Listed below are some of the more important metrics used to evaluate expired domain names.

Alexa Traffic Rank

Alexa assigns traffic rankings to domain names by analyzing the surfing habits of millions of Alexa Toolbar users. The rankings are based on three months of historical data, and are re-calculated on a daily basis.

The website with the highest amount of page views and unique visitors over this three-month period is ranked 1 (meaning it is the most popular website on the web according to Alexa). The second most popular website is ranked 2, followed by number 3, and so on. The lower the rank, the more popular the website, and the more traffic it receives.

Much like how Google groups redirected domain names together, Alexa does as well. For example, if abcwidgets.com is redirected to cnn.com, the domain name abcwidgets.com would be grouped together with cnn.com. This results in abcwidgets.com inheriting the traffic rank of cnn.com (abcwidgets.com would have the same traffic rank as cnn.com). Once this redirect is removed, the domain name's traffic rank would return to its true rank (which is typically higher).

To confirm the domain name's traffic rank is valid, check Alexa's website and make sure the domain name listed in their traffic details matches the one you are checking. If they match, the traffic rank is valid, otherwise it is invalid.

Alexa Traffic Rank

Comparable Transactions

The selling price of comparable domain names is usually the most important factor in determining a domain name's value. The selling prices for other domain names can typically be found on auction sites, or through Google. The three primary characteristics in finding a comparable domain name are the TLD, number of words, and commercial potential.

Dictionary Domains

A dictionary domain name consists of a single word only, and nothing else, that is listed in the dictionary of any particular language. For example, spaghetti.com is a dictionary domain because the word "spaghetti" is listed in at least one language's dictionary.

The most valuable language is generally English, followed by the other more common languages, such as German, French, etc. If the word is listed in more than one dictionary, its "international usage" is higher, which translates into a higher value for the domain name. Words that have strong commercial potential, like "business", have a higher value than words that do not, like "loblollies."

Directory Listed

A directory listed domain name is listed in either the DMOZ Directory, or the Yahoo Directory.

DMOZ is a human-edited directory that does not charge a submission fee, and requires all submitted websites be reviewed by volunteer editors to ensure they meet minimum inclusion requirements. Yahoo isn't quite as altruistic - although it's possible to be listed in the Yahoo Directory without having paid a fee, it's unlikely.

Since Yahoo charges an annual fee, most domain names tend to be removed from their directory once the previous one year term expires. There are some exceptions, like if the site is non-commercial, or was included prior to October 2002 (when Yahoo began charging a submission fee). DMOZ is much less predictable, as removal is at the discretion of the volunteer editors, where some editors are more vigilant than others.

Although being listed in a directory does not always guarantee traffic, it's believed it helps improve Google PageRank.

DMOZ Directory
Yahoo Directory

Estimated Monthly Traffic

The most reliable source of information is Google Analytics, but this isn't always readily available. Although not always accurate, services such as Quantcast and Compete provide estimates on a domain name's monthly traffic.

Quantcast analyzes the web usage of several million people, and then uses this data to project what the rest of the world is doing. These projections then form an estimate of a website's monthly traffic. Although the estimate is based on actual data, it is a projection, and is therefore not a guarantee of traffic.

Compete works in much the same way as Quancast, analyzing the surfing habits of over 2,000,000 people and then extrapolating this data into traffic projections.

Google Analytics
Quantcast
Compete

First Letter

A domain name's first letter, as the name implies, is the first character in the domain name.

A domain name's first letter can be used to help identify domain names with one of the three most valuable prefixes: E; I; and V. "E" stands for electronic (ex. eloans.com). "I" stands for internet (ex. ireport.com). "V" stands for virtual (ex. vphoto.com).

Another effective use of first letters is to locate specific typo domain names. For example, if you are looking for Google typos, you can search for domain names starting with G, F, H, etc.

Google PageRank

Google PageRank is a ranking system developed by Google to determine the quality and popularity of websites and web pages. The ranking system goes from 0 to 10, with the highest possible ranking being 10. A web page with a higher rank will generally appear higher in Google's search results than a domain name with a lower rank. Domain names that are not recognized by Google, either due to being banned or not having been indexed yet, may not have a PageRank at all.

