Building a Niche Site on a Bad Domain – And How I Fixed It

bad domainOver the past couple of weeks, I’ve been deep-diving into building a niche website that will be monetized primarily through the Amazon Associates affiliate program. I’ve been pretty excited, as this is my first attempt at a site that will be monetized primarily by promoting Amazon products. What had me even more excited is that the particular set of keywords that I am working with for this site are collectively some of the lowest in competition that I’ve ever found! I knew before I even started this site that I would be able to rank on the first page of Google pretty easily for many of the secondary keywords – and without building any backlinks! To give you an idea of how ridiculously low the competition is for these keywords, I’ve shared the stats for some of my top keywords in a chart below… So, imagine my dismay when I figured out that my site wasn’t ranking because I had chosen a bad domain!

KeywordsLocal SearchesAvg KC
main keyword 1190021
main keyword 2190021
main keyword 3190022
Secondary Keywords509
article keywords3015
     “1016
     “3016
     “4016
     “11017
     “4018
     “14018
     “3018
     “1019
     “3019
     “2019
     “9019
     “39019
     “5019
     “7020
     “4020

As you can see, my three main keywords all get 1,900 local monthly searches and have average KC scores of only 21 or 22! These will be extremely easy to rank for with just some minor link building. Most of the next 17 keywords on this list have KC scores under 20. In my experience, I can easily rank for keywords like these on the first page of Google with only the simple and automated social bookmarking links that I create with SocialADR. I probably don’t even need to do those to rank for some of these low competition keywords – but I use SocialADR for every niche site article anyway.

And this is just the first 20 keywords on my list for this niche site. The rest of the list (not shown here) includes 108 related keywords with KC scores of 35 or less. Of these 108 keywords, 60 have KC scores of 25 or less. That’s 40 more to add to the list that I’ve shared above! My point is, that this product-based niche contains a LOT of really good keywords that are really low in competition and will be very easy to rank for.

By the way – Did you know that I create keyword lists very similar to this and sell them as part of a package?

Check out the current availability on my Keyword Research Packages for Sale page right now!

How and Why I Chose This Bad Domain

Here is where I made a big mistake! I found and purchased an available exact match domain (EMD) for one of my main keywords. Ironically – just last week, Spencer from Niche Pursuits published a post on why he doesn’t use EMD’s anymore. I knew that EMD’s didn’t get the boost that they did prior to Google’s infamous EMD update. But, I thought that there was still value in having the keyword in the domain. There was no evidence that building a site on an EMD was a sole cause for any sort of penalty by Google. I think EMD’s were just more closely scrutinized because of their reputation for having low quality sites built on them.

Part of my justification for purchasing an EMD was that I still see them in the top 10 search results in Google either when doing random searches or when doing keyword research. And I do a LOT of keyword research! EMD’s still rank – so I still believe that there is nothing wrong with building out a niche website on an exact match domain. If it makes sense for your niche, then go for it. And it certainly made sense for the niche I had found. This particular EMD wasn’t too long and didn’t look out of place at all. So, why was this domain determined to be bad and why did this turn out to be a mistake for me?

Be Wary of EMD’s and Their History

I knew that there was a chance that this exact match domain had been previously owned. I did a simple check of its backlink profile using both MajesticSEO and Ahrefs. It wasn’t showing a backlink profile at all. Ironically (again), Jon Haver from Authority Website Income just published a detailed post on exactly how to analyze backlinks before buying a website or domain. I actually credit Jon for teaching me most of what I know in this area. I naively and lazily determined that nobody had owned this domain before just because there weren’t any links pointing to it. I bought the domain and started working on the site.

After about 2 weeks and 7 published posts, I wasn’t showing up in Google (or Yahoo or Bing) at all for any of my main keywords. I thought this was strange because I can usually at least show up on the radar very easily for keywords like this – and usually within only a day or two. Thanks to a conversation I was involved in within the Niche Site Community on Google+, I decided to do some further investigation on the domain I was using.

I went to archive.org and looked up my domain. Sure enough, somebody had owned it previously and the last available snapshot happened to be from September of 2012. I took a look and found that somebody had built a terrible niche site on this domain. The content was obviously outsourced to a non-native English speaker and the site only had a few pages of content on it. I’m certain that it got hit by the EMD update and whoever owned it just let it expire. That was proof enough for me that some sort of penalty had been associated with this domain and was probably the reason my site wasn’t ranking at all. But I did some further investigation.

Thanks to a suggestion from a friend in the Google+ community, I ran my domain through this Google penalty checking tool by Sistrix. Sure enough – my domain had been hit with multiple penalties. In fact, it was one of the Panda updates that happened just before the EMD update that really affected this domain/site. Time to move on.

