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Building Sites On Expired Domains To Bypass The Sandbox

By Nate | SEO Strategy

Dec 28

While there have been many changes in Google's algorithm over the last couple years, the way I build sites now is actually surprisingly similar to how I was building sites in late 2012.

Since my case study about Lifed.com's sale on Flippa, I've used what I learned from writing that case study to build similar sites with decent success. One of the sites built on that model has even had 5 figure months. Unlike the micro niche sites I've built in the distant past, the authority-style sites I've built over the last 2 years have almost all stood the test of time.

Almost all of them were built on expired domains.

Even though I haven't been blogging over the last couple years, I've accumulated a lot of notes, operating procedures, and training materials that others might find useful. I plan to start re-purposing those notes into blog posts.

Here is the first of many:

Building On Expired Domains

I look to build sites on 2 foundations:

  1. A freshly expired domains that fits a profitable niche/site type
  2. A freshly registered domain name that is a partial match/brandable domain.

In this post, I'm going to focus on #1.

When I first started using the strategy of building money sites on expired domains, this tactic could be used to generate huge traction within a month or two, even within days.

My record was generating 600 pageviews a day in organic search traffic within 2 days of launching on a dropped DA29 domain I had picked up using the Xenu/Scrapebox method. Within a month, it was doing a few thousand pageviews a day.

These days, the so-called "sandbox" makes it difficult to quickly rank new sites for even moderately competitive keywords.

What Is The Sandbox?

Most people talk about the sandbox like its a period of time where Google will restrict your ability to rank (I'm guilty of this as well), but really its more of a "sandbox effect" than a "sandbox period". That's because its not really a "penalty box" that Google puts you in, but more like a "tweak" in whatever part of Google's algorithm gives weight to domain "age".

Since its (likely) just a part of Google's usual algorithm (unlike external filters such Panda/Penguin), it interacts with the other variables in the algorithm. This means the length of time you're "stuck" in the sandbox depends on a lot of factors - your competition, your locale, your domain, your backlinks etc.

Building on an expired domain is still a good way to shorten this "sandbox" time (or more accurately, reduce its effect), if you can piggy back on the existing domain age of the former site. But unlike a year ago, when you could just pick up any expired domain to build on - these days if you pick up an expired domain where the old site has been removed from Google's index due to it being offline, the "sandbox minimization" effect goes away.

The key is to pick an expired domain from droplists where the site just recently went off-line because the domain expired. These domains will still have lots of pages from the original site indexed, and you can launch a new site here and see the fresh site start picking up traction relatively quickly.

The Process

Building on an expired domain gives us an edge since we will have existing links and existing age that we can leverage to our benefit. If the domain is a fresh drop where most of the pages are still indexed in Google, we can also use it to greatly weaken the "sandbox effect".

To that end, we will be looking for expired domains with existing authority that we can build money sites on via expireddomains.net.

Tools We'll Be Using

  • Expireddomains.net (Free)
  • Ahrefs.com (Free for a limited # of searches)
  • FEInternational Penalty Checker (Free tool)
  • Wayback.archive.org (Free)
  • Majestic.com (Free for a limited # of searches)
  • Moonsy.com (good free tool for checking PA/DA)


  1. ​Apply filters and perform search at expireddomains.net
  2. ​Look for domains that have brandable potential. Add potentials to Google spreadsheet, along with basic metrics.
  3. ​Perform spamchecking with Ahrefs/Wayback.
  4. Confirm backlink profile strength

Filter Settings For ExpiredDomains.net

  • PR3 or more (Note: this doesn't really matter much anymore now that Google stopped updating toolbar PR. I would just focus on DA and not bother filtering for this)
  • No Fake PR
  • No Unsure PRs
  • Domains per Page: 200
  • .org, .net .com (unless you're planing to target foreign markets)
  • Minimum SEOkicks Domain Pop: 20 (this is the number of unique linking root domains)
  • Minimum SEOmoz Domain Authority: 30 (I'm going after 30+, but these can be expensive at auction these days. If your main goal is to bypass the sandbox and you're targeting less competitive terms, anything DA20+ is fine)

Check "Marketplace Domains" Tab

  • ​GD Expired - these are the best for fresh drops, but are often the most highly sought after and competitive.
  • NJ Pre-Release
  • Sedo Fixed
  • Snap PreRelease
  • GD Closeouts - best place on expireddomains.net to find bargains, but you'll be filtering through a lot more duds.

General Magazine/List Style Sites

Any 1-2 word domain that has some brandable potential can be potentially used as a general magazine site.

Note: All example domains I registered are altered slightly to protect the actual site identities. However, the actual domains are very similar to the given examples.

