Hit the Jackpot! How to Find Money-making Domains

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Investing in registered or expired domains can increase the visibility of your Website and help direct traffic that will convert to sales. However, with over 60 million domains currently registered, it can be daunting to try to find the right domain — one that will drive quality traffic to your Website or parked domain.

How can you ensure you’re making the right decision when you purchase registered and expired domains? Do your research and you’ll feel confident in your purchase.

In this article, I’ll explain the tools and techniques domain pros use to determine — or at least reasonably guesstimate — how much, and what type, of traffic a domain receives. Armed with this knowledge, you’ll be able to predict approximately how much money a given domain will make, and thus gain a better understanding of the domain’s true value. We’ll discuss three methods for evaluating the traffic a domain receives:

  • Trackers/Direct Methods
  • Predictors/Indirect Methods
  • Traffic Source

The educated buyer always comes out ahead, so read on to unlock the mysteries of domain traffic and learn how to determine scientifically if a domain is really worth buying.

Trackers/Direct Methods

Ideally, you could skip all of the guesswork and find out how much traffic a domain receives directly from the domain owner. The easiest way to do this is simply to ask the seller. However, the seller may make a mistake (or simply be dishonest), so it’s always a good idea to double-check the numbers using one or more of the following methods.

Developed Website

Traffic counting scripts are one of the simplest and most reliable methods for determining traffic to a developed Website. Many free professional statistics programs are available. These can be integrated easily into Website code to give buyers the additional reassurance of a third-party-verified system. Most trackers will provide sellers even more information, such as top referrers, the geographic and chronological breakdown of visitors, and more.

Parked Domains

If a domain name is parked, the parking program may make traffic statistics available automatically through the domain’s sales listing page. For example, at the time this article was written, the traffic attracted by the parked domain, Wifi.com could be viewed on the domain’s sale page.

It’s worth noting that visitor numbers can be manipulated by malevolent sellers, but in general, parked domain visitor stats serve as a very helpful guideline for potential buyers.

Predictors/Indirect Methods

What should you do if a domain is not parked and the seller is unable to provide you with visitor statistics? Fortunately, a few handy tricks can be used to help you get a rough indication of whether or not a domain receives any traffic.

I wouldn’t recommend relying exclusively on any of these tricks as a bulletproof way to guesstimate traffic. However, taken as a whole (and with a hefty spoonful of salt), they can shine a bit of light on the question of whether or not a domain will receive valuable traffic.

Alexa.com

Alexa ranks web sites based on the number of visitors they receive. For example, at the time this article was written, Yahoo.com ranked first, while blue.com ranked at 212,093 and camera.com at 717,298. These rankings are based on data derived from Alexa toolbar users. Translating these numbers into unique views, Camera.com received over 10,000 unique views in the month of September while Blue.com received over 70,000 uniques. (Statistics from Sedo.com).

Many high-traffic domain names will receive an Alexa ranking just from their type-in traffic. In general, an Alexa ranking under 1,000,000 for an undeveloped site is a good indicator that the domain receives decent traffic (e.g. several thousand monthly uniques). Rankings over a million are less reliable, but usually any sort of Alexa ranking means the domain receives at least some traffic. As with all of these methods, Alexa should be used as a guideline only: sometimes even domains for which Alexa returns "No Data" (too low to rank) will still receive traffic. Ranking.com offers a tool that’s similar to Alexa’s.

Overture Searches

Yahoo! Search Marketing’s Keyword Selector Tool (known to many of us as Overture) tells you how often a given keyword was searched on the Yahoo! network. For example, "Yahoo" was searched 17,858,229 times in September 2005, while "Blue" was searched 178,124 times.

Naturally, a domain that contains a highly-searched keyword is more likely to receive traffic. However, the Overture Tool’s usefulness goes beyond that: if you use the exact domain name (with extension) as the keyword, Overture results can be used as a predictor for whether or not a domain name receives traffic. For example, "Yahoo.com" was searched over 11 million times in September, according to Overture. Our comparison sites fared as follows: "Blue.com" was searched 794 times, while "Camera.com" was searched 258 times.

