It Has Probably Already Happened To You
by Jerry West, SEO Analyst
Updated July 15, 2010
This article covers the rising rate of fraud in the business of selling expired and used domains. This article was previously only available to our paid members of the SEO Revolution, but we are releasing it as a public service due to the high level of fraud that is currently in the market.
Recently I purchased some good domains from a broker that looked to be well established (they had good PageRank). However, when I “got them home” so to speak, they were far from what I had expected. In my investigation into this, it was clear that many of the domains being sold today from brokers and especially those on eBay are littered with fraud.
Domain names are investments, and any investment should researched. Never make the assumption that the domain broker has done this research for you. Chances are, they haven’t.
Just as there is fraud in PPC, there is also fraud in domain purchasing. Remember that. Just because the toolbar displays a PageRank of 5 doesn’t mean that is accurate.
First, let’s discuss the process and how the con artist works. Most SEOs and knowledgeable webmasters know the value of a high PageRank site. And how it can take months – even a year to get a solid PageRank 5 site. So, many SEOs and webmasters turn to purchasing domains to get a jump start on the process. Their thinking is, “If I spend a few thousand on this site, it will shave months off my work schedule.”
The thinking is sound, but unfortunately, the bad guys know you are thinking this and they take advantage of a “loophole” in the system that isn’t known to most SEOs.
The Google Toolbar. Google really didn’t know what they were starting when they first introduced it back in 2002. Now, millions of webmasters all have “Green Bar Addiction” and they watch their PageRank values as closely they do the stock market.
The Loophole: In order to protect their algorithm from their competition (Yahoo!,Microsoft and “black hat” marketers), they publicly show “delayed” PageRank. Much like the free stock quoting tools online are 15 minute delayed, the Google Toolbar is delayed too. Only, it isn’t just a few minutes, but 3-5 months!!
So, the PageRank you see displayed, is actually the PageRank the page had earlier in the year or last year! I am sure you know where this is going now.
Google updates their toolbar about once every three months. So, the con artist does one of two things, usually. The first is that they will hijack the PageRank of another domain. I won’t go into how this is done, so amateur thieves can’t replicate it. The second way they do this is that they will buy or beg for temporary links from other sites or networks, drive up the PageRank to a 5, 6 or 7 and once the toolbar updates, they cancel all the bought links. This lowers the real PageRank, the actual one, to zero. You see, even though Google “delays” the showing of the PageRank by a couple of months, they use the current values in their ranking process.
So, even though the site can “verify” it is a PageRank 5, the actual value is 0. You basically bought a “vapor domain.” Here is a systematic way to ensure what you are being sold is genuine. Your, “I gotta make sure this Rolex is really a Rolex” cheat sheet:
1. The first thing to do is to just go to the site directly and see if the PageRank is the same as advertised. Sometimes the con artist gets lazy and doesn’t realize a toolbar update happened and their “PR5” site is actually displaying “PR0”.
2. While you are there, look at the site. Is the domain online? Is the site still live or is there a “placeholder” page? If it is a placeholder, the domain is probably dead.
3. Next you want to look at the site’s history. When was the domain registered? To whom? Where is it hosted? Is it on its own IP or is it sharing with hundreds or thousands of other domains? What was the site before?
A great place to start your research is DomainTools.com . There you can find key information about when the domain was registered, where it is hosted, and if the domain has its own IP address or not. If it is sharing an IP address, you can access the Reverse IP Tool and often you can uncover networks of sites. This does require at least a Silver Membership which runs $15.00 a month. It will also tell you if the domain is on any black lists.
To find out what the site was before, you can use the Way Back Machine at www.archive.org . The reason you want to do this is if the domain you are wanting to acquire is currently a viable site but back in ’01 was a child porn site, you will want to pass for obvious reasons.
4. Is the site listed in the Google index? Just because it has PageRank, doesn’t mean it is still listed, so check. The best way to do this is to check the Google Cache. Do a query in Google for – cache:domain.com (home page check) cache:domain.com/subpage.html (sub page check). Please note that if there are no results that come up, the site could not allow Google to cache the site. If that is the case, use the site: command instead. I like using the “cache” command first as that allows me to see the most recently indexed page and what it looked like. If it is different than what is currently displayed, that could be a red flag.
5. Verify the PageRank is legit. In the domain buying space, PageRank is often faked – especially on eBay or other auctions. I have been a victim of this in the past.
So, how can you protect yourself? Easy. You can use a free tool over at SEO Logs. Just type in the domain and it will check. If it comes back and verifies that it is valid.
That was a lot to digest, I know, but this is how I make sure that I never get taken when buying domains. Getting ripped off is never something that is pleasant – and domain fraud is a killer, as your ability to recoup your loss is little or none.
Now you have the knowledge that you need in order to verify that what is being presented is real.
If you would like to watch a 13-minute video show casing the fraud and how to research potential domains buys, complete the form below.
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