These types of sites focus on low rPMs informational terms I can use to build list articles, but they have high search volumes. With some basic linking and the right keyword research, they can hit the $1000-$1500 a month range fairly consistently. With the right nurturing and more aggressive monetization (e.g. creating list articles revolving around products or higher value CPA offers), they can also drive consistant traffic via social media and get to the 5 figures/month range.

Other Characteristics:

These types of sites usually flip for a very nice multiple (22-28X), but their ceiling can be a bit lower since the rPM is so low - you literally need to get millions of pageviews a month to break into the 5 figures/month range (unless you start targeting some higher rPM keywords - more on this in another post).

Still, they’re definitely worth building out if there’s a good domain for it.


I’ve previously used the domain ohbollocks.com (changed slightly to protect actual site) to create a “list” style magazine site, a lot like Lifed.com. While the domain itself was pretty generic and a little ridiculous, it works well for these types of sites.

Here is an example I pulled from the expired domain auctions at the time of writing:

Scroogle.org – used to be an anti-google site? Could just be a goofy word for a funny lists/weird news/memes site.


Niche Information Sites

These are domain names that can be used for niche specific sites.

The trick here is that even if the domain doesn’t target a high rPM niche, you need enough volume in the niche to make it worth targeting.

I’ll go more into how you can figure out whether there is enough volume in a low rPM niche in another post about finding profitable niches via Flippa.​


Domain names altered to protect site identities

  • www.greenlivingcouncil.org
  • www.SimpleStylishMagazine.com
  • www.theartsroundtable.org
  • www.paleofoodfreak.com
  • www.hipkids.com

I prefer to build these types of sites out more magazine/informational style, rather than the traditional niche site style with affiliate product pages only. I target more "informational" keywords, and mix the product pages in sparingly.

Here is an example I’m pulling from the auctions as I see them at time of writing (note: this wasn't spam-checked, the example is for the name itself only)

  • Crisissupport.net – Could make a good addiction recovery site? Or a general health guide similar to helpguide.org?

You can do more market research into whether the idea is viable on Flippa, and by finding competing sites in the niche and running them through SEMRush and doing competition analysis on keywords to see if there are enough low competition keywords you can go after.

You can be creative here. One site I built out was on a domain called youmotivating.me (altered to protect site identity).

It was a webdesign/inspirational site according to wayback, but I transformed it into a site in the personal development space since the domain worked for it and it was easier to rank for those keywords. This site still generates a solid 4 figures a month nearly 2 years later.


Vertical Specific Affiliate Sites

Similar to the above, except these are in high-profit verticals that have potential for monetization via lead generation (CPA).

  • Education/Jobs
  • Finance (insurance, mortgages, etc)
  • Real estate
  • Legal
  • Contracting

I put this in a separate category from #2 just because these domains are a lot more coveted, and I usually build them out differently. There's also opportunity for local lead gen sites here.


NewEducationNewOpportunity.com – This used to be a site for an education bill that failed, so it had lots of legit whitehat authority links (including links from Forbes.com jobs.aol.com, and a bunch of .edu domains). The domain is clearly related to a very profitable, high rPM affiliate niche. so this was a clear winner.

This is actually the site I cover in the case study offer I have in the right sidebar. If you want to check out the case study for the site I built in this example, just click the button below.


Product Affiliate Sites

This is the traditional amazon niche site model.

I generally avoid the amazon/product type sites because I find it hard to offer value and I think Google is going to continue to push these types of SERPs more towards e-comm results. Also Matt Cutts and co. love to target these types of affiliate sites (they call them "thin" affiliate sites).

That being said, I’ve been rethinking this lately since there is a huge benefit to having a site tightly focused on a specific product type - both from an SEO perspective and from a conversion perspective.

There are plenty of ways to build product review sites that are not thin. I've done SEO work on a hosting review site that has been holding its position for hundreds of very competitive terms for years.

Even though his site is monetized purely from hosting affiliate commissions, the owner did a great job of building a site that provides real value. You can find lots of multi-million dollar affiliate sites in the SERPs if you look carefully - some of them are even billion dollar companies that have Google as an investor - but they sure don't look or feel like the typical niche affiliate site.

What To Look For In The Domain Name

The product category should have relatively high average value (at least in the 3 digits).

If it’s a pure product related site, I usually like the domain name to be broad enough to encompass a category, rather than a specific product type.

So laptops - yes, vacuum cleaners for left handed cat owners – no. Even if you found an expired domain for vacuumcleanersforlefthandecatowners.org, its pretty much guaranteed to have been used and abused by some SEO already.


