Clicky

Domain Analysis - The Art of Detecting Quality

By Tom B. - founder of T.B. Solutions

Contents:

Introduction

This article will discuss the recommended ways of approaching the hard and crucial task of researching domains for SEO purposes, so you'll have a good picture of their quality before you decide to purchase. Obviously, we all want to buy quality domains and get a return for our investment. That's why it's so important to understand which factors matter and which don't. As we'll see, some criteria are crucial to examine, while others should be ignored.

How not to analyze domains

In order to convince you that properly analyzing a domain is not trivial, we'll first go over some of the common ways in which people approach this task, and show that they are a mistake.

The common approaches we'll reject are:

Watch out for rank services

As we'll soon see, analyzing a domain properly is not an easy task. For that reason, many people are looking for shortcuts and prefer to "outsource" this annoying task by using various rank tools (like the ones mentioned above). But laziness doesn’t go without a penalty. These ranks, in most cases, are simply deceiving. They are far from reflecting the real SEO value of a domain. In other words, they are not a good indication for its quality. If you are looking for a smart investment of your money, relying on these ranks isn't much better than flipping a coin.

Why are we so hard with these ranks? Don’t they still hold some truth behind them? There are two main reasons why you should consider them pretty much useless:

  1. The algorithms behind these ranks rely almost solely on numbers and other dry details, ignoring crucial quality factors that are visible only to human beings. For example, automated tools will almost always fail to notice a domain that has been manipulated by spammers to achieve good grades. Google, on the other hand, are not so easily fooled. Besides the fact that they use much more sophisticated algorithms than any other tool trying to anticipate their decisions, they also use manpower themselves for sensitive tasks, especially when spam detection is involved. To conclude this point, you must understand that there's no real way to escape from some manual work when analyzing a domain, a manual work that must be done by you or by someone you trust.
  2. In many cases, the systems providing these ranks are relying on outdated data, not familiar with recent important updates. As we'll see later, holding a full updated backlink profile of a domain is the very minimum for coming to any conclusion about it. But even with such trivial basics, most services fail.

Google's PageRank – use it wisely

There's only one rank you should look at, which is the best of a bad lot – Google's PageRank. There are two reasons for why this rank is exceptional:

  1. With all the respect to all other services, none of them has resources even close to those possessed by Google. They have more computation power and more sophisticated algorithms than anyone else. Therefore Google's insights, reflected by their ranks, should be taken more seriously than everyone else's.
  2. Even more trivially than that, Google's opinion matters the most simply because their opinion is our purpose in the first place! When we speak about SEO, although the general term may refer to any general search engine, what we really mean is just Google (without offending Bing, or any other insignificant search engine). PageRank, although it has many flaws (as we'll soon see), is probably the only rank we can grasp when asking ourselves what Google truly thinks about a web resource.

Now, after the relevancy of Google's PR was explained, let us withdraw one step backward. It might be tempting to believe that we've found the Holy Grail, that in order to determine the quality of a domain one can simply peek at its PR and get everything he needs – a number from 0 to 10 telling him how good the domain is in the eyes of Google. But that would be a grave mistake. At this point, before we continue our journey towards the right techniques of analyzing domains, we must express some hesitations about Google's PR, which suffers from the following flaws:

For all these reasons, Google's PR should never be seen as the ultimate key to Google's mind. Rather it should be seen as no more than a pale shadow of what really happens in their secret halls and datacenters. If by holding a PR7 domain, you believe that you necessarily possess a valuable SEO asset, you couldn't be more wrong. Like in the example just given, even a PR9 domain can be nothing but a pure spam in the eyes of Google, which will cause you more harm than good. A PR3 domain can often have higher quality, and be better for SEO purposes, than a PR6 domain. As we'll later see, even a domain without a PR at all can have a powerful SEO impact.

