Examining Backlink Profiles in Domain & Ranking Evaluation

What domainers may want to learn before purchasing a domain + ranking package

Have you ever been approached by someone trying to sell you a domain with a ranking attached? This counter-intuitive conundrum comes up consistently among my colleagues. If the domain is already ranking, why is the current owner not simply trying to monetize the traffic instead of the domain? I’m an advocate of buying sites with solid link profiles, as I’m sure every SEO is, but I’m not a fan of buying sites based on a current ranking without some investigation into the nature of where that ranking came from. Sometimes you buy a horse, and come home with a donkey.

In this article I would like to go over the methodology I employ in these situations – a good old fashioned backlink profile examination for domain and ranking value. I’m actually going to use a real-world example simply because the concepts will come across with greater ease, and because I know that in SEO, a little solidity goes a long way. I’m not trying to out anyone for anything – as you’ll see my conclusion isn’t completely conclusive anyway – if you happen to own the site I’m talking about, good for you, you’ll likely end up selling it for profit.

The domain in question is www.ejewelrysale.com

They approached with the promise of opening some traffic and sales stats – they rank #1 at google.com for the phrase ‘jewelry sale’, and they claim to have been around since 2004. They have over 1000 pages indexed at Google, and while their on-site SEO does not look spectacular (first glance reveals a lack of silos, a reciprocal link with their seo company, no canonicalization etc.) they do have a number of pages that are optimized enough that they may rank on a range of secondary key-phrases. They are a TBPR 4. A linkdomain: command at Yahoo reveals almost 19,000 links.

Pretty attractive at first glance – but a little more off-site SEO examination shows a bit of wooly bully.

Before we dive right into the backlink profile, lets start with checking the date for the domain – Okay yes it appeared in 2004, but the first time it appeared with any content at all was the very end of December 2006 – so in reality they have been around about two years.

Now it’s time to check the back-link profile. Though we can’t really know anything temporal about their link acquisitions (besides what hints at), we can certainly get a good look at where they’re getting links from and in what manner.

From a regular Yahoo prompt search this query:
Linkdomain:ejewelrysale.com –site:ejewelrysale.com

The format we’re using above keeps us from being pulled into Yahoo Site Explorer. Scan the resulting links and search for domains showing up more than once, or that look suspicious. We’re trying to find site-wide links so that we can eliminate them and get a cleaner look at their link profile.

Remove the suspected site-wide links with the addition of another –site: command.

linkdomain:ejewelrysale.com -site:ejewelrysale.com -site:icedotgear.com

Looks like about 100 links were from icedotgear.com, but this icedot thing seems prevalent in the link SERPs.

Add some more:
linkdomain:ejewelrysale.com -site:ejewelrysale.com -site:icedotgear.com -site:icedoutgearworldwide.com -site:icedoutgear.com -site:icedoutgear.de -site:icedoutgear.co.uk -site:www.icedoutgear-shop.co.uk -site:icedougtear.com

Now we’re down from 18,800 links to 4,440. We have a significantly cleaner list to look at – any more potential site-wides?

Tack on another: -site:resultspage.com

Okay, now we’re down to about 1,000 from the initial 18,800. This is their real link profile. And honestly at this point, it could still be a decent link profile – the site-wides could have all been innocent enough (okay obviously not because of all the icedout stuff, but that’s just this example) – now we have to evaluate the real-looking links that make up the remaining thousand pages.

Go, surf them – use your intuition to determine if this looks like a healthy, natural back-link profile built up over the life of the site.

What I see are a number of domains like the following: http://www.laketahoejewelry.com/blog/50ct-pear-cut-ruby-3-diamond-pendant/, http://jewelerysale.com/, http://www.jewelryworld.info/, http://ejewelrysale.info/, http://cheapjewelrygift.info/, http://www.ejewelrystore.info/

There are a mix of semi-legitimate sites, but a very large portion of the back-link profile appear to be low-value domains in the jewelry theme. Chances are these sites were all created by the SEO firm (I wouldn’t be surprised if the SEO firm owns the main domain in this case), some crap links were gathered for them to give them a tiny bit of page rank, then those links were ‘laundered’ via themed domains to the ejewelrysale.com domain.

This, in combination with some site-wide links on larger domains, is enough to get some semi-competitive, attractive looking rankings, like jewelry sale.

Their SEO process was obviously effective to some degree – as Google is indeed ranking them for this term and some stems of it, and they are presumably generating traffic and sales or they wouldn’t have offered to open those stats when they solicited the sale.

But herein lies the rub: if the SEO firm is controlling the entire back-link profile of the site, and it seems in this case that they very well may be, then they could simply take their network and decide to make another domain the primary jewelry site, drop the links to ejewelrystore.com, and get a similar ranking on another domain – then try to find someone to sell it to all over again.

Would you buy this domain?

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