Dtvanswers.com – was a really strong PR6 DA50+ domain that originally belonged to the FTC (or some other organization, can’t remember) that was promoting the new digital TV standard. Could have been turned into a great consumer TV review/information site.



Its always possible that a domain will have a use that doesn’t fall into any of the above 3 categories – maybe it would make a profitable tool that has a lot of search volume (look up the keyword "youtube to mp3" to see an example, though that one is obviously way too competitive for what we’re looking for).

Maybe it could be a wallpaper downloads site, or something else we hadn’t thought of. You don't have to build the same type of sites or go after the same types of keywords everyone else is going after.

Determining If A Niche Is Worth Pursuing

Here’s a quick list of niches to keep an eye out for while scanning names.

This is not a comprehensive list, but its just a list of categories I've targeted in the past. Feel free to add your own items to the list.

Cheat Sheet

1-2 word domains that are generic and brandable

Domain names clearly related to a niche that could be broad enough to support a site that could earn at least 1k/Month with minimal backlinking.

  • ​Personal development
  • Health
  • Pets
  • Relationships
  • Addiction
  • Home improvement
  • Green living
  • Etc...use your creativity. You should validate with keyword research before buying the domain.

Clearly related to a profitable niche with high visitor values (these are pure gold, but spam check extra carefully here)

  • Education​
  • Finance
  • Real estate
  • Legal
  • Contracting

Look for domains where most of the original site is still indexed in Google (check site:domain.com) .

You can hit up this great little app if you're not sure if a niche will make money: http://www.monetizationlab.net/

Tracking The Domains

Good domains for money sites that meet our criteria won't come up all the time, so you want to be regularly tracking the domains that come up in auction, either on your own, or by using a VA.

Whenver you spot a domain that could be potentially built into a money site, record the following info into a spreadsheet.

Spreadsheet Columns For Tracking ExpiredDomains.net
  • Domain name
  • PR
  • DA
  • Majestic Trustflow/Citation Flow - use historic.
  • Auction site - Godaddy Expired, Godaddy TDNAM, Pre-release Namejet, Sedo fixed-price etc.
  • Auction end-date - do a site:domainname.com check in Google. We want sites that still have most of their original pages indexed in Google.
  • Indexed in Google? - What did the site used to be? (obvious spam/blog network use disqualifies it, but if there’s anything questionable/borderline, mention it)
  • Any wayback machine irregularities?
  • Ahrefs: Backlink profile clean? (obviously spam disqualifies it, but if anything that could be borderline, mention it here)
  • Which of the 5 site categories does it fit? 
  • SEMrush penalty check - This is only relevant if the site once ranked for a lot of keywords - won’t apply to most sites since they probably weren’t SEO optimized, but check SEMRush (all-time setting) and see if there was any sudden drops that could be signs of a penalty (not including when the site went offline).
  • Your thoughts on potential site concept/niche - doesn’t have to be exact, just your starting point for thinking the domain has potential.

You can create your own spreadsheet, or you can just copy the one I have here (includes examples).

The key here is to make sure the domains are spam/penalty free and meet the rest of our criteria. If you don't already know how to check for spammy backlink profiles, here are some great guides:

There's a lot more detail I can go into with regards to specific aspects of the process. If you're interested, leave me a comment or a question below and I'll get back to you.

Case Study

Last year, I built a site on an expired domain I found using this exact process that ended up selling for close to 6 figures within 9 months.

The timeline to profitability is a bit longer these days, but what worked then still works now with some slight differences, and I still use this process to launch new sites. You can get the detailed case study  below.

You might also like:

About the Author

Entrepreneur, SEO, nap enthusiast, twitter lurker.

Jon Haver 3 years ago

Nate, glad you are back and looking forward to hearing the results.

I have something similar in the works but it is just a little experiment right now…not my main focus.

We should definitely compare notes a few months from now to see how things are going with each others test.

    Nate 3 years ago

    Sounds good Jon, thanks for dropping by.

    Looking forward to seeing the progress on your group authority site project.

Andre Campbell 3 years ago

Great post. I generally hate looking for domains on expireddomains.net though. A lot of domains I find there are either spammed, have poor specs, or simply registered already by someone else who checked the site.

    Nate 3 years ago

    I don’t really like expireddomains.net for PBN domains. For money sites though you only need a handful of domains to make a serious dent, and its the easiest place (though not necessarily the cheapest) to find freshly dropped domains. If you have a better source you can definitely approach it the same way.

    If you do use expireddomains.net, you can use the filters to ensure that they have certain minimum metrics, then just do some manual spam checking (or have a VA do it).

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