Buying links that others earned… Why not?

Juan Gonzalez
I studied Regional Studies of Latin American at the University of Cologne - Germany, majoring in "Business Informatics“. I also studied Business Administration and currently I’m doing a Master in International Business Administration. I feel a fascination with SEO and the people who make it possible.
7. September 2016 13 Comments
If you have the budget for it, then the easiest way to push your domain on Google is by buying an entire domain full of links, that others had to earn through long years of hard work, and then redirecting all content to your domain. If the domain grew organically over the years then many of the links may have been set by users who actually found the content useful which makes them good links. If you indeed go this route, then please remember that the most important thing is that you offer the same - or at least similar but better - content on your own site, as was available on the old one. Always think of the users who will click on the old links and then get redirected to your new content. If you always optimize for Google's users and not just for Google alone, then you will likely be on the safe side. Please also consider that, while Google's Gary Illyes has confirmed that “30x redirects don’t lose PageRank anymore“, I think that 301 redirects are still the best answer from a technical perspective. First, because the redirects are indeed "permanent" and second, because they have proven to work well (never change a wining team!). In order for you to make an informed decision for a purchase, you should run a detailed evaluation of the link profile for the domain you want to buy beforehand: 1 - Does the link profile meet your own expectations and quality standards? 2 - Is the domain and its content relevant to the topic of your website? 3 - Are the domain's backlinks also relevant for the topic or your website and are they “valuable” links for the target site (your website)? 4 - Is the domain popularity at an acceptable (high) level? 5 - What about the nofollow-ratio? Let's look at some examples!

Lowcostholidays.com to Loveholidays.com

Visibility Index for Loveholidays.com on Google.co.uk

The budget tour operator Lowcostholidays.com has gone bust in July, 2016, and the domain Loveholidays.com is now profiting from redirected content. It is not clear if they have purchased the content on Lowcostholidays.com. The only page that is not redirected is the startpage on Lowcostholidays.com, as the insolvency administrator is obligated by law to inform possible creditors about the bankruptcy.

When we look at the Visibility graphs for both domains we can quickly notice the switch.

Visibility Index for Loveholidays.com and Lowcostholidays.com on Google.co.uk.

Next, we have two examples for how the content is being redirected between Lowcostholidays.com and Loveholidays.com:

-Right: The content on Loveholidays is fitting for the old content on Lowcostholidays: Lowcostholidays.com/italy-holidays.htm. The user expects to see hotels in Italy and gets to see hotels in Italy (We can use the Wayback Machine to see a snapshot of what the page looked like before the redirect)

-Wrong: Some of the old content is redirected to the next higher category page, when the fitting sub-page is missing. An example for this is Lowcostholidays.com/germany-holidays.htm. Once again, the user expects to find what the URL promises, hotels for a holiday in Germany. What they get instead, is Loveholidays.com/holidays/. The user will likely feel cheated and Google will consider this behavior as a soft 404 error.

Urbanspoon.com to Zomato.com

Visibility Index for Zomato.com on Google.co.uk

About 2 years ago, Zomato.com started an acquisition spree around the word: Menumania.co.nz, Lunchtime.cz, Obedovat.sk, Gastronauci.pl, Cibando.it and many more became part of their domain portfolio. The most important acquisition of them all was the Seattle-based food portal Urbanspoon.com, in January 2015. Zomato took over the content from Urbanspoon and correctly redirected the URLs to their new homes. This led to a significant increase in their UK Visibility:

Visibility Index for Zomato.com and Urbanspoon.com on Google.co.uk

On the US American market, the combination of Zomato and Urbanspoon created an environment, where Zomato.com took over Urbanspoon’s Visibility and also managed to stop the long-term downward trend that was chipping away the Visibility for Urbanspoon:

Visibility Index for Zomato.com and Urbanspoon.com on Google.com

Qualityinn, Comfortinn, Sleepinn, Comfortsuites to Choicehotels.com

Visibility Index for Choicehotels.com on Google US

This is actually a case of a domain consolidation for all the different brands belonging to Choicehotels.com. While, at first, the jump in Visibility looks decent, not all is well in the state of Choicehotels.

In February 2016, I released a blog post on Searchenginewatch.com where we comment: “The redirects are sound but the only hazard may be the fact the consolidated domains still return a 200 status code when a Googlebot user agent visits. It might be a good idea for them to fix this potential cloaking problem soon.“

7 Months later, we can still see some of the supposedly consolidated domains ranking on Google, for months at a time. That may be the reason why Google was not able to understand the move and why it has not passed all the link power to Choicehotels.com:

Visibility Index on Google US for Qualityinn, Comfortinn, Sleepinn and Comfortsuites

Quality before Quantity: Hipertextual.com and Giga.de

Hipertextual.com is now very popular in Spain and Latin America. It is the result of a consolidation of a number of websites and blogs (Bitelia.com, Altfoto.com, Appleweblog.com) to Hipertextual.com, last year. They managed to now offer almost the same content but at a higher quality than what the old domains had to offer:

Visibility Index for Hipertextual.com on Google.es

This German technology infotainment and news site, Giga.de, purchased and successfully redirected Macnews.de, Winload.de an other domains unto itself. Unlucky for us, Giga.de has become so big that it is difficult to even see the redirected domains on the chart: The first consolidation happened on October 2011 (1), the next in August 2012 (2) and another in October 2014 (3):

Visibility Index for Giga.de on Google.de

Final thoughts

This approach should not and must not be your only method of link building. You should also work with deliberation and the necessary sensitivity. Always keep in mind that the motto of sustainability is “quality before quantity”.

