The Complete Step-by-Step Guide to Finding and Spam Checking
by Josh Kelly
Last Updated: Jan 2019
You don’t want to invest in a big PBN, get all your articles written and links up, and only later to find out that you bought bad domains to begin with. Whether you’re registering domains yourself, buying pre-checked domains, or even bidding at auctions, it’s easy to end up with lemons.
To help you avoid the bad domains and end up with a solid and effective PBN, I’ve put together this guide for finding great domains.
In this guide, you’ll learn:
- How to determine if an expired domain is worth registering
- What are signs of a spammy domain that you should avoid
- How to make sure your expired domain will pass link juice, before investing in setting them up
These are the same guidelines we use at Hammerhead Domains to register all the domains for our marketplace, and for my 500+ site personal PBN. Our expired domain PBN supports hundreds of first page rankings, so I can tell you from our direct experience that this works.
At Hammerhead Domains, we provide lists of unregistered (expired) domains that have been used before. From now on in this guide I’ll be referring to these domains as “expired domains”.
Expired domains still have links pointing to them and authority in google. Instead of paying hundreds of dollars for each domain, you can register our domains yourself for the price of registration. You can build a decent size PBN this way for just a few hundred dollars.
A quick disclaimer: While this expired domain strategy is working right now, SEO is always changing and expired domains probably won’t work forever. Also, PBNs and any other reliable SEO strategies I know take a significant amount of time and financial investment. It’s not a “get rich quick scheme”and should not be treated as such.
How to Choose a Good Expired Domain for SEO
Effective PBN domains have High Moz DA, High Majestic Trust and will index in google. Lower authority and trust may be acceptable, especially if the domain has backlinks related to your business’s topics. Getting indexed by Google is an absolute must.
Google indexing a domain means that they start including it in their search results. You can check whether a domain is indexed by searching “site:domain.com” in Google. Pages on your domain should be the first result.
Unlike domains you buy on auction or from private dealers, expired domains won’t get indexed in google until after you register them. It usually takes about 5-15 days after registering a domain for google to index them.
If a domain you register indexes in google, it means that google has NOT assigned a penalty to the domain. If it doesn’t index in Google within about 10-15 days after you register it, it may have a penalty and you shouldn’t use it in your PBN unless it eventually indexes.
Domains are penalized for having a spammy backlink profile (spammy anchor text, or spammy content on the backlinks). Manual penalties could also have been applied to the domain while it was still being used, or a bulk penalty could have been applied if, say, the expired domain had been hacked and was hosting a virus.
There is no way to know for sure whether a domain has a penalty associated with it before you buy it. That’s why careful spam checking is required before registering domains.
As we look at information about the expired domain, we’ll explain signs that a domain would have a manual penalty associated with it.
At Hammerhead Domains, we find lots of unregistered domains and we only show you the best 1% of domains we find after we filter out lots of spam. Even so, you need to manually spam check each domain before picking it up.
Once you get the hang of it, this entire process will only take you a few minutes per domain.
Tools You’ll Need:
- A way to check the top backlinks and anchor texts. We use and recommend Majestic. We’re not an affiliate, we just find their data to be the most comprehensive and useful. The lowest level majestic subscription should work. You can also use Ahrefs or Moz to do spam checking (although Moz only updates their index 1-2x per month).
- A Hammerhead Domains membership. The basic membership is free. You can get access to over 75 exclusive expired domains per day, including DA20+ domains for less than the cost of 1 domain on auction. Get started by becoming a free member here.
How to Select a Rank-Crushing, High-Authority Expired Domain
It’s up to you to determine what minimum DA and Trust metrics are good enough to add to your PBN, but I’ll give you some rules of thumb that I use for looking at metrics:
- DA needs to be above 15 if it has relevant backlinks to your business’s topic, and above 20 if it’s not relevant. I prefer DA 25+, but good DA 25+ are more rare and usually more expensive.
- Majestic Trust needs to be above 10 for the top host (aka top subdomain – ex: domain.com, www.domain.com, or sub.domain.com, whichever has highest trust), and the higher the better.
- TLD (com, org, co.uk, etc…) needs to be something you can register. If you’re in the US, it’s hard to register com.au, eu, and fr domains, but you can register co.uk domains at namecheap for less than $8 with free privacy!
- Having more than one referring domain is good, because if you lose that link in a few months, the domain won’t lose all it’s authority. I usually prefer at least 10 referring domains, but this is one of my least crucial metrics and I sometimes ignore it if a domain is otherwise really good. Too many (like 500+) referring domains is often a sign of spam.
- I completely ignore PageRank as it hasn’t been updated in over a year and is now irrelevant.
- Majestic Citation isn’t particularly important, but if its way higher than Majestic trust, that can be a sign of spam.
- Moz PA isn’t super important because you’ll redirect all the links to the homepage and it will eventually get all the PA on the homepage, but if PA more than 10 points higher than Moz DA that’s usually a good sign.
Backlink Spam Checklist:
Once you’ve selected a domain that would be worth registering, it’s time to spam check it. Put the root domain into majestic, and look at the summary.
- Anchor Texts
Look the the circle diagram for Anchor Texts. Are more than 33% the same keyword that’s not the brand name?
This domain may have received penalty for the anchor text being too high. Avoid it and move onto the next domain.
Are there any particularly spammy sounding anchors?
Avoid porn, gambling, pharmaceuticals, and knock-off designer clothing related keywords. In this example, almost 90% of the keywords are related to a specific brand of nike shoes. Avoid domains like this and move on.