Spammy backlinks – one of the greatest SEO dangers

Everybody knows that domains with many backlinks (preferably with PR, as we'll later see) are considered excellent for SEO. Unfortunately, spammers know this as well. Many of them use various techniques to artificially plant backlinks linking to their domains in inappropriate places. Their methods include:

While domain buyers are often fooled by these filthy techniques, Google have become very efficient in detecting and punishing spammers. It's not a secret that they've declared an all-out war against these methods. If you don't want to find yourself an innocent victim of this struggle, we strongly recommend avoiding domains with any spam history and spammy backlinks in particular. If the backlinks of a domain are infected with spam, then the domain is infected as well - run away from it.

More parameters that should be used with precaution

The "external backlinks" parameter is simple to define – how many URLs in the web are linking to your domain with a <a href = "…">…</a> HTML tag. It's tempting to think that more backlinks mean a better domain, but once again it's proven to be wrong. The reason why you shouldn't count on this parameter is that even after knowing it, you are still left with the most fundamental questions about the backlinks:

Many backlinks doesn't mean a lot of SEO value (and vice versa). Furthermore, the correlation between these two variables is very low. To demonstrate it, consider the following scenarios:

Number of referring IPs:

This time we don’t count the total amount of backlinks in the web, but only those with a unique IP address (meaning that we count each website only once, even if it has backlinks to our domain all over its pages). As we'll later see, this parameter is already much closer to what we are looking for, but it still isn't enough. For now let's just say that this parameter should be combined with some knowledge about the PR of the backlinks. It wouldn’t be accurate to say that sources without PR aren't important, because they might, but we don’t have any way to know it for sure.

Also, many times it turns out that a too high number of referring IPs (let's say over 300 as a rule of thumb) may imply that spammy activity has occurred with the domain. In such cases, we have an even stronger obligation to verify that it's not the case, as we'll later learn how to do.

The art of analyzing domains properly

Thus far our main interest was to learn how not to analyze domains and how to avoid the common mistakes made by SEO newbies. Now comes the more important and exciting part of this article, where we'll learn how pros do it. There are many parameters that can influence the SEO value of a domain, but we'll focus only on the most important among them, what will provide you a 90% image of the domain's nature – more than enough to make an educated decision.

The two mandatory steps you must go through, whenever you consider buying a domain are:

  1. Looking at the domain's backlink diversity
  2. Validating that it's natural and spam free

In addition, there are many other important factors that you should consider; we'll briefly cover these as well, later on.

From a SEO perspective, backlinks play the leading role in the quality of a domain. In fact, almost all the automated SEO ranks (including PR) rely almost solely on backlink values. Like the old saying "Tell me who your friends are and I will tell you who you are", the same goes with domains. If you have a good profile of a domain's backlinks, then you have a good profile of the domain as well.

Now, a crucial point that must be made clear is this - a good backlink profile must include high PR backlinks. Why is that? Haven't we said earlier that a domain's PR is only a pale shadow of its true SEO value? Doesn't the same go with backlinks? Well, maybe for a single backlink we can say that the same rule applies; but by looking at all the backlinks together, you start getting a pretty clear image of the quality. This simple truth is nothing but a direct result of the fundamental law of large numbers in statistics – when you deal with many variables (the PR of the all the domain's backlinks in this case), you are far less likely to get wrong than when you deal with a single variable (the PR of the domain itself). That's why you should look at the PR of the backlinks and not at the PR of the domain.

So now, when we are convinced that backlinks matter and that their PR matters, we're left to deal only with technical issues, primarily – how do we get a quick picture of a domain's backlink profile? We are looking for an effective way to measure the backlinks' quality, but such a way that ignores a recount of similar backlinks. We've already talked about this issue mentioning the "referring IPs" parameter as a good method to avoid the same backlinks counted more than once. Now we'll enhance this technique to what we call "backlink diversity".

There are many ways to define backlink diversity; each can achieve somewhat different goals. Here is a very simple yet efficient way to define it: For each IP referring to the domain, take only the backlink with the highest PR. Then simply count how many such unique backlinks are listed in each PR group. As simple as that.