Choosing a New Domain

I couldn’t just quit on this niche site. The keywords were too good and I had already spent too much money on great content. Not to mention all of the editing I had already done to the posts that were already published, the layout of the site, the custom header I created and all of the affiliate links I had already inserted. This site is going to be a success and is going to be a good earner – just not on the bad domain that I had it on.

So I found a new domain. This time I picked a more “brand-able” domain. One that is a little bit more memorable and rolls off the tongue nicely. Although I was almost positive that nobody would have owned this domain before – I checked anyway. In fact, from now on I will always check domains before I purchase them using the following sites/tools:

Everything was good. Nobody had owned this domain before. Now I just needed to move my site from the old domain to the new one.

Moving a WordPress Site to a New Domain

If I went into every last detail, I could write an entire post on how to do this. I’m not even entirely sure that how I did this would be considered the best way to move a site – but it worked for me. Using the free Duplicator plugin for WordPress, I created and downloaded a file which contained an exact copy of my site (along with an installer file). I actually found and watched a YouTube video to learn how to properly use this plugin. By applying what I learned in that video, I easily installed the exact copy of the site onto my new domain. This did take just a little bit of know-how when it comes to some of the settings and back end stuff within my hosting account.

I then went to my site on the old domain and did the two following things to discourage the search engines from indexing it:

  1. Within WordPress dashboard go to Settings>Reading and check the box after Search Engine Visibility that says, Discourage search engines from indexing this site.
  2. In each of the individual 7 posts that were already published, I went into Edit mode and adjusted some settings withing the Advanced tab of the WordPress SEO by Yoast plugin. I set each post to noindex and nofollow – and at the same time set each post to 301 redirect to the corresponding post on the new domain. I did this only because I did have some social bookmarking links pointing to these posts already.

The last step I took was to make sure that any last possible link pointing anywhere to the old site would be redirected to the homepage of the new site. I accomplished this with the 404 simple redirect plugin for Wordrpress. I deleted everything on the old site except for the 7 posts (which were now being redirected to the new site), which would cause a 404 error if anybody tried going anywhere else on the old site. With this plugin, any 404 error simply redirects now to the homepage of the new site – meaning any links that may have been pointing to the old site were now pointing to the new site.

Note: After a brief discussion with my mastermind group about this – I probably shouldn’t have redirected anything from the old domain to the new one. In their opinion, I should have just completely squashed the old domain.

Did it Work?

It appears that the change did in fact make a difference! I started the original site on Dec. 28th, 2013. After nearly 3 weeks, I never even showed up on the radar in any of the search engines. I made all of these changes around 7am on Jan. 16th, 2014. When I got home from work that night, I checked my rankings around 9pm. 14 hours later and I was already showing up in both Yahoo and Bing! Still nothing in Google – but this was definitely a positive sign. As I finish up this post on the morning of Jan. 21st, I am currently ranking at #69 in Yahoo and #110 in Bing and still not at all in Google. MajesticSEO and Ahrefs each show only one link currently pointing to the new site.

So yes! I do believe that I correctly identified the problem and at least somewhat correctly solved it. I’m eager now to get a few quality links pointing to the new domain and see how it starts to rank.

Readers: Have you built a site on a bad domain? Did you try running any of your sites through the tools I mentioned in this post? I would love to hear about it in the comments.

Remember that there are several dumb ways to create passive income online, but only one site that is blogging about it! Dumb Passive Income… dot com.

-Matt

Photo Credit – John Jones via Flickr

  • Neeraj

    Why dont you directly check your domain on whois.sc/example.com . it will tell you if it was registered previously

    • http://dumbpassiveincome.com/ Matthew Allen

      Good point Neeraj. I didn’t check before because I was dumb and not that sophisticated. Definitely another tool to add to my list of things to check before buying domains. Thanks for sharing!

  • Drew Brown

    I have a site with an EMD that generates some traffic for secondary keywords, but I’ve been frustrated by it’s never having ranked in Google for the primary keywords. It never occurred to me prior to reading your post that the domain may have been penalized because of use by a previous owner. After reading your post, a quick archive.org search confirmed it. Frustrating… but grateful to finally understand it. Next step, choosing a more brandable domain, and moving the site. Thanks Matt!

    • http://dumbpassiveincome.com/ Matthew Allen

      I’m really happy that my post helped you out Drew! That’s why I do this. Good luck with moving the site to your new domain.