- Top Pages
Take a quick look at the URLs of the top pages. Sometimes you’ll see subdomains, or page urls that are clearly related to spam. If you see any urls like this, just move on.
Click on the top few backlinks and search for the keyword. (If there’s no keyword, you can view the page source and search for the domain name.)
Avoid Hacked Sites
If the keyword is not visible, it may be a sign that the site was hacked and the hacker hid the links. For an example of hacked links check out the top backlinks for discountmontblancpensuk.com:
Assuming the backlinks don’t appear to be hacked, you’ll also want to check that the domain doesn’t share backlinks with lots of spammy sites. Although our filters at Hammerhead Domains try to pick this up in the Backlink Toxicity score, sometimes it misses backlinks. Learn more about Backlink Toxicity here.
Directory links like this, that stay on topic and link to legitimate sites are great backlinks:
But you generally want to avoid directories where you share links with tons of random sites, some of which are spammy:
Similarly for comment links, genuine comment links are fine:
But avoid sites where the top backlinks are on pages full of comment spam:
- Use History
Search the domain on the Wayback Machine at web.archive.org. By clicking through the use history, you should pretty quickly get an idea of what this site has been used for.My philosophy is most lenient at this stage, because if the site was spammed with bad backlinks we should have already found it. With that said, I still avoid domains that were used for anything related to porn, gambling, pills, or knock-offs.
There is some controversy on whether or not to register a domain that was previously used as a PBN. If the domain otherwise looks good, I do register domains that were previously used as PBNs. So far in our domain buying, domains used as PBNs get indexed at a slightly lower rate than those which were never used for anything related to SEO, however the previous PBN ones still index often enough to make them worthwhile.
If you use Web Archive often, consider making a $10 donation next time they’re raising money. They provide an incredibly useful service to folks like us for free and run on donations.
Watch Me Spam Check Domains [Video]
In this video I go through a few domains on hammerhead domains and talk you through the spam checking process. You’ll see me find 2 domains that are ready to register, and I’ll show you 1 example of a domain that you should skip.
Once you’ve purchased a domain, make sure your registrar puts up a parking page on the domain (and doesn’t redirect it). I know Namesilo and Namecheap both put up a parking page automatically which will work for google to index the site.
Generally, if you’re domain doesn’t index within a week or two after you put up a parking page, it means google has your domain marked as spam and you should just move on to a different domain. However it is posssible that your domain isn’t indexing because google can’t tell that you’re domain is now live.
This can happen because all the links are pointing to pages, or subdomains that aren’t live. It also happenned to me one time when Namecheap’s parking page servers went down for a week.
If you think your domain might not be getting indexed because google can’t tell that it’s live, the easiest fix seems to be to set up a blank wordpress install and redirect all the inner pages and any subdomains with links to your homepage. This will ensure the google crawlers reach your homepage. If it still isn’t indexing, it probably has a penalty.
What I’ve seen is that sometimes, especially if a domain has most of it’s links pointing to a subdomain, a domain doesn’t get indexed within the first week, but then if I set it up on hosting it does eventually get indexed. Sometimes though, even after setting the domain up on hosting and redirecting the subdomain or inner pages, the domain still doesn’t get indexed (presumably because it has a penalty).
I usually don’t go through the pain of setting up hosting and all for domains that aren’t indexing unless all the links are pointing to a subdomain. I suspect a few more of my domains would get indexed, or at least they’d get indexed faster, if I set up hosting and redirection for all domains I purchase. It just doesn’t feel worth the time for me, when registering another domain is only going to cost nine dollars.
Common Questions and Concerns
What About Foreign Language Domains?
Many people avoid foreign language domains, but they’re actually a goldmine for high-authority domains. Put english content on them, and they seem to work just as well as to rank english language money sites as any other PBN sites. You can use the same spam checking process for foreign language domains, just use Google Translate to check everything.
Should I Try to Get a Domain Reindexed?
Short answer is no. It’s not worth the time to recover the $9 investment.
To find out the specific google penalty and request to get it removed, you’ll have to register the domain with google’s webmaster tools. To verify the domain, you have to get the site hosted.
Think about it before you do this: You’ll be adding spammy domains to your webmaster tools account and claiming ownership of these spammy domains. From Google’s perspective, why it might raise alarm bells if you suddenly wanted a penalty removed on a bunch of high-authority domains. See the problem?
Alternatively you could register a new google account for each domain, but given the time commitment to re-index a domain, it’s not worth the time to recover a $9 investment.
Host Your Domain
Hosting PBNs is an important topic that can make or break your PBNs. Do not neglect learning about how to host your PBN and finding good hosting!
I’ve written an in-depth guide to PBN hosting, including some recommendations for where to safely host your PBN domains in 2018. Check it out.
Setup Your Domain
Once your domain get’s indexed and you’ve set up hosting, you’re ready to add content and link to your money site(s) or client sites. Steve at Texfly has an excellent guide to setting up PBN domains, so I’ll refer you to his work for the next steps.
Most SEOs develop their own processes over time and I recommend you do too. I setup my domains exactly like Steve does, and you probably won’t either, but his recommendations are a good place to start. Unlike Steve, I don’t worry at all about social media for my PBN sites. I don’t use any analytics on my site and I don’t add any monetization.
Go Forth and Find Good Domains!
With this strategy, we’ve had about 80% of the domains we register index within about 2 weeks.
There may be a learning curve, but with the information I’ve shared with you in this tutorial you’ll now be able to purchase high-quality domains way below market value. And you’ll be able to rank your money sites and your clients in a consistent reliable way.
Don’t get paralyzed by doubt, go register a few domains today and start getting ranked.