Expired Domains & Drop Catching
What is “Drop Catching”?
It’s the process of acquiring a previously registered domain name, as soon as is becomes available to register again.
If someone decides not to renew a domain name, or they’ve gone out of business, the domain registrar will send multiple reminder/warning emails asking them to renew it. Even when the expiry date passes, the original owner can still renew the domain, in a “Redemption Period” at a much higher cost. If they still do not renew it, the domain eventually becomes available for anyone to register.
How does Drop Catching work?
There are two methods of Drop Catching:
- Drop Catching services can have a special agreement with a number of ICANN registrars, giving them first refusal on any expired domains. ICANN is the organization in charge of all the world’s domain extensions/suffixes.
- Services can do “WHOIS Polling”, where they continuously check whether the domain is available, on the day that it’s due to drop (get deleted). WHOIS is the name of the system that tells you whether a domain name is registered and who owns it.
Domain name providers can team up with Drop Catching services, under special agreements. After the expiry and redemption period, the Drop Catching service will offer the domains to its members. If anybody orders the domain, it gets acquired instantly, before it really becomes available in the open market. If multiple people order the same domain, it goes up for auction to the highest bidder.
WHOIS polling works better on some domain extensions than others. For UK domains, WHOIS polling is the only option available. Every .uk domain registrar has an equal chance of catching a domain name, as they’re limited to a certain number of WHOIS lookups per second. Plus you can’t have multiple Nominet (.uk) memberships, so everyone’s on the same balanced playing field.
Some .uk registrars will still attempt to acquire the most valuable domains and then auction them afterwards though. It’s just a slightly different process.
Does ICANN support/endorse Drop Catching domains?
It’s a bit of a grey area. I don’t know of any registrars that have been banned for doing it, but it does stretch the rules on what’s allowed. It’s hard to combat, without ICANN shooting itself in the foot. Around 80% of all ICANN memberships are used purely for Drop Catching. The service DropCatch.com owns over 1,200 ICANN memberships alone (more chances to catch a domain) and probably pays ICANN over $5 million a year in membership fees. So it’s kind of against ICANN’s interest to combat this.
How does Drop Catching help an eCommerce website?
There are lots of benefits to owning all of your vertical or niche’s primary keywords, as domain names.
This could be to create new brands or for a rebrand, such as Shopify buying
shop.com, to launch an Amazon marketplace competitor. The domain is very valuable in itself, but extremely valuable as an asset to Shopify. Domains are often treated like physical assets, you can even use them as collateral for a mortgage or loan in some countries. They increase the value of your company as well, if you look to sell your company or float.
It also demonstrates your dominance in a market. If you own all of the industry’s top keywords as domain names, then you’re seen as the dominant player in that niche. It also stops your competitors from being able to launch a rival brand on those valuable domains. If you sell shoes and you own
shoes.com, that’s a really great way of stopping someone else from coming out with a great new brand in your vertical.
It can also generate type-in traffic, but not as much as the old days of the internet. If you type “
poker” into the address bar of your web browser, older browsers would check if
poker.comexisted and take you there. That’s changed since Google Chrome launched, as traffic is (not surprisingly) sent to a Google search result instead. But some browsers still go through that old process of adding .com/.net/.org to a keyword typed into the address bar. People also still guess domain names, to save them from having to use a search engine. If someone is looking for a car website, they might just guess and type in “
cars.com“. So you can get type-in traffic that way as well.
Is there an SEO benefit to Expired Domains?
Yes, there is. Companies go out of business everyday and because of this, their domain names eventually expire, with loads of really valuable links still pointing at them. So if you acquired that domain, you’d be getting all of that link value with it.
What would you do with an Expired Domain?
The fastest but riskier option is to simply 301 Redirect the whole domain name that you’ve acquired, into your own website. This can look a bit spammy if it’s overdone though, especially if you do it multiple times.
The better option is to create a new website on the expired domain, providing similar valuable information as to what was on there before. So if it was an information website, get a copywriter to upload content to the site on the same subject matter. And if it was an eCommerce site, publish an article on the history of that eCommerce site maybe, and where the future is for that industry. From this content, you can then link back to your own eCommerce site in a very natural way. Don’t use any keyword stuffing of course, just brand mentions.
Either way, you’re gaining valuable links at a fraction of the price of a traditional PR campaign.
Is Google okay with you doing this with expired domains?
Google doesn’t really recommend doing this, but they don’t really recommend doing anything that can positively impact your website’s rankings. Even the simplest SEO techniques can fall the wrong side of Google’s guidelines.
The value from expired domains does still count though – their links count towards the value of your domain and I’ve seen countless websites ranking for very competitive keywords on the back of expired domains.
Just don’t do anything stupid. Don’t redirect an old Poker or Charity domain into a clothing website. Expired domains should be in the same niche as you, or a very similar one.
If an expired domain’s website was about Red Shoes, make sure that the content on the new website, is still about Red Shoes and not Women’s Dresses, for example.
Google knows if the topic of the website changes and that’s when the links can no longer work. If they see a change in topic relevancy, then the links going into it, are no longer really counted because they were supporting a different topic to what your new website’s about. Also don’t get spammy with the content or the links on the expired domain, use really good quality content that still answers the questions that the websites were actually linking to that domain for. And when linking to your own website, use your brand name, don’t use commercial keywords.
How can you get find and buy Expired Domains?
There are five main Drop Catching services:
Each of those companies has their own strengths. NameJet and SnapNames are basically the same company now though, so there’s not much benefit in using both of them for the same domain. I mostly use SnapNames myself. You can search for keywords on their site and get a list of domains featuring those keywords. You usually pay about $79 for each domain that they acquire for you. Some will refund you if they don’t catch it, others will try to catch it when it next expires.
If the Drop Catching service is successful, but other people also wanted that domain, you’ll end up going into an auction. When bidding, think about how valuable the links are, or the keyword is, to your business. Everyone puts a different value on these domains.
If you’re planning to buy an expired domain, purely for link value, make sure that you examine those links closely in either Ahrefsor Moz, to make sure that you know what those links are. A domain might have millions of links, but how many of those were actually from important websites? Has it been penalized by Google in the past?
Other people might have drop caught the domain in the past, ruined it with bad links and then let it expire again. So look for obvious signals. Are most of the links using the domain’s brand name, or are the links stuffed with keywords? Make sure that if the website was US focussed in the past, most of the links are from US websites, not Russian, Chinese or Japanese forums/blogs. That’s a big red flag.