Recovering Penalised Website Using Expired Domains

Last Updated: October 18, 2021

For an affiliate marketer, there’s nothing more distressing than seeing your site get hit by Google.

But do you know there are still ways to save it? 

Hi, I am Sumit. In this case study, I interviewed my good friend and a successful affiliate marketer Vlad, who gave us a peek into his strategy to recover his site that got hit by Google in the December 2020 update.

He increased his daily traffic from 200 visitors to 2,000+ in just 3 months using the power of an expired domain. The total revenue increased 3.5X in just 2.5 months.

He has covered some gems here, so make sure to read it till the end. 

But first, the Background Story.

Vlad Khvatov is an online entrepreneur and an experienced affiliate marketer. 

He has made a mark in one of the most competitive niches. You can read more about him on his website

Vlad created his website on a fresh domain and chose one of the most competitive niches. With his expertise, he made it work as the site started getting 4,000-5,000 daily visitors until the Google Dec 2020 update.

That’s when his site got penalised and reduced his traffic to 1,000 per day. He recovered the site to some extent. You can read his case study for the exact details.

To keep the site growing, he had to come up with a new strategy.

That’s when the idea of using expired domains struck upon him, and he contacted me. 

We decided first to shift his site onto an expired domain using the 301 rebranding strategy. 

301 Rebranding is a process where we redirect the old site to a powerful and relevant expired domain. We're moving all the content with the exact permalinks structure.

We make the expired domain live again with archive content in this process, then let it sit for 1-3 months. We give this much time to let Google index the old content and links.

Once we see enough pages are indexed, we do the 301 rebranding and notify the change of address in the Google Search Console.

For this project, we used an expired domain with 103 referring domains for 301 rebranding.

The authority backlinks were coming from,,,, and more.

Sadly, the immediate result of rebranding wasn’t encouraging as the traffic fell from 1,000 to 200 visitors per day in June 2021.

It was a risky tactic, and after seeing the results, we had to come up with a quick plan. 

I recommended we redirect a relevant & strong expired domain using the 301 acquisition strategy. This was the domain we used:

We redirected the domain on the 23rd July 2021 and started seeing the result immediately. Finally, some hope!

The traffic started growing from 200 daily to 800+ within 2 months after the 301 acquisition.  

The site is now making 2,000+ traffic. 

So, that was a long story short. 

Now, let me share what Vlad had to say about his experience.

When and why did you choose to go with expired domains?

Ah, that was at the beginning of my career. Back then, everyone talked about expired domains and spent hours scrolling through to find something suitable for their PBN network, 301, or new sites (this had more priority). 

It was much easier to find expired domains three years ago, and services like SerpNames were just emerging. 

It was also an excellent time to build new sites and rank fast. The main problem was people didn’t know how to do it correctly and hence burned out fast. So, good practice was to find ten domains and build ten sites because only one would survive. 


The first one is relevancy. Earlier you could build a casino site on a church domain and still rank. 🙂 

However, relevancy is super important now, not optional. 

The second one is Google itself. You just don’t know whether it would work or not. So if you have a budget, it’s a good practice even now to build in batches and see what is working. 

As for me, I started to use it about 1.5 years ago, simply because of the advantage we get from them. And yeah, I’m talking about expired domains, not expired domains. 

Axpired domains are different and much more powerful, so I’ll try to share my expertise and some tricks with examples, of course. 

But let’s be honest if you don’t use expired domains in 2021 when you try to build a new website, you are already far away from your competitors. 

What criteria did you use to vet the expired domains and how to use them?

Let’s clear one thing first. There are two types of expired domains. 

  1. First is a dropped domain from resellers like SerpNames. The sites that expire are available for re-sale in auctions. The good ones are betted against and won. 
  2. The second is when you buy a live website directly from the owner.

The option you choose depends on your budget.

The first one is much easier to get, and it costs less. 

The second option is expensive, and you should understand what you need it for and why you need it. 

As for criteria to vet expired domains, this is what I look at first.

  1. Relevancy: Just remember one thing, it’s all about relevance. If you don’t want to get filtered (penalised) by Google within six months, always keep it in mind. 
  1. History: The most important thing is to check how the domain was used in the past. For example, someone may sell a domain presenting it as a legal company in the past, but when you dig deep on, you may find that it was used for 301 for 2-3 months a year ago or it was an affiliate website for the same period etc. It wasn’t working for the person, and he was just trying to drop it. Or the seller didn’t pay enough attention. Anything can happen, so always make sure to check the history.
  1. Links and where they point to: We all know it’s about the links, so yeah I pay attention to links’ quality and anchor texts. As for “where they point to”, look for all best by links in the Ahrefs’ top 50 pages if possible, not just the top 10 links. Sometimes results are worst when you check the rest of the links beside the default top 10. It may affect the relevancy as well as the anchor text ratio of backlinks.

Sumit has prepared a fantastic guide about this topic, so there is everything you need to know on vetting a domain:

Now, let’s come to the strategy. 

What was your rebranding strategy process? Please describe.

Rebranding is a good strategy when you know the reason to use it. 

For me, there are two reasons. 

  1. When your site gets filtered, and you don’t really care about its future, simply because you can get hit again if you didn’t fix it in the rebranding period. 

