlink profile of the domain.
- Buy the domain.
This is the exact process that I use and I do this for EVERY domain that I want to buy. I am extremely picky and only want high quality domains in my portfolio. Maybe some of this is overkill, but I think the more time you spent up front, the less worried you will be in the future about your domain losing its PR.
I've Got My Domain, Now What?Score!
Aside from some of the reasons I mentioned before about why you would buy a high PR domain in the first place, do remember that you will need to maintain its PR. This is to protect it in case you ever lose the high PR backlinks that it already had when you bought it. Nothing more than a little bit of backlinking every once in awhile. There's no magic to it. Think of how it got its PR in the first place, then you'll know what to "feed the beast."
Even if you already have a process to buy domains, I hope this has helped you in some way to enhance your method. I think the biggest thing to watch out for are bogus domains or sketchy backlinks. If you can find domains with a solid profile, I think that you're in much better shape if you want to keep them as long-term assets.
Good luck everyone with your future purchases!