If you find this formal definition to be somewhat baffling, the following example will make it crystal clear. Suppose we have a domain with the following backlinks:

Then its backlink diversity will be:

This backlink diversity is proven to be a very powerful parameter to judge the strength of a domain, even the most important one. Within the backlink diversity, you should pay extra attention to the diversity of the high PR backlinks. High PR backlinks are the backlinks with a PR equal to or greater than the PR of the domain. If the PR of our example domain was 6, then the most relevant part in its backlink diversity would be its two unique PR6 backlinks, which are the spine of the domain.

Of course backlink diversity cannot completely replace all other parameters and many of them are still important. Yet, they should all be examined in the light of the backlink diversity. Such important parameters are the number of different backlinks at each website. The fact that backlink-domain1.com holds three different backlinks (and not just one) is an important detail worth noticing, although it doesn't change the backlink diversity. Usually more backlink pages mean better backlink profile.

Let's conclude this section about backlink diversity. We've seen that the better the backlink diversity, the better the domain. In addition, the total number of backlinks also has a slight significance. But that's not enough. In order to make a good decision, it's also important to check the top backlinks, watching their quality in your own eyes in order to make sure that they are truly natural and spam-free. In the next section we'll explain how to do it. Luckily, because there is relatively a low number of high PR backlinks, this process isn't too hard. Moreover, we don't need to check each and every PR backlink to get a feeling about the domain's quality; it's enough to check only the main backlinks with the highest PR and make an assumption about the rest of them.

This section will explain how to validate that you are dealing with a natural domain, which is 100% spam-free, by looking at the domain's backlinks. But first, let's go back once more to why it is so important, and why, by all means, this step must never ever be skipped.

As you've most probably heard, Google's biggest enemy is spam. They've openly declared war on it. And like in real war, they aren't fooling around trying to break down those they believe to be their enemies. They don't have any inhibitions when it comes to taking steps against whom they consider spammers. Their actions are so aggressive that sometimes even innocent web owners, who are mistaken for spammers, get hurt in the way.

Therefore, you really don't want to deal with spam. As we've earlier stated, the best evidence for a domain's nature is its backlinks. What you are looking for is a domain with natural backlinks – backlinks that weren't placed for any malicious reason. Legitimate backlinks are only backlinks that were put by a decent web owner for the benefit of his visitors.

Now, when the rationale is explained, let's talk about practice – how can we judge whether a backlink is spammy or not? To do that we advise you to go over the following practices:

A real backlink should not only appear in the HTML code of its page, but also in the real visual page that is displayed to visitors. Even today, there is no backlink finding tool (like MajesticSEO or Ahrefs) that is sophisticated enough to filter out false backlinks. If a link anchor appears in the HTML code of the page, they will just put it in the backlink list without any further judgment. However, by systematical manual work, you will be able to find out the truth quite easily. Using Google's Chrome web browser, you can easily execute the following effective validation procedure:

  1. Open the URL of the backlink in Chrome.
  2. Press F12 to open the DevTools window and go to the 'Elements' tab.
  3. Inside this tab (where the entire HTML tree of the document is found), press Ctrl+F to initiate a search.
  4. Search for your domain name, until you reach the link anchor which supposedly links to your domain – the actual backlink.
  5. Then right-click on it and choose the 'Scroll into view' option. By keeping your mouse over the anchor element, the real link will highlight on your screen (if it truly exists).
  6. If you don't visually detect the link inside the web page or if you don't really get to your domain by clicking on it, then it's a false backlink and evidence for spam.

Although, this procedure is very effective and works in 95% of the cases, in some cases it can unjustifiably declare a backlink as spammy, when it fails to detect the link, although it exists (perhaps in a different tab within the same page). If the 'Scroll into view' doesn't take you anywhere, we suggest that you look around on the webpage a bit longer before giving up.

