The trouble with the links and domains market


By Julia Logan

It's not uncommon for affiliates to acquire links and domains at high prices to expand both market and global reach. Julia Logan delves into the trouble with acquiring assets this way.

Buyers of domains can be roughly split in two groups: those who buy domains for SEO reasons and those who are domainers. What constitutes value for a domain differs greatly between these two groups.

If domainers value short domain names, dictionary words in domain names or simply cool sounding names, SEOs place (or at least should be placing) more impact on domain age, existing or potential traffic, ranking history, existing links…

All good and reasonable considerations, but sometimes people go completely crazy because of SEO tools’ metrics, particularly Ahrefs’ DR or Moz’s DA. We’ll get back to this last point in a bit, but first let’s look at how domain auctions work.

Battle of the bidders

When a domain is being sold on an auction, all the interested parties can place their bids for it over a predefined period of time, and by the end of that period the highest bidder gets the domain.

This setup can vary a bit depending on the auction platform but this is the general principle. When the bidding happens, interests of SEOs and domainers can often clash. Many bidders can use autobidding features of the auction platforms during an auction, i.e. when someone places a bid higher than your last bid, the system automatically places a bit on your behalf higher than the competing bid by x amount.

Usually the bidder can define the highest volume of the bid they are willing to place, but still this process often leads to the domain prices in an auction getting inflated far beyond the domain’s actual value. Some domains which never even had a live site on them keep getting sold and resold for an increasingly higher price every few months. At this point, the domainers’ domain market can be viewed in a similar light as the cryptocurrency or NFT markets.

But the SEOs’ domain market can be equally chaotic and unreasonable, especially when the SEO metrics come into play.

Why? Because metrics are just a shortcut, a conventional value based on a formula or algorithm which may or may not take into account all the important factors. But it’s quick and convenient to be able to estimate or describe a value using a number, so SEO metrics exist and are used. 

Pagerank pitfalls

Historically, SEOs used to evaluate domains and links based on Google’s toolbar PageRank – that was the first SEO metric. PageRank is one of Google’s key algorithmic principles still used by Google internally to rank sites and pages; Toolbar PageRank was its simplified representation in the form of a green bar going from 0 to 10.

The price and desirability of domains and links used to depend on this little green bar. But as soon as somebody puts a number on a value, that number will get manipulated. By the mid-2000s, faking PageRank had become a widespread practice among linkbuilders, and tools appeared to identify fake PageRank.

By 2013, Google had stopped updating Toolbar PageRank and soon after dropped support for it altogether. To give SEOs something measurable they can use instead of the now-defunct toolbar PageRank, third party tools such as Majestic and Moz come up with their own metrics, TrustFlow and DA (standign for Domain Authority). Later, AHREFs comes up with its DR (meaning Domain Rank).

These third-party metrics soon became so successful that some SEOs even expected Google to use them. Google representatives keep explaining again and again that the search engine does not use these metrics and that they play no role in Google’s ranking algorithms.

Again, where there’s demand there will be supply. If a site’s DR defines how much the links from that site will cost, some site owners will try to artificially increase their sites’ DR. A quick search on Fiverr shows dozens of “providers” ready to accommodate them.

There are entire clusters of sites created for the sole purpose of manipulating SEO tools’ metrics – often, this is done in the form of posting lists of links and nothing more.

Does it work for artificially inflating DA or DR? Yes. Does it add any real value to the domain or correspond to better rankings, organic visibility or traffic? Absolutely not.

So next time you are tempted to buy a “high DR” domain or get email spam offering you “high DA” links, keep this in mind. Chances are very high that those metrics will be pretty meaningless and/or manipulated. 

A high DR does not necessarily correspond to a site’s ability to rank, or even current high rankings. On the contrary, sometimes domains with high DA or DR will have a history of drops and may be long past their prime.

Furthermore, neither DA nor DR tell you anything about a domain’s topical relevance to whatever search vertical. In this regard, TrustFlow is better because Majestic also has something called Topical TrustFlow, and the top topical category is reflected in a site’s or URL’s TrustFlow. But that also can get manipulated.

SEO conundrum

So what’s an SEO to do? First of all, look beyond metrics. Look at a site’s links, ranking history, traffic. Of course these data also come from third party SEO tools, unless the site is controlled by you and/or you have access to its Google Search Console, Bing Webmaster Tools or server logs.

The accuracy of a third-party tool depends on many things: how large their database of tracked sites and keywords is, how many countries it collects data in, how often that data is updated, etc. Ideally, data from several different sources should be used. I usually use SISTRIX and SpyFu for historic ranking data, and have recently added SERanking to my tool arsenal. 

Also, it’s important to understand that SEO metrics were mostly developed with the English-speaking markets in mind, maybe in the best case with the German-speaking markets as well (e.g. SISTRIX). If we’re looking at other, non-English speaking markets, especially at smaller countries, those metrics won’t make much sense. My favourite example to illustrate this: 

-    UK: population 60+ million, tens of millions of sites, the biggest news site bbc.co.uk has hundreds of millions of links from over 400,000 domains


-    Lithuania: population under 3 million people, tens of thousands of sites, the biggest news site lrt.lt has 800,000 links from just over 10,000 domains

What can we expect then in terms of SEO metrics? Top ranking igaming sites in the UK will have TrustFlow of 40+, whereas in Lithuania they will hardly ever have anything higher than TrustFlow 20 – but that of course does not stop them from ranking in their targeted market.

So do yourself a favour and stop wasting your link budget on meaningless metrics and instead look at the factors that really matter. Yes, it’s a more copious and often manual process, but the value you get from it will definitely pay off.


Julia Logan

is an SEO consultant at irishwonder.com. Her specialities include on-site/technical SEO and SEO security audits, link profile audits, online reputation management and negative SEO investigations and private network consulting. She is also the founder and CEO of Zangoose Digital, a boutique SEO agency specialised in bespoke private networks.

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