Brand Development Case Study: From Expired Domain To Real Online Brand

Hello everyone and welcome to my latest case study that I’ll be running on my blog for the next couple of months. The idea for this case study came from DomainFuze! in a comment on my first domain development drop list. Here’s exactly what was said:

Since you’re just starting this series, I know I would profit greatly from following one of these domains through the entire life cycle, from drop list, to planning, to development/change in planning, challenges, etc.

So from great idea to real case study, here we are! The first step in the process is picking the right domain name for development. Below are the three main criteria I look for when buying a domain for development:

  1. Search Volume – this is the most important for me, I like to see at least 1,000 exact-match searches with reasonable traffic around related terms as well.
  2. CPC – I have a very simple way of looking at this – the higher the CPC the more valuable customers in this niche are to companies. I think of this as getting more bang for your buck or being able to sell your traffic at a higher price. Great example of this is a debt site I run vs. a sports site, they both get roughly the same amount of visitors and clicks but the debt site makes 10x what the sports site makes! If the CPC is below $0.50 I tend to ignore it
  3. PR and Backlinks of Competition – last but certainly not least I want to understand what level of SEO the top three sites in Google have done. If they are all PR 6 sites with thousands of backlinks it could take me years to beat them. My goal is to find a niche where the top sites are PR0, PR1, and PR2 if I can.

The first thing to understand about finding expired domains that are a good fit for development is that it can take a lot of searching. There are plenty of expired domains with good search volume and CPC, but finding one in a niche that isn’t overly competitive can be a challenge. On top of these three main conditions there are a few other qualities that I look for when building a brand:

  • Are the Twitter and Facebook usernames available? One of the core steps in building a brand is creating an active profile in the social media world. This is how you will engage contributors and build-up deeper connections with your visitors.
  • Who owned the domain name before it expired? I’m not a fan of the whole “finders keepers” methodology in the expired domain business. The last thing I want to do is buy a domain name that a company forgot to renew that they had been using for their business.
  • .COM, .NET, .ORG, .CO, .ME, or .US – these are the TLDs that I focus on and I give a major preference to .COM. A brand has infinitely more liquidity in .COM and it is much easier to sell direct ad space on a .COM domain since this does truly establish you as the category leader. You can still build a brand on any other TLD but if you want to be seen as the go-to brand for your keywords then go .COM or go home.
  • Can I think of at least five monetization options? If I can only think of one or two options to make money in a niche that’s not a good sign. You should be able to think of a zillion different ways to generate revenue. As you’ll see later in this case study, you may have to swap-out ads and try a number of different configurations and permutations until you get it right. This step in the process is definitely more of an art than a science but as with anything, if you put the time in, you’ll get the results.

Okay – so now you understand the specific criteria I’m using to evaluate a domain name for development. Please note that I’m not talking about building a five-page MiniSite and calling it a day. While all my brands start as MiniSites I’ll show you how to go step-by-step from vacant domain to full-scale brand. Now onto the fun part – finding that needle in a haystack!

To find expired domains my go-to tool is Protrada. What I really like about Protrada is their advanced filtering system that can allow me to search for domains that meet my specific criteria. I have made a number of filtersets within Protrada so I can quickly jump to domains that meet a specific criteria. As you can see from the image below, I have quite a good amount of filters which I can easily run anytime.

protrada_filtersetsThere is no one filter I can use to find the perfect domain for development, instead I run through the list looking at each set that meets my criteria. As you can see from above, search volume and CPC are both metrics that are very important to me and it’s easy to adjust these values and see the results in realtime.

protrada_datacubeYou can view search volume and CPC data in the datacube by selecting the “Value” tab. One of my favorite things about using Protrada is that you can use the “<” and “>” signs to set a cutoff point. I’ll often augment the search volume and CPC to see how the results change and if I might potentially find a name I would have otherwise missed.

Finding a good domain name with strong development potential is a bit like fishing. You have to be patient and know that you might not find the right domain today, tomorrow, or even the next day. Don’t get trigger happy, save your money for a domain that meets your criteria, not one that is close but happens to be expiring today. I don’t act on emotion, I act on data. When you’re selling domains things like intuiting and gut can make a huge difference, for development and building real brands data is the key.

I look forward to taking all of you along for this adventure. As soon as I identify my next development candidate I’ll post the next article in this series and review why I picked a particular domain and then being going through my process. Remember, I’m not going to just buy a name, throw up a website and call it a day. I’m going to go through step-by-step how to turn an expired domain into much more than a website, I’m going to show you how to rock your niche and build a real online brand.


{ 9 comments… add one }

  • Michael H December 13, 2011, 11:20 am

    Let me start by saying thank you. I’ve thanked you before for your videos and upcoming videos on YouTube with IGoldrush for developing, but THIS is just spectacular.
    This is INVALUABLE information for up and coming domainers such as myself. This will help guide me through bringing names that I know have development potential to online brands.
    This is the type of transparency that is rare in our industry and should be commended. It seems that most domainers are willing to help one another, but on the flipside, they keep the realllly good stuff to themselves. Keep up the awesome work Morgan and congratulations on all of your successes both inside and out (your recent engagement) of the industry.