After you've detected the position of the backlink in the previous step, you should now judge whether it was put in the webpage for pure intentions, or perhaps planted there by a spammer who just wanted the link to contribute to his backlink profile. To answer this question, your best tool will be simple common sense. Also consider the following scenarios as ultra suspicious:

The following examples should be considered as dubious websites, where you don’t want your backlink to be:

If you follow the above practices, you should be pretty much covered, knowing that your backlink wasn't added by a spammer. Apply these same practices over the top backlinks of a domain and you can also have high confidence that your domain is legitimate and safe to use. Now you know that its backlink profile truly reflects its quality.

Other quality factors

In the previous sections we covered the two mandatory steps that must be taken for proper domain analysis – looking at the backlink diversity and validating the top backlinks. If you are too weary to continue reading, these two practices you've just learned will be sufficient for you to get a general notion about domains that you'll deal with from now on. However, if you wish to sharpen your analysis skills further and get a clearer image of the quality of domains, we suggest that you continue reading. In this section we would like to introduce you to a few more factors which may still be of importance to the quality of a domain. These factors are actually attributes of backlinks, but as you already know, the attributes that affect the quality of backlinks will also have an effect, indirectly, on the quality of the domain.

Authorization level:

As suggested earlier, the more authorized is the website in which the backlink dwells, the more it will contribute to the reputation of your own domain in the eyes of Google. The following marks indicate higher authorization level:

Position:

Links that are surrounded by relevant text are usually considered better than those that are simply listed out (like blogrolls) or appear in the footer.

The "external links" parameter is defined as follow: the total number of external links in the page of the backlink. "External" means that links to the same website of the backlink shouldn't be counted. For example, if a page links to your domain and two other websites, then its external links is 3 (even if it has dozen more links referring to other pages in the same website).

It is believed that the lower this number is, the more it will contribute to your domain (so having just 1 external link, only to your domain, is optimal). If this number is too high, it might indicate spam.

Risk:

Buying, building, and nourishing a domain until it grows SEO fruits usually takes a while, and the relationship between a domain and its owner is better to be seen as a long termed one. Therefore, you want to minimize the risk that something bad will happen to your domain in the future (like losing important backlinks).

For this reason, for each backlink that you analyze you should ask yourself the following question – what are the odds that it will be deleted in the future?

Age:

The most important factor to estimate the risk level of a backlink (the odds that it will be taken off some day in the future) is its age – when was it first added. It is quite reasonable to assume that the older is the backlink, the lower are its chances to be removed.

For example, a link from a 2010 article is not likely to be deleted if it hasn't been deleted so far. In general, links inside dated pages which are not dynamic (the content isn't updated automatically) are most likely to stay for good.

A nice tool that can greatly assist you in finding the age of backlinks is the Internet Archive. By searching your backlink's URL in the wayback machine, you can capture it at different time points to estimate its age.

Language:

Do all languages have the same quality? Although it's controversial, most SEO experts will agree that local languages (like Thai) are less strong than English, which is more generic. Therefore, you should slightly prefer backlinks that are placed in English websites (or at least with English anchor text).

Target URL:

The "target URL" of a backlink is the URL within your domain that the backlink redirects to (the value of the anchor element's 'href' attribute). Backlinks that direct to your homepage will usually have more power than backlinks directing to inner-pages.

ccTLD domains

Some say that only .com domains are good to look at (when analyzing a domain or its backlinks). This is nonsense. Most of the web is made of ccTLD websites, and they are just as good as any .com domain (unless a very specific usage is required). Generally, all domains are born equal and they should all be treated the same way during their analysis, regardless to their TLD (except of authority domains, as mentioned above, which hold a slight advantage).

The art of analyzing domains - summary

Let's summarize all the new stuff you've learned, so you'll have an easy-to-use checklist to go over whenever you're in the mood to start analyzing:

  1. Check the backlink diversity of the domain, pay special attention to high PR backlinks.
  2. Verify that the top backlinks are natural, make sure that they are:
    • real (exist in the page, not only in the HTML code)
    • placed within an appropriate context
    • placed inside a reputable website
  3. To further improve your judgment about the domain, you are better to also consider the following parameters of its backlinks:
    • authorization level
    • position
    • external links
    • risk
    • age
    • language
    • target URL

No escape from hard work

If all of the above seems to you like a lot of hard work to do just for analyzing a single domain, we are sorry to tell you that you are right. It does take some effort. But you must understand that there's no real way to escape from it, at least not if you are looking to make an educated decision (if you aren't, then you are better off to just roll a dice and end with it, as there are no better effective techniques for instant analyzing).