  • http://www.northcarolinaeviction.com/ Don Shelton

    Superb points for beginners in MNS. Wish somebody had pointed this out when I first started :) . I would agree with just squashing the old site without redirects. I don’t see an upside, and at a minimum you’re paying domain registration on the old site.

    • http://dumbpassiveincome.com/ Matthew Allen

      I was just going to keep the redirects active for a while – only because I pay to use SocialADR and I had a bunch of SocialADR bookmarks already pointing to the posts on the old domain. Now I am re-thinking this strategy and probably will just squash the old site entirely.

  • Misty

    This always scares me when I purchase a domain. Sometimes I know the domains are previously owned, but the domains are so good I don’t want to pass them up. I will admit though, I always get nervous about it. I’m glad you found yours so quickly though. Imagine getting 50 posts or more into this with plenty of backlinks. The pain! Best of luck Matthew!

    • http://dumbpassiveincome.com/ Matthew Allen

      No kidding Misty – the 50 posts in part wouldn’t bother me because it’s easy to move to a new domain. The backlinks though is the killer. So glad I hadn’t started building any good backlinks yet.

  • doug stewart

    Hey Matt, great post, this was something that I haven’t even thought about in the past but will now add into my domain buying process.
    In relation to using SocialAdr I was wondering if you use their WordPress plugin?

    • http://dumbpassiveincome.com/ Matthew Allen

      Absolutely Doug – the WordPress plugin for SocialADR has made the process SO much easier. Now I only have to tweak a few settings within the post editor before I hit publish and it gets sent to SocialADR automatically.

      • doug stewart

        Thanks Matt, I was hoping to get good feedback from you :). I did use SocialAdr in the past but was doing it manually e.g. logging into SocialAdr. I only just noticed their WordPress plugin, I’ll be using it from now on.

  • http://nichesiteproject.com/ Doug cunnington

    Hey Matt – I’m sure you were thrilled to find the domain available…that’s a real bummer about the old history.

    Let us know when the site gets indexed by Google. It sounds like you have fantastic keyword/niche!

    • http://dumbpassiveincome.com/ Matthew Allen

      Thanks for reminding me that I need to update the post Doug. The site is indexed and already ranking at #79 in Google with only a few SocialADR backlinks showing!

  • http://www.teachmewebsites.com/ Scott Barnes

    Good stuff Matt! Quick question, have you found that an EMD is also hurting your secondary keywords? I’ve got a niche site EMD(that is admittedly light on content) and google won’t rank any of the secondary keywords. Even have quite a few #1 on Bing, but nothing on google.

    Checked the site and there haven’t been any penalties. I’ve been racking my brain tweaking keyword density but google won’t touch it. Trying to decide if I should throw a lot of backlinks at it or just give up and cut my losses.

    • http://www.teachmewebsites.com/ Scott Barnes

      Just wanted to also let you know that I just found this site and I wish I had found it a year ago. I read through most of your posts and it seems like you went through the same struggles and gravitated to the same resources about a year ahead of me.

      Would have saved myself some money and hours of my life if I would have found your site sooner.

      Keep up the good work!

      • http://dumbpassiveincome.com/ Matthew Allen

        Haha! – I appreciate the kind words Scott. I hear ya on “wasting” hours of my life on learning this internet marketing stuff – but then again, I don’t really consider it a waste at all. I never would have learned so well if I didn’t screw up so much and make so many dumb mistakes. Glad to have you along.

    • http://dumbpassiveincome.com/ Matthew Allen

      Scott – I don’t think the fact that your site is an EMD has anything to do with it. “Light on content” is what sticks out to me. I think Page Authority and Domain Authority have a lot to do with it. The two best ways I know of to increase these is to add more content and get more backlinks. Make sure the secondary posts are minimum 500 words (more is better) and make sure you link your pages internally (I use a simple WP plugin to do this – nRelate). My guess is that when your authority stats go up your rankings for your secondary keywords should also start to show up.

      I share your frustration with Google rankings for sure. I’ve spent a lot of time and money on sites that I thought would rank really easily – and never ended up ranking. I hate to “cut my losses,” in these cases – but sometimes it’s the best thing to do.

  • http://www.mymoneydesign.com/ MyMoneyDesign

    Very useful stuff Matt! I’m going to have to take down one of my niche sites that got penalized and basically do everything you did here when I move it to a new, non-EMD URL. This a great resource you’ve put together.

    • http://dumbpassiveincome.com/ Matthew Allen

      You know me MMD – I aim to please! Hopefully you didn’t spend too much time or money getting links pointing to your bad domain. I still don’t know if 301 redirecting from the bad domain to the new one was the right thing to do… but it seemed to work for me. After only a couple of days my new site showed up in the top 100 in Google. Good luck with your site. Let me know how it goes.