    Many thanks,

    • Morgan December 13, 2011, 11:23 am

      @Michael – thank you so much for the kind words, I truly appreciate it! I look forward to sharing this case study, it’s going to be a lot of fun!

  • Leon December 13, 2011, 11:28 am

    Hey Morgan

    I think this is really interesting and will help a lot of people out. I for one will be looking out or the upcoming posts in this series.
    Incidentally, I recently came upon an expired name in a health niche. The domain is PR1, is ranked and currently sits midway down page 2. I thought it was a great find and I am now planning to develop it, get some SEO going and set up some social networking accounts. I want to create, not so much a brand, but at least a destination for help in this particular niche.

    I know you have outlined your PERSONAL stipulations and rules here but I would say that in most situations you don’t need to focus on search results too much when trying to determine the development potential of a domain. It’s important, yes, you wouldn’t waste your time and effort developing a domain in a niche that gets zero searches, but I do find that providing your domain is relative to a niche, that you write relevant, quality content and you set up your post titles to include searched for keywords, you will rank for other related terms anyway.
    So just because, I don’t know, “Effective Acne Vulgaris Trearments” doesn’t get quite as many searches as “How To Cure Acne”, it doesn’t mean you should necessarily dismiss the equivalent exact match domain (in this case as a potential development candidate.

    In addition to this, you mention how the PR of competing sites would inform your development decisions, however I would aso say don’t be too dissuaded by this. In the niche I am currently researching the site at the top of page 1 is PR2, there is a PR4 about three results down.

    Again, I know you are generalising and talking about what works best for you, but I just wanted to point my findings out.
    Oh, and when I sell my niche site for a nice chunk of change on Flippa I’d love to drop by and do a guest post! ; )

    • Morgan December 13, 2011, 11:35 am

      Hi @Leon, thanks for the positive feedback and the excellent and detailed comment! I love it and this is exactly the kind of discussion I was hoping for with this series!

      You bring-up some good points about search volume. Certainly if you can get a good deal on a domain and rank well for a number of long-tail terms you can make some money. That was the technique I focused on almost exclusively in 2008. Turns-out to be great for building sites that make $xx/month but not as good for sites that you want to make $xxx or $x,xxx/month. At the end of the day it all depends on your goals – for me, I don’t like to put the time, energy, and money into building a brand unless it can make over $100/month for me in the long-run. I don’t expect that out of the gate but would like that to be a very realistic goal.

      As for PR impacting development decisions I am much more concerned with link-profile than PR. If someone has 10,000 links many of which are from high-quality sites then it could take a very long time to get onto page one. Not impossible, but a lot more work. Remember, it’s not about the PR or the number of links as much as it is the quality of the links themselves and the anchor text they target.

      Also true, hard to make generalizations here, there are a zillion exceptions but I’m sharing what’s worked best for me. Looking forward to sharing the adventure together! Feel free to update me on how your own development project is going as well!

  • Jon December 13, 2011, 12:09 pm

    Thanks M, this sounds like a very interesting concept, and I for one will follow it with anticipation!. I can’t wait to see how a veteran like you builds a brand, and am especially looking forward to some tips on how you build backlinks!.

  • DomainFuze! December 13, 2011, 11:20 pm

    Thanks for the shout out! What to do w/my 15 minutes of fame…why, ask another question, of course! Following your blog, the thing that I’m most impressed with is your ability to juggle 37 projects at once, all outside of your day job. Domaining is also a 2nd job for me and I would love to hear any time management (hate that phrase) tips that allow you to be so effective. With the recent birth of our first, I see now that I USED to have all the time in the world. Now I’m scrambling to learn how to time juggle.

    Sorry for getting off on a tangent. Thanks for moving forward with this…pumped to follow a realtime adventure in domaining.

    • Morgan December 14, 2011, 9:11 am

      @DomainFuze! Excellent question and in fact I think this is also a great topic for an article. You’re not off on a tangent at all instead you’re asking all the right questions!

  • Jeff December 15, 2011, 7:54 am

    Thanks for taking the time to break your process down for us. I have been reading your blog for about 4 months and have learned a lot from you. I have been developing websites for 11 or so years and struggled for a long time to make money on them. It is just in the past year that I have really gained some traction. Your site has been invaluable to my endeavors.
    I look forward to comparing my processes to yours. I know I will learn a lot.
    I also have been planning a series like this and will being launching it soon.

    • Morgan December 15, 2011, 7:56 am

      Thanks @Jeff – really appreciate the positive feedback! Definitely shoot me an email when your series goes live, I’d love to read it!


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