While automated tools can dramatically ease your work by presenting you with all the relevant information (such as backlink diversity, or link age for the top backlinks), they will never be able to make your final decision. There's no automated tool, nor will there ever be, that can give you a rank which represents the true quality of a domain. Even Google can't do that (they too use manpower for sensitive analysis tasks).

The only way to properly analyze a domain and to determine its quality is by doing it manually, like we've just demonstrated. And yes, at the end of the day you or someone you trust will have to work hard in order to find worthy domains.

The advertising section

As we've just said, someone will have to work hard in order to find and analyze worthy domains. But the good news is that this someone doesn't have to be you. If you trust someone to do the hard work for you, then you can outsource this time-consuming task to him, focusing on your real job. Allow us to convince you that we are worthy for your trust when it comes to this sensitive task.

T.B. Solutions is today known to be the leading vendor of high-quality natural domains in the entire SEO market. After years of experience in the field, we still take our job very seriously, as we manually analyze each and every domain in our inventory, not only making sure that it's completely spam-free, but also pricing it according to its overall quality (after considering all the factors we mentioned in this article, and some more).

Earlier we said that there isn't a numeric rank which can fully reflect the quality of a domain. Well, that was a half-truth. While we still stand behind this statement regarding all the automatic machine-generated ranks, with hard manual work (like we do at T.B. Solutions) this goal can be achieved. Our prices are exactly this sort of rank. They aren't random, nor do we make them by arbitrary caprices; they are the result of a long process of hard work and difficult judgments. Our prices fully reflect the quality of the domains. So the higher the price, the higher the quality of the domain. What you pay for is what you get, as simple as that.

If you want to quickly grasp some high-quality domains, we strongly suggest that you try our service. We have a varied inventory of excellent domains, with a wide range of PRs and prices. Using our domains and experience, we can deliver the ultimate solution for your needs.

You can find our domain list at the home page of our website. After signing up and verifying your account, you'll be able to watch the details of domains and make purchases. You may also contact us via the website for a personal close guidance.

Fake PR domains

Update (2015): PageRank, as a metric of a domain, is not longer relevant. Therefore it shouldn't be a factor when buying SEO domains.

As we demonstrated at the beginning of this article, some domains can have a fake PR (which is one of the reasons why PR is a terrible quality measure for domains). The main method that spammers use to gain a fake PR is to place a simple HTTP redirection in their domain, taking the visitor to another website (generally with a higher PR). This way the PR of the host domain will overtime be transferred also to the parasite one, giving it a fake high PR. Then, once a PR update is made, the spammer will remove the redirection, trying to erase traces of his fraud, yet leaving it with a false high PR which doesn't reflect its quality.

In many cases, this fraud can be easily detected. If you make the following Google query: info:domain.com, it will show any redirection that exists (and sometimes also redirections that existed in the past). Many automatic tools use this nice feature of Google, trying to automatically detect fake domains. As we'll soon see, these tools aren't reliable. They often make wrong judgments and even when they are right (finding a domain that truly has a fake PR), it doesn't necessarily mean it is an unworthy domain.

But before any criticism, let's first understand how these tools work. What they basically do is to run the same Google query we've just shown, comparing the result with the root path of the domain (i.e. domain.com or www.domain.com). If Google's result hostname is different than the root path, they joyously declare "FAKE PR!"

In order to see why this logic is often too superficial, let's examine the cases in which Google might claim that a domain's hostname is different than its root path. There are three:

  1. A redirection truly exists.
  2. A redirection existed somewhere in the past.
  3. Google mistakes the domain with one of its sub-domains.