In addition to that, it is not guaranteed that the existing links of the purchased domain will remain active after being redirected to your own website. If a webmaster notices that the content to which they linked suddenly redirects to different content on another domain, they may simply remove the link. This case would apply for example, when the new content does not meet the quality standards of the linkgiver.

Where the technical aspects are concerned, I would recommend using 301 redirects. You can also take a look at our “Ask SISTRIX” article “Can I buy an existing domain to strengthen the backlink profile of my website through 301 redirects?” for more information.

I hope you like it!

7. September 2016, 12:42

If done right, it is a very worthwhile strategy, but for every one that works, there are hundreds that don’t. People think that any old domain will do the job and most set themselves up for a fail.

Top work Juan 🙂

Andy

Juan Gonzalez
7. September 2016, 15:21

Hi Andy,

Good to see you here! Thank you for your kind words 🙂

You are right: It is not simply a game of “redirect any content on domain A to whatever content on domain B“. What you need to have is “redirect quality content on domain A to content of the same or better quality – and on the same topic – on domain B“. Small but very important distinction 🙂

Have a nice and successful day!

Juan

7. September 2016, 12:44

Good post Juan. I think this is a good strategy, but primarily from a content acquisition perspective, with links being an additional benefit.

I once had a client, in the escort niche, who went ahead and bought and redirected 100+ other sites. Just ended up with a penalty.

On another note, I think there could be a market for existing high traffic content (with links) for sale by redirection. Haven’t seen this anywhere before. e.g. I have a post on a site that gets 6,500 visitors per month and has 12 quality linking domains, I’d sell and redirect for a price.

Juan Gonzalez
7. September 2016, 15:19

Hi Gareth,

thank you for sharing your experience and visiting us!

If you redirect content on a site that is in one of Google’s filters, they it may also happen that you redirect the filter to the new site. Would explain the penalty.

As far as the new potential market for redirecting high traffic content is concerned, I will go out on a limb and just quote big G’s Quality guidelines:

„Avoid tricks intended to improve search engine rankings. A good rule of thumb is whether you’d feel comfortable explaining what you’ve done to a website that competes with you, or to a Google employee. Another useful test is to ask, “Does this help my users? Would I do this if search engines didn’t exist?““

Have a nice and successful day!

Juan

michael
7. September 2016, 14:31

“The user will likely feel cheated and Google will consider this behavior as a soft 404 error.” That’s not a soft 404.

Juan Gonzalez
7. September 2016, 15:30

Hi Michael,

Thank you very much for visiting us!

It is a Soft-404 🙂

I would like to quote John Müller : “We call a URL a soft-404 when it is essentially a placeholder for URLs that no longer exist, but doesn’t return 404″

You can find more information about soft-404 here or here.

Have a nice and successful day!

Juan

Leo
7. September 2016, 15:08

There is no possible way Google see this as a legitimate form of link building. I wonder if they’ll have a penalty heading their way now you’ve outed Love Holidays for this?

Juan Gonzalez
7. September 2016, 15:45

Hi Leo,

Thank you very much for visiting us!

Please think of it from the position of a user: You have been using a certain domain for years and have been happy with the quality of the service you get there. When this domain gets purchased (as happens quite often in the digital world) and you go to your bookmarked page, you get redirected to a different domain which has the same or very similar content. If this content satisfies your search intent then you go home a happy camper. This scenario should not be a problem at all for Google, as they can still return the „best possible result“ to their users. The only difference is that, now, it is on a different domain.

Google knows very well what is happening here, then the content was already redirected and re-indexed. If Google really had much of a problem with this, then, Hipertextual.com, Giga.de, Zomato.com, etc. might see quite a different chart pattern today.

Have a nice and successful day!

Juan

Harold
7. September 2016, 16:06

Hi Juan,

In your example for lowcostholidays.com why do you think that redirecting old content to the next higher category page is cheating the user? And a soft 404?

Regards

7. September 2016, 16:34

Yup, that’s the core principle behind building private networks – as solid as can be

7. September 2016, 17:22

This is an appropriate strategy in certain circumstances, sure. But very few defunct but worthwhile sites aren’t picked up by domain catching and auctions. And for established but ongoing sites, normally the price isn’t going to be cost effective.

Dawn Anderson
8. September 2016, 08:56

Indeed. Very similar to concept of ‘acquisition SEO’ but without the high price ticket. Nice study Juan as always 🙂

michael
9. September 2016, 14:52

Hi Juan,

I don’t think it is a soft 404. That page redirects to another page to an above level in a different domain. The soft 404 is a bit different and in most of the cases is when a website does not serve a 404 page and instead redirects to a custom 404 page that in real is a 200.