One method of using PageRank is to boost the PageRank of other websites. For further info on how this works, check out the Wikipedia article on PageRank. It can also be used to boost traffic, as domain names with a high PageRank generally have more traffic than those with a lower rank. However, a high PageRank does not always guarantee traffic. This is especially true when the PageRank is not valid, or faked.

Much like how Alexa groups redirected domain names together, Google does as well. For example, if abcwidgets.com is redirected to cnn.com, the domain name abcwidgets.com would be grouped together with cnn.com. This results in abcwidgets.com inheriting the PageRank of cnn.com (abcwidgets.com would have the same PageRank as cnn.com). Once the redirect is removed, the domain name's PageRank would return to its true rank (which is typically lower).

There are legitimate reasons for this occurring, such as a company owning several domain names and redirecting them all to their main website. However, there are also illegitimate reasons, such as faking PageRank in an attempt to increase its resale value.

To confirm the validity of a domain name's PageRank, check Google's cache and make sure the domain name listed matches the one you are checking. If they match, the PageRank is valid, otherwise it is invalid. If the domain name is not in Google's cache, the PageRank is suspicious.

Legal Situation

If there is a possibility of the domain name being subject to a future trademark dispute, this would negatively impact its value.

If a trademark holder is able to prove they own the rights to the trademark in UDRP arbitration, they can take ownership of the domain name. Trademark disputes also apply to domain typos, where the domain name is similar, but not identical, to a registered trademark. If the trademark owner can prove a domain name was registered in bad faith, they can sue for any resulting loss in revenue, as well as take ownership of the domain name.

Length and Characters

A domain name's length is determined by the number of characters it contains, excluding the TLD. For example, abcd.com has a length of four. The only characters a domain name can contain are letters (a-z), numerals (0-9), and the hyphen (-).

The shorter the domain name, the higher its value, with domain names between two and seven characters being the best. Domain names with hyphens or numbers are significantly less valuable than those without.

Domain names with one or two characters cannot be registered due to ICANN's Schedule of Reserved Names, they can only be renewed. If one has expired and is set to drop, it can only be obtained by contacting the owner and negotiating a sale prior to entering pendingdelete.

A domain name with letters only is referred to as an LLLL.com domain, where the number of Ls represents the number of characters. For example, abc.com would be referred to as an LLL.com. A domain name with numbers only would be referred to as an NNNN.com. For example, 12345.com would be referred to as an NNNNN.com. Domain names with a mix of characters use a combination (LLNLL.com, NNLN.net, LLLL-LLLL.info, etc).

Link Popularity

Link popularity is the quantity of links pointing to a domain name (also known as inlinks or backlinks), as indexed by the search engines. For example, if xyz.com has a link pointing to abc.com, and xyz.com has been indexed by Yahoo, abc.com would have at least one inlink according to Yahoo, which would translate into a Yahoo link popularity of at least one.

A domain name's link popularity is often correlated to its traffic. So the greater the number of inlinks, the greater its link popularity, which in turn results in greater traffic. Link popularity is also one of the major factors in determining a domain name's Google PageRank.

It's important to note that not all inlinks are equal. Low-quality inlinks generate little or no traffic, while quality inlinks can generate hundreds of visitors each day. It's therefore important to research the quality of the inlinks (qualitative), and not just the quantity (quantitative). The quality of an inlink is typically determined by the traffic of the page containing the link, and the link's position on the page.

Google
Alexa

Search Popularity

Search popularity is the number of searches performed in a search engine for a specific term over a period of time. For example, if there were 3,000 searches for "money" on MSN last June, it would have a MSN search popularity of 3,000.

There are two types of search popularity: term; and term.TLD. Given the domain name "abc.com", the term would be "abc" and the term.TLD would be "abc.com".

Term.TLD search popularity is an excellent indicator of a domain name's organic traffic (also known as "type-in traffic"), which is the number of times a domain name is typed directly into the browser. Type-in traffic is the most valuable kind of traffic, as it is not dependent on external sources, such as inlinks. This translates into a consistent and sustained flow of traffic, which generally doesn't degrade over time.

