I recently read something interesting on Neil Patel’s blog, Quick Sprout. For anybody who follows him, you might have read that he’s starting a new project publicly where he’s going to grow a new nutrition blog and take it to $100k per month within a year.
It’s an ambitious goal, but what really caught my attention was his strategy about picking up his domain name and skipping Google’s sandbox.
I think it’s a great strategy if it can work, but he didn’t really go into much detail about it. So I decided to examine it further and put together a guide for anybody who wants to copy his method.
Using a competitor’s domain
One of the most annoying things about starting a new website now is that it takes much longer now for you to start driving traffic from the search engines. Some people call it the “sandbox” and it can take up to 6 months for your new site to finally get some love from Google.
People say the sandbox is theory and they’re not completely sure if it exists or not. I can tell you first hand that it is real. With the number of sites that I launch, I definitely have noticed it.
As a result, some people – myself included – have been registering domains, putting up a few pages of content and just letting them sit for a few months before starting to grow them out.
But there has to be a better way than that, right?
When you purchase a fresh new domain, you have to go through the usual process of waiting for it to be indexed, building a few links, and all the other stuff that comes along with it. And it makes sense. There’s no history at all on your fresh domain.
The way to bypass Google’s sandbox for new sites is simply to NOT use a new domain. This idea is actually not new. People have been putting up new sites on expired domains for awhile now with mixed results.
The problem with using expired domains is that they’re a potential risk. Your site has the possibility of behaving as if it were penalized as soon as you launch it.
It’s not always the case, but there were more than enough case studies on the subject reporting the same thing.
Another thing to note is that most expired domains are… expired. The site’s most recent crawl leads to a dead page or a stock page from its previous domain registrar stating it’s been expired and is up for sale.
Some people claim that Google discredits a domain’s strength once it is dropped. We don’t know for sure if this is true, but I’ve experienced it being the case myself.
Instead, Neil’s strategy is to purchase a competitor site that is pretty much dead, but are still indexed and ranking on Google.
By dead I just mean it hasn’t been updated in years. The owner has lost interest and it looks like it’s not even being paid attention to.
But isn’t that more expensive than just registering a new domain?
Not as much as you think.
The reason we’re looking for “dead” sites is so that we can get them at domain value and not site value.
You can pick up these sites for $100-$200, depending on what you’re willing to pay for it and if the site looks worth it.
New domains from sites like GoDaddy and NameCheap are usually around $10.
Would you pay $100 to get a head start with your new site? Would you rather pay a little bit more and skip the dreaded sandbox? Is it worth it to pay a little extra to start on a domain that’s already indexed, already ranking, and already has relevant backlinks from sites in your niche?
For me, it’s a yes every time. There’s no question.
Obviously, I’m not going to spend $500 on a dead site. But $100 is plenty worth it.
How do you find them?
To find these sites, simply do a google search for your keywords.
Don’t look at the first 2 pages because they’re most likely going to be active, get a fair bit of traffic, and from my experience site owners aren’t really interested in selling them.
Just sift through pages 3 to 15.
You’ll want to do the right research before you reach out to the owner and ask for a purchase.
Here are a few things to keep in mind.
1. We’re looking to buy the domain. Not the site.
Don’t be too picky about the quality of their content, how much traffic it’s getting, and what they’re rankings are.
We’re looking for dead sites that we can get for cheap so we can use their domain. Most likely, their content will be replaced entirely.
2. We’re buying the domain to skip the sandbox. We’re not buying the domain to purchase its rankings.
Of course, if it’s ranking well and we can get a good deal on the site, it’s a bonus. But that’s not our main goal with this strategy. We’re buying the domain because it’s already indexed on Google.
Once we start putting up content, it will get indexed and start ranking MUCH FASTER than if we did the same thing on a brand new domain.
So don’t get too concerned about its current rankings.
3. Look at their backlink profile, but mainly just for spam.
It would be great if the site had a ton of strong backlinks already, but that’s not what we’re looking for here.
This is different from searching for expired domains for your PBN. Don’t get caught up in the domain’s authority and the links pointing at it.
All we’re doing is making sure that the site doesn’t have a bunch of spam links.
Remember, our main goal with doing this is so that we could start a site on a site that’s already indexed and ranking on Google for some of our keywords.
4. Check the site’s age
I would prefer a site age of 5 years old and over, and stay away from domains that only have a history of a year or two.
To check a domain’s age, you can use this free tool. Simply enter in your domain and solve the CAPTCHA code and it will tell you when it was first registered.
5. Check how many pages it has indexed on Google
To do this, simply do a google search using their site search.
The reason we do this is so we don’t get any surprises. Ten to a hundred is pretty normal – a few hundred is a lot – and hundreds of thousands should throw up warning flags.
If anything looks strange, just go through the pages to make sure they’re all relevant and there’s nothing fishy going on with the site.
6. Check the site’s traffic figures
To do this, I use a tool called Similar Web. It’s free to use, and more accurate than other tools I’ve tried.
Obviously, if you see something like millions of visitors, you’re not likely to get a response.
Writing the email / Contacting the site owner
Keep it short and simple. Talk a little about the topic of the site.
Let’s pretend our topic was baking cookies.
Don’t mention traffic and financials
In your discussions, avoid asking for how much the site is making or access to their analytics. Then, you’re making the sale about the site and the owner might decide to hike up the price rather than if it was just an offer to take over a “dead” site.
We already checked the estimated traffic using Similar Web so that should be sufficient.
Here’s an example of an email.
My name is Chris and I stumbled upon your site today. I think it’s a great resource but I see you haven’t updated it in quite a bit. May I ask why?
If you’re not interested in running the site, I would love to take over it and grow it out. I’m a cookie fanatic, and love baking and sharing my recipes.
It would be really awesome if I could share my recipes through X.com. To show you I’m serious about it, I’ll even offer to pay $100 to you for the ownership transfer.
Please let me know if this is something you would be interested in. I would love to get working on this right away.
You might prefer not to offer the money right away and keep it in your back pocket for when they respond. But having it in the first email would probably get you a lot more responses, than if you were just asking for a freebie.
If they’re just sitting there, most people are more than happy to just sell it off for an easy $100. You’ll be surprised at how many sites are out there where the last published post was something like 2006.
The sandbox is what kills a lot of new people entering internet marketing today. They register a new domain, put up their content, and build a few good links.
After 2 to 3 months of getting barely any traffic and not seeing their rankings rise, they get frustrated and order the 5000 link blast packages “guaranteed” to be Google safe.
That’s game over right there.
Instead, if you’re going to start a new site, this is a great method to skip those months of dryness that maybe you haven’t considered in the past.
It may not always be possible to find the right site owner that’s willing to let it go, but it’s a great strategy to have in your back pocket for your next niche site.