The third case happens when Google, for some reason, hasn’t indexed the domain right; for some reason they believe that the domain only stands for one of its sub-domains. But, even then, it doesn't mean that they think badly of it, nor is there any reason to believe that they don’t give weight to its backlinks (just like any other domain) when judging its quality.

However, when cases 1-2 are involved, there's truly a strong reason to believe that you are facing a fake PR domain (although not always it is the case, as there are also legitimate reasons for someone to redirect his domain to another website). But even in cases of a conclusive fake PR, we don’t advise you to hasten with conclusions about the domain, as it can still be perfectly good.

As we said, PR plays a very minor role in Google's overall judgment of a domain, whether it's real, fake, or even non existed. In order to study the real nature of a domain – just look at its backlinks. Don’t ever attempt to look at anything else and know that there's very little value in using any of these fake PR recognition tools, which won’t give you any important insight about the domain's quality.

To clarify this point, let's look at the following hypothetic example – a domain with a nice diversity of valid PR3-5 backlinks. Such a domain, in normal conditions, could easily get a PR of 4 or 5 (or even 6 in some cases). However, at some point the domain owner may decide redirecting it to another website (let's assume that he does that for legitimate reasons). In such case, like we explained, the domain will eventually get the PR of the domain that it redirects to, which can sometimes be higher than its real PR, and sometimes lower. But the point is that it doesn't matter. If you get to put your hands on this domain, you should know that its real value remains the same, because it still has the same backlinks, regardless of the redirection (which would cease to exist once you build a proper website on it). Backlinks, that's almost the only thing Google care about.

PR N/A domains

Update (2015): PageRank, as a metric of a domain, is not longer relevant. Therefore it shouldn't be a factor when buying SEO domains.

If you closely read the article thus far, you are probably convinced by our main hypothesis - Google's Public (Toolbar) PR is not a good measure for the quality of a domain. As we showed, horrible domains can have a very high PR, and awesome domains can have a very low PR or even no PR at all.

PR N/A stands for "PR not available", meaning that Google haven’t yet updated the Public PR of the domain, and therefore it's not available. This of course, tells absolutely nothing about the Private PR of the domain, which is updated frequently. And even when the Public PR does reflect the Private PR, still it doesn't mean much about the quality of the domain, as you should already know by now.

Therefore, PR N/A domains have the very same value as Public PR domains and they should be analyzed like any other domain – by their backlinks. If a PR N/A domain has a good and stable backlink profile, then it is a good domain.

And now for another advertisement (this is the last one, we promise) – at T.B. Solutions we also sell PR N/A domains that meet, just like any other of our domains, the highest quality standards. Also, and that should be a wonderful opportunity for you, we sell these domains at lower prices than their real worth (up to 30% off).

At this point you are probably a bit suspicious, and for a good reason. Haven't we just said that PR N/A are perfectly good domains? Then why do we sell them with a discount? The reason that we do it is not because there's something wrong about the domains; they are perfectly good and we are willing to put our entire reputation on it. The discount is given only due to market constraints of supply and demand. Because, unfortunately, most people are still PR-N/A-phobic, showing severe symptoms of anxiety when these are involved, we came out with this campaign to increase awareness for this folly.

As we hope this campaign would eventually work and more people will buy PR N/A domains in the future, you should know that this special offer is time limited. But as long as people are still superstitious, you have a rare opportunity to gain from the mob's ignorance and help yourself with excellent domains sold for outrageously low prices.

Summary

We hope that you found this article helpful for your purposes and that it somewhat changed your way of thinking about domains, now knowing which factors matter and which don't. We also hope that you gained some good practices and that you now know how to properly analyze domains. Even if you don't buy domains at T.B. Solutions, we're still happy for the opportunity to teach you these truths, making you now a smarter customer and less vulnerable to frauds.

If you found this article to be useful, don't hesitate to share it among your friends; we're sure they will be grateful.