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

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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!

Keywords Local Searches Avg KC
main keyword 1 1900 21
main keyword 2 1900 21
main keyword 3 1900 22
Secondary Keywords 50 9
article keywords 30 15
     “ 10 16
     “ 30 16
     “ 40 16
     “ 110 17
     “ 40 18
     “ 140 18
     “ 30 18
     “ 10 19
     “ 30 19
     “ 20 19
     “ 90 19
     “ 390 19
     “ 50 19
     “ 70 20
     “ 40 20

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