Research has shown that Overture searches do sometimes have a rough correlation with traffic (especially type-in traffic), but as with other methods, there are many exceptions to the rule.

Traffic Source

If you want to better understand something, go to the source. This aphorism applies to domain traffic just as well as it does to other information. Thus, in addition to using the above methods to guesstimate the quantity of traffic a given domain receives, you may want to use these techniques to try to determine the source of that traffic.

Traffic source will affect the longevity and conversion of the traffic. In simpler terms, it will have a huge impact on how much money the domain will make.

Link Popularity

A web site or formerly-developed domain name may receive traffic from old incoming links and directory listings. There are many online tools for checking link popularity; Marketleap.com offers one of the best tools.

The important thing to look for here is not the quantity of links, but their quality. A single link from a major web site may be worth thousands of links from smaller sites. The longevity of link traffic varies widely: a link from a news article may generate a flurry of traffic that lasts only a week, while a directory listing may continue to generate steady traffic for years. Another similar tool worth checking out is URLtrends.com.

Search Engine Listings

Search engine listings are a major source of traffic for many sites. You can guesstimate how much search engine-derived traffic a web site receives by looking at its "search engine saturation". This is an indicator of how often the domain appears in the various search engine indexes. Again, Marketleap.com offers an excellent tool for evaluating search engine saturation.

Just keep in mind that it’s also important to look at how high the site is listed and how often the keyword is searched. And don’t forget that search engine listings change frequently, so if this is the primary source of traffic, expect fluctuations!

Paid Fluctuations

Some traffic may be coming from PPC advertisements, exit popups or banner ads that the seller has bought. This is the shortest-lived traffic, because as soon as you buy the domain, the seller stops paying for the ads! The best way to determine traffic origin is to ask the seller about traffic sources and view the traffic logs. To ensure the logs are not modified, ask for access to the logs instead of screenshot of the statistics.

Without access to the logs, it can be difficult to determine if a domain is receiving paid traffic, but a savvy domain buyer will look for a few key pieces of evidence: do the domain statistics align with the Alexa ranking and the number of incoming links? For example, a domain that receives a couple hundred views a day, and has no Alexa ranking and very few incoming links from low-traffic sites may likely receive paid traffic. But don’t discount such domains out of hand: they may be receiving typo traffic (see below for more information) or may be a seasonal domain (such as one related to the World Series).

Expired Traffic

If a domain was formerly developed, some users may continue to visit because of old links and references, or simply because they remember the domain name. This traffic may continue for years, but naturally, it decreases with time.

If it’s not possible to speak with the current owner about the past development of the site, a few simple searches can help. In particular, use the hints above to examine the types of sites that link to the domain. With that information, you may be able to get some idea of the type of traffic that’s visiting the domain in search of old content. After the content is removed, many of the links will be updated or removed and this traffic will eventually dwindle or expire.

Typos and Variations

Don’t ignore traffic that’s diverted to the domain name as a result of typos from other high traffic sites. Check out the traffic that flows to similar or mistyped domains using the tools above. Also consider traffic generated from variations of names, such as an abbreviated form of your domain name, or an acronym. If these domains experience high volumes of visitors, there is a possibility that this will translate to high traffic levels for similar sites.

Alexa can be useful tool for doing this — it offers a feature that lists other web sites that visitors of a given domain also visit. For example, an Alexa search on the domain hotmial.com shows that many visitors to this domain also visit hotmail.com.

Find the Right Domain

Traffic is crucial for any revenue generating business on the Web. Finding the right domain with targeted traffic can take your business — and profits — to new heights. If you haven’t quite had the time to build that web site, simply park your domains, let your parking company place relevant advertisements on the domains’ pages, and sit back and monetize the traffic. Use the tools listed above to determine domain traffic and never make a wrong buying decision again.

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