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.


There 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.


You 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.

Morgan Linton

Morgan Linton