  • John Devlin

    Hi Matt,

    Interesting!

    I have 2 x sites that are built on expired domains, both cases I have done the same, 6 or 7 posts design work etc, One is ranking for lots of searches but around 100 – 300 in google, I expected this to go in and climb because it has a huge backlink profile and now solid content, Homepage alone is 2500 words, this is a partial match domain.

    Its been 3 months and it has great metrics but nothing to shout about rankings wise.

    The other has an unbelievable relevant back link structure with 40 + super relevant referring domains, again I have done all the work here.

    Ive had confirmation from google through Manuel actions that this site has been purchased and spammed and will not be meeting their criteria.

    What would you do now, I had just given up on them to be honest, I fairly new to this and it seemed way over my head.

    I can see now I can bring these sites to a new domain and save the content and the design etc, but what about the links? This was the primary reason I got them, trying to start with plenty of relevant links as abit of a head start.

    Any advice on where to go now would be appreciated.

    Thanks

  • Jayce DeYoung

    Hi Matt,

    After reading your article, I looked up the new domain I have been working on. It turns out that this was an expired domain that was last in use in 2011. (Thanks for writing about this so others could know!) It was a low-quality site without too much content, but I don’t see any glaring SEO errors. There is only one old back link to speak of. Since my site is so new, I’m really not sure if there is a Google penalty or not. Some of my pages are ranking low, but I am still adding content. How do I figure out the difference between low rank due to newness, and low rank due to the old site being low quality?

    Isn’t Google smart enough to tell the url was down for 3+ years and that the new site is much different?

    Thanks in advance for your reply.

    • http://dumbpassiveincome.com/ Matthew Allen

      You would think Google would be smart enough Jayce. To figure out if your domain was ever penalized, check out the link in the post for sistrix.com. It’s a pretty neat tool. If your domain was penalized at some point, that could be the reason for low rankings. If it was penalized, I would strongly consider moving to a new domain.

  • Jason Hill

    Good stuff Matthew, how’s that site doing now? I’ll be sure to check new domains from now on!

    • http://dumbpassiveincome.com/ Matthew Allen

      The site now – ranking #6 for main keyword in Google and moving up. Getting over 100 visitors per day from tons of different long tail keywords and starting to make Amazon sales almost daily! Definitely a good move.

      Glad I was able to help you a bit Jason.

      • Peter Hurford

        Why do you not share the names / URLs of your niche sites (with the exception of the case study)?

        • http://dumbpassiveincome.com/ Matthew Allen

          Good question Peter. There are a few reasons I (and most others who blog about this publicly) don’t share most of my niche sites. 1. Keep the niche a secret – I might find a great niche that I don’t necessarily want a bunch of other people to know about because they might build a site in that same niche and try to outrank me. 2. Negative SEO – there are some genuine idiots out there who will waste precious time and/or money doing negative SEO on sites just to mess with the owner. It’s happened to Spencer Haws and Pat Flynn on their past public case studies. It’s even happened to one of my sites (one that I did not share). Not sharing lowers that risk.

          • Peter Hurford

            I don’t know. It’s your site, so do what you want, but I personally think it hurts your credibility not to share your sites and does a disservice to us readers who want to know what you’re up to and how it works, beyond just your articles.

            Of course, it would make sense to wait until it’s running first to share, but I don’t think any of us would be able to outcompete you or even would want to. Also, you’re cutting yourself off from negative feedback.

            Negative SEO would be a problem, but apparently it happens even when you don’t share. And Pat Flynn seems to have done fine. ;)

            But I’ll enjoy your writing nonetheless, so keep at it.

          • http://dumbpassiveincome.com/ Matthew Allen

            I understand all of your thoughts on this issue Peter – but I am still unwilling to put all of my sites at risk by sharing them publicly. The credibility aspect is one that I think of often and is partly why I wanted to do the public case study. Believe me – I would love to show off some of my good sites that are earning decent money – but I just don’t want to ruin a good thing. There are people out there who will do what they can to destroy a site just because it is owned by someone like me who shares his income reports publicly. And yes, Pat Flynn is doing fine – but he can certainly afford to take the risk. Spencer’s site that got hit with negative SEO never fully recovered.

          • Peter Hurford

            I understand your concern. What about sharing the sites in abstract terms? Like “my home coffee site” versus “my Amazon-selling site”?

  • Ivan

    Hi, great post as always, wath tool do you find the best to se the rank of a site?

    • http://dumbpassiveincome.com/ Matthew Allen

      Proranktracker.com

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