My advice is don’t wait until the next core update and just redirect it.

  1. When your site is not growing or growing like other sites in your niche for 6+ months. 

Rebranding is much riskier than the 301 strategy. Because you can’t just get off the stream and let it recover. It’s rebranding, so you need to pay attention carefully. 

Here is one of the good examples of rebranding strategies: 

After December 2020 core update, you might see lots of such results. 

The vetting process is almost the same, but pay much more attention to it when you select a domain for rebranding.

For me, I don’t like the rebranding strategy much. So let’s move to the next one. 

What was your 301 acquisition strategy process? Please describe.

This is my most favourite one if you use it right. 

I’ll describe two methods to make it work. 

The first one is when you use the expired domain for cheap link building. 

That’s correct for cheap link building. And this is my favourite one to boost websites fast. 

You can find lots of examples on the web. But this is my favourite one: 

Yeah, the domain they bought was expensive, but they got the strategy right.

Just pass the juice to the most important pages and make it natural. 

Remember one thing. Don’t redirect to the homepage. It sucks. The strategy I am describing is the safest now. 

The second strategy is more advanced and needs a big budget (20-50k)

Go for it if you have the budget and are ready to spend it to boost your main project to the sky. 

Find a website that got hit by Google. 

As a person who lost a website, there is almost nothing to do with it. It’s like a complete loss.

And here you come. It helps a person and at the same time boosts your business which will get back investment in a few months. 

And let’s be honest, it’s a much better decision than recovering for people who lost the site.

I’m talking about 301 the existing site to your niche. 

The process is simple: 

  1. Find a website to buy in your niche with existing traffic and good links.
  2. Reach out to them and make a deal.  
  3. 301 the homepage to the internal pages of your website and just clone the content. 

The best examples are:

These two got hit hard, were bought and redirected with all the content. 

Check ahrefs to see how good it works. 

Do you build any links during rebranding and the 301 acquisition? If yes, please describe.

Yes, I do. Not much, but I always do. 

Just keep in mind one thing. 301 rebranding or redirection is only ONE of the ways. If you want long-term growth, then focus on link building as well.

The times when sites used to grow insanely are gone now. You need to build links, always. 

If someone told you otherwise, he is just a liar or has bought 1k+ referring domains website, highly relevant to his niche and not in a competitive niche. 

As for the content, it doesn’t matter. 

One of my sites was used just for 301, and I wanted to see how it was performing. We put 0 content, simply because it already had 200+ pages. 

But, if it’s a new domain and you don’t build content relevancy to your topic, you’re losing out on your growth. 

The best strategy for me, for now, is to build topic relevancy around promoted money content. 

Semantics are important. And today, as much as it was before. 

Here is one of the examples of my sites for today’s case study: 

I went for 301 redirection at the end of July 2021.

The traffic tripled in total, and revenue was 3.5X, which is a good result for this niche. 

In total, I’ve built around 15 links for this site.

We did this overall experiment only for this case study. The domain’s cost was $2,000. 

I know the numbers aren’t big at all. But remember, I didn’t do anything else with the site. Just really nothing. 

If I were working harder on it, there would be much better results. 

How can you improve your results? 

Keep working on the site. Don’t think redirect is the only thing you do and wait. 

Build related content around money pages. Keep building links. Improve your site. 

Just work on it. 

With your experience with expired domains, what would you like to share with the readers?


Seriously, it takes time. 

Second, prepare before the battle.  Let the domain stay for a while after recovering the old content.

I know most of us want to go in some specific niches. Yes, you want, and you may go one day.

Buy a domain, publish few most important articles and let it stay for six months at least. 

For example.

I bought this website from Sumit and left it to stay. This is a really, really competitive niche. All keywords start from KD 30. I started to work on it at the end of summer 2021.

Here is the result: 

It’s growing like a charm. 

It’s a branded website, with awesome links. 

Almost every piece of content I publish gets instantly on at least pages 3-4, which is insane for this niche. 

This is my biggest and most important advice. 

Word of caution

Now let’s talk about the downsides. 

Stop thinking it’s a gold button. It’s not. It’s a really tricky tactic and you should use it as ONE of your link-building tactics. Cheap one. 

If we talk about building a new site it’s an even more difficult and risky game.

In some niches, it’s even money spent for nothing. And I’m serious. I know many stories and people who spent 10k, even 50k on domains, and the sites are still not working. 

Sometimes, the best option you can do is to register a new domain, upload content, and let it stay for a year. 

In pharma and gambling niches it’s already the main practice. So, pay attention to it.

Pro tip: open majestic and see the category of links built to your domain. For example, you bought a good domain for a cooking niche. You see lots of powerful links, all metrics are good enough, and you’re ready to buy. Open majestic, and you’ll see most links come from news\technology websites, which means Google thinks your site is more about tech news than cooking, recipes, etc. 


Most people think content builds relevancy for Google. Not really, it’s all about the links. 

So, if you’re not sure and don’t have enough expertise, better leave it to the trusted professionals, like Sumit, ofcourse 🙂 

Wrap it up!

Hey guys, I hope you got some value from the case study and Vlad’s bits of advice. If you’ve got any questions, feel free to drop them in the comments. As always, I will be happy to help you. 

If you found this case study helpful, please share it with your friends so they can also benefit.

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