Term search popularity is best suited to identifying the needs of surfers, and is therefore a good indicator of a domain name's development potential. Term search popularity is a better indicator of market potential than term popularity. Domain names with high term search popularity tend to have a higher value than those with a lower one.

Google Keywords Tool

Status of similar domain names

As with most things, the value of a domain name increases when there is greater demand. If all other TLD alternatives for the domain name are registered, there is greater demand for it, which results in a higher value. If no other TLD alternatives are registered, this negatively impacts its value. For example, if abcwidgets.com is the only TLD available (i.e. the abcwidgets.de, abcwidgets.net, abcwidgets.ca, etc are registered), the domain name's value is positively impacted.

The status of similar domain names can be found by doing a WHOIS check.

Term Popularity

In the context of domain names, the term is the text located to the left of the dot. For example, given the domain name "abc.com", the term would be "abc". A domain name's term popularity is the number of references to that exact term in the search engines. For example, if Google has 230,000 references to the term "abc", its term popularity would be 230,000.

A domain name's term popularity is best suited to identifying the needs of surfers, and is therefore a good indicator of a domain name's development potential. Domain names with high term popularity tend to have a higher value than those with a lower one.

TLD (Top Level Domain)

Based on a study done by SEDO in July of 2006, a .com is the most valuable TLD, following by .de, .net, .uk, .org, .info, .biz, and .ca. There are many other TLDs, but they are ranked as less valuable.

Typing Error Sensitivity

If the domain name is the correct spelling of a term, and is easy to spell and type, its value will increase. Conversely, if it's difficult to spell and type, the domain name will be less valuable.

If the domain name is not the correct spelling of a term, but is very close to the correct spelling (also known as "typo domains"), its value will increase. The amount of this increase is dependent on the likelihood of that particular misspelling occurring.

It is important to note that typo domains of registered trademarks can be very risky.

WayBack Machine Records

The WayBack Machine is an archive of websites dating back to 1996. It works similar to search engines, in that it crawls through the web by visiting any links it come across, moving from website to website. Each website it visits is saved to their servers, along with the date on which it was saved. The number of times the website was visited and saved is referred to as WayBack Machine records.

Because the WayBack Machine works similar to search engines, the number of WayBack Machine records translates into the number of times it was crawled, and by extension, its historical link popularity (the more often it was crawled, the more links it came across, and the higher its historical link popularity). Since link popularity is often the result of a quality website, a high number of WayBack Machine records improves the chances of traffic.

A manual review of the WayBack Machine records can also help gauge the quality of the website. The higher a website's quality, both in terms of design, functionality, and content, the higher the amount of traffic it will generate.

WayBack Machine records can also be used to determine how often the website was updated. A website that is updated often has fresher content, which increases the chances of traffic.

Because expired domain names have their WHOIS creation date reset once deleted, the WHOIS age of a domain name can sometimes not be a true indicator of its age. For example, if abcwidgets.com was registered in 1998, dropped in 2005, and was then registered again in 2006, its WHOIS age would indicate a creation date of 2006. While in reality, the domain name has been in existence since 1998. WayBack Machine records can also be used to determine a domain name's true age.

WHOIS Age

WHOIS age is calculated by deducting the current date from the domain name's WHOIS creation date. For example, if the domain name was created on May 15, 2002, its age would be calculated by deducting the current date from the creation date.

The WHOIS age of the domain name is generally proportional to its traffic, with older domain names generating more traffic than more recently registered ones.

It is also believed that a domain name's age plays a role in determining its PageRank. For further info on how this works, check out the Wikipedia article on PageRank.

It's important to note that pre-release domain names do not have their WHOIS creation date reset once it expires. However, domain names that drop (deleted) always have their WHOIS creation date reset. Because of this reset, the WHOIS age of a domain name is not always an indicator of a domain name's true age. A domain name's true age can be found by checking WayBack Machine records.

Do you have anything to add? Let me know in the comments.

Johan Johansson is a web developer at Pixelmade, a Vancouver web design + internet marketing firm.You can find him on Twitter and Google+.