Case Study: Does an aged domain really speed up Google ranking?

In this case study, we look at starting a new site on an aged domain (sometimes called an expired domain).  There are a lot of claims from domain sellers about the benefits of aged domains.  In fact, I recently received a promotional email suggesting that one aged domain buyer was getting several thousand pageviews daily and making six figures out of their new aged domain.

But did these people just get lucky, or was there some real value in the aged domain?  This article is an honest and unbiased look at what happened when we created a new site in the home improvement niche using an aged domain.

While this article looks at a new site on an aged domain, I also have an article about redirecting an aged domain to an existing site to see if that helps rankings.

Table of Contents

Introduction: what are aged domains?

Aged domains are domains that were previously used by someone else and have gained some level of authority.  That means that someone previously created a site on the aged domain, and placed content on it.  Over time that site gained traffic and backlinks, making Google think of it as authoritative.

However, the important thing about aged domains is that at some point their owner let the domains lapse, and the domains became available for sale.  By using an aged domain for your site, you are attempting to trick Google into thinking your site was the site that earned all of those backlinks.

The question is: does Google actually still fall for this trick? Or has Google become smart enough to know that a new site on an old domain didn’t actually gain all of the backlinks it has?  And if Google does still “fall for” the aged domain trick, does it help rankings of the new site?

Finding a reasonably priced aged domain

There are a lot of places to buy expired domains.  There are engines that try to catch domains as they expire, sites that allow you to search domain auctions, and even some businesses that act as brokerages for aged SEO domains.

Unfortunately, the latter tend to sell domains in the thousands of dollars. That was much more than I was willing to spend for this experiment.  So instead, I went through auctions on Godaddy and some other domain registrar websites.  The good thing about these sites is that you can get expired domains for cheap.  The bad thing is they’re totally uncurated and there is no way to search for useful domain metrics for SEO, such as domain authority.

I spent a lot of time with Ahrefs and Semrush, just going through each of the domains that my search came up with.  Eventually, I found one domain that previously hosted a local supplier for the product my site would focus on.  It had a lot of backlinks from local search authority sites, such as Yellowpages.com

Backlinks for my aged domain (local search sites in orange, home improvement specific sites in orange)

This particular domain was listed for auction on Godaddy, but it didn’t have any bids. I bought it for the starting price of $15 (plus the registration fee and auction fee).   Here are the Moz stats for the domain I purchased:

The Moz scores for this domain: does using an aged domain speed up ranking?

Ahrefs found around 700 referring domains, with over 100,000 backlinks.  The top backlinks were from superpages.com, yellowpages.com, and local.yahoo.com.  The only bad thing about the domain was that it didn’t have very many referring domains in the home improvement space.

Results: do aged domains really help ranking?

Initial results: how long did it take the aged domain to rank?

I created a small WordPress site for the domain, with a home page and 2 other pages.  Within hours of putting the site up, Google crawled it. One of the pages even ranked on the first page for it’s main keyword.

I added a few other review pages, and within two weeks, it was ranking for over 50 keywords.  Here is an Ahrefs snapshot:

Organic keywords for my aged domain within 2 weeks of creation.

The immediate results were shockingly good. The site immediately started earning affiliate income with some high value keywords.

Google did not update its index for pages and content missing from the new site.  Google still ranked pages (from the original site) that no longer exist.  The site also continued to rank for keywords that no longer existed on the site.

3 month results: did the rankings continue to improve?

Over months 2 and 3, the site continued to rank for several keywords, although there were some up-and-down movements for keywords.

The site lost some keywords that it had gained in the first month (likely to a Google core algorithm update), as well as some old keywords from the original site.

Surprisingly, however, the site continues to rank for several keywords that are no longer on the site.  Google also still points to pages that no longer exist.  Google has clearly crawled the site in the last 3 months, so it’s strange that it’s still ranking pages that go to 404 errors.

In all, the 3 month performance was very good, although not quite as stellar as the first two weeks.   The site currently ranks for around 40 keywords, although it’s not on page 1 for any.  Here is a graph of month 3 from Ahrefs:

Graph of month 3 rankings of aged domain.

And here is the Google Search Console result for the 3 month period.  Note how the impressions start to go up linearly immediately after the new site is deployed:

Aged domain Google search impressions over the first 3 months.

In late May 2022, there was a Google core algorithm update that seems to have caused the rapid drop in impressions, but the site is quickly regaining it’s position in the rankings.

Long term performance

After about 6 months, here is the Google Search Console impression graph:

This is the longer term chart for the aged domain.

The site has been up and down, which is uderstandable given the small number of posts on the site.

I created another site at the same time as a control for the experiment. That site still does not rank for any keywords. So this site is clearly benefiting from being on an aged domain.

Still, some research needs to be done into whether that significant dropoff in traffic in May was due to Google noticing that the site was on an aged domain, or whether it was simply the result of a Google algorithm change.

Key points

This article shows that buying aged domains can definitely boost your early rankings. In fact, it can take you to the front page of Google almost instantly.  Using a good aged domain can save you 12 or more months over starting from a fresh site.

The conclusion is that aged domains do help you get into Google quickly, but after that, the backlinks don’t provide much more link juice to help you retain the rankings.