Home » The 5 Magic Steps to Refresh an Old/Expired Domain
This is our brand new SEO Q&A session with a pretty interesting question: “How would you do a restart or refresh an existing project?” A website or an older domain that has been sitting there for a while and you did not spend time on it (no links, no new content…).
We received this question from one of our readers – thanks for that! It actually is a quite challenging question, because we do not know exactly which website and which domain we are talking about. Depending on the age of domain, history in rankings, history in link building, possible filters/penalties, topic, language etc. that the site had different measures have to be taken at different paces!
In the following we will give you some general rules to follow.
Do not touch anything. You leave the domain registration as it is, you leave the same hosting and you leave the content as it is. First we do some analysis of what we are trying to improve on the site. Obviously the first question and the most important thing to look at is does it actually have traffic? and if we find it to have Traffic, either via Alexa or the much more preferred SEMrush, this leads us to the next point.
Does the website have organic traffic and more important, for which keywords does it have traffic for? If the domain is just sitting there, not having traffic for any keywords or even worse not even indexed in Google the question is what is YOUR value for that domain?
If you don’t see any organic traffic this domain might as well be banned from Google at all and this is definitely something you should check of course before you spend any time or money on it. A good idea for older domains is to check the previous content in the Webarchive Wayback Machine or simply the Google Cache. This is especially important if you plan to buy a domain from someone rather than developing your own. Again, SEMrush does a great job in listing organic traffic positions in Google for various markets, and we couldn’t live without it. For the german market (that is Germany only!) tough the Sistrix Toolbox is the tool of choice – and likewise we couldn’t live without it.
Next thing to look at is to review the backlink structure of the website. Where do backlinks come from and do they receive new backlinks on a regular basis? Especially if you buy an existing domain from someone else chances are good that he had a couple of link deals (paid links, link partnerships, and so on) and those would be canceled after you got the domain. So chances are that you not only have a natural churn with some links going up and down but also some (possibly important) links missing suddenly the domain had in the past.
If this sudden link drop happens to your domain Google might devalue your website and will take away your rankings. This is probably the worst thing to happen. Therefore this point of leaving links intact i.e. sticking with link partnerships refers to rule number one – leave everything as it is (for the starting time at least). Even if it costs you some time and money to pay for the links that where there for years you should definitely stick with them until you know if these are the links you want to keep.
Our favorite tool for link profiling is the LinkResearchTools since the introduction of the
link profiling features some weeks ago that are nowhere else available like that. It’s an awesome time saver and helps to give you a high level view of any domain and compare those against other own or competitor domains. More info on link profiling was summarized in our most important link profiling rules.
Below you see an example screenshot of how an awesome back link profile could look like, measure by SEOmoz Domain authority in this case.
Ok, now that we know and assume that the traffic is there and that you have a website that ranks for a couple of keywords this leads us to step number four.
Let’s assume for a minute that you have not done anything for the site for a year or two maybe. Any massive increase in content and/or links would raise a BIG red flag at Google. It’s common sense but also SEO knowledge that you may not overdo it in terms of link building and content creation speed. An automatic Google filter can really push you back and bury you in the SERPs for weeks or months sometimes. So plan wisely and start out slow!
You have to understand your playing field. There’s not a magic number of links per month that are OK for everyone. This could be 1 (one!) or one-thousand – depending on your industry, language and competition. So doing a competitive research should be the starting point for ANY project. Either you do it yourself or hire someone else to do it – but you HAVE to understand the market you’re in.
That’s why doing an upfront analysis and then starting out slow is what we also recommend to all our new clients. It’s tough to manage (your own) expectations if you don’t know what you should aim for. Goals like “Top 3 position for all keywords for xxx EUR /month” are only very high level dreams but not the basis for the planning of an SEO and link building campaign if you have no idea where you’re competition stands…
Then you might notice:
OMG – all Top 10 results for keyword X are on domains that are 10 years older than my domain, have about 20x times more links in quantity alone and had links coming to their sites from major sites for more than a decade? Oh boy, you’re in trouble!
We’ve seen a LOT of sites that lose link juice because of poor server maintenance and onsite-SEO.
So before you even start link building, try to find out which links you are losing juice from!
We mean Link Juice Recovery and the newest version of our LinkResearchTools has a tool for doing that. This tool helps you to find out which links are going into the site that do not have any corresponding page. This fact means a 100% loss in link Juice. Every link that ends in a 404 error or another error page is a lost link.
If we find that a website has that problem (and it only takes a couple minutes with the tool) we now know we have to repair that.
Repairing means to implement 301 redirects for the missing pages, the Link Juice Recovery Tool generates those redirect rules for you. All you have to do is take this output and fill it in your Apache Web Server Config and then wait for a couple of days to see how those links you missed before pushed the site.
This method is specially important for abandoned domains or domains that you bought from someone else. Any expired domain that you could get hold of has that problem (or actually it’s you having the problem not knowing the previous website structure precisely). By fixing the redirects for missing pages and recovering the link Juice from links that you forgot about the first push to the site could already happen. Especially Google will then see that somebody takes care of the site.
We often compare Google to a human: give them the good feeling that you care about your site again they will give you credit and try to help you with better rankings.
Now slowly start to build links and add content. You add one page and one link maybe to another page and then see what happens. Then maybe you add a link and a page a day assuming that you have a small to medium size website.
Let us assume that you have an average sized website with a couple hundred links maximum. Then adding a few links a day or a week is just sufficient for you to test how the website responds to new links and new content. You should see some changes in traffic and rankings over the weeks for those keywords you linked and possibly other phrases as well (depending on the trust of links you got).
This is what usually happens to healthy sites. But you have to give it time. Don’t expect results after days if you haven’t done anything for years. But after 2 or 3 months we know that this is a really healthy domain and we can maybe increase the pace.
Add more content, add more pages and obviously build links around those keywords you already rank for. If you have a website that was trying to target a couple of different topics like electronics, baby wear and so on, just like a shopping site with everything on it like Amazon but you only have the trust of a small little blog you will never ever be able to get rankings for whatever it had been before. You have to focus what it is (still) best in.
To sum up: the idea here is to follow up with what Google already gives you credit = rankings for. Take that and build upon it!
After you see the first signs of success go back to step 3 and start from that point again. SEO and site development is an iterative circle that is being repeated over and over again. You add content and new links and see what happens and if the domain is healthy and if you took care of all the links and recovered all the links it already had then you should see an increase in traffic, an increase in rankings and you can build out that site to what Google thinks is good for.
If you do that for a couple of months you will have a nice, strong and healthy website again that you can monetize. But be careful do not but up ads on every corner; do not try to sell links on it after the second week or something like that because this is just a waste of time. Try to make really nice content for the people. If you start to attract links naturally as well to the links that you have build then you are a winner. Then you build a new but although young authority on a topic that you can build upon. Again we are talking about weeks and months not days here. The more time you will give it the better will be your benefit of it. You had it sitting there for one or two years so you should be prepared to let it sit around for another year to make it strong if you decide to build it out.
Again it is all about repeating the whole process of adding new content, adding links to the website and monitoring the impact of the links and finally reaping the benefits.
This was the new Q&A on how to refresh an old project or website for which you have not done anything for a while. We hope this helps you to revive your old projects.
PS: if you have a question you want handled in one of our next Q&As, please post them in our SEO Q&A user feedback forum.
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