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Definition of Key Terms

Here is a quick outline on some of the technical terms used in this spam checking article.

The Wayback Machine / Website Time Machine / archive.org

The Wayback machine is a website that stores the history over time of what websites has looked like. It can be used as part of the spam checking process to determine if the expired domain is valuable or spammed.

Screenshots.com

Screenshots.com is a similar service to the Wayback machine, however it only includes a screenshot of the page, and often has less copies than the other options. It can also be used in the spam checking process.

The Main Signals of Spammed Domains

There are several things that can identify a spammed expired domain, including:

  1. Chinese text in the Wayback machine.
  2. Wayback machine evidence of a previous PBN.
  3. Evidence of a 301 redirect.
  4. Any of the above on Screenshots.com
  5. High percentages of the inbound links have commercial anchor text.
  6. Mysterious Wayback machine gaps & blocked content.
  7. Webmaster Tools spam notifications.

Each one of these will be outlined below, and they are all an important part of the process.

Chinese Spam in the Archive.org

This is the most common signal that an expired domain has already been used as part of a spam Chinese/Japanese link network. For some reason there seems to be an unusually high amount of foreign language spammed domains.

To check for this, visit archive.org/web/ and enter your expired domain name.

Dates from the wayback machine

Now you will see a block containing black lines, these lines indicate where a copy of the website was taken, with the corresponding year. Clicking on each year block, will reveal a selection of highlighted dates from that year in the calendar below, which can be clicked to see the copy available from that particular date.

The aim is to check each of these dates for signs of spam, in this case we are looking for Chinese spam, which looks something like this.

Chinese spam domains

As soon as you see this the domain is 99% spammed. The rare occations where it isn’t may be if it’s a Chinese/Japanese based domain anyway, in which case you should go to Google translate to determine if the content of the site was spammy or not.

Evidence of PBN usage in archive.org

If an SEO has used this domain as part of their PBN before, and then let it expire, the chances are that the site is no longer providing any value, or even worse it is passing a penalty. That makes checking this the second most important step in spam checking your expired domain list.

The following are classic signs that the site has previously been part of a PBN.

Change in Website Topic or Layout

Topic

While checking the wayback machine, you may notice a clear change in the topic that the website content discusses. For example it may have been a website dedicated to fishing, but in 2013 suddenly switched to talking about home improvement issues.

This isn’t always a sign of a PBN, but it is a warning that should trigger you to dive a little deeper into the spam checking for this domain.

Layout

The most common layout for a PBN site is to have a blogroll on the homepage, with outbound links from those posts visible. If the website used to have a static homepage in 2012, but in 2014 changed to a blogroll layout, this could be a sign it was used for spam.

Homepage Commercial Outbound Links

This is one of the most obvious signs. You will see lots of commercial anchor text links pointing to various websites from the homepage. This is used by PBN owners to send as much link power to their money sites as possible.

A very obvious example of this can be found in the screenshot below.

Homepage outbound links

Evidence of a 301 redirect

A 301 redirect tells Google that the website has permanently moved to a new domain name, and for all of the equity from the previous site to be applied to the new one.

Google have openly stated that after a period of time you can remove your 301 redirect, as Google has assigned the previous value to the new location.

Obviously there are mixed views on whether this is accurate or not, but it’s best to operate a cautious approach to this, and remove any sites that show a previous redirection in the Wayback machine, example included below.

Previous 301 redirect

Evidence of PBN usage on Screenshots.com

Screenshots.com is very similar to archive.org, apart from it doesn’t copy the entire web page, just a screenshot.

Visit screenshots.com, and enter your expired domain url into the search box at the top right. Then browse through each screenshot looking for evidence as mentioned above.

High Percentages of Commercial Anchor Text Inbound Links

The Penguin algorithm update was designed to penalise over optimised link profiles, and so a high percentage of commercial anchor text links can be a sign that the domain has been previously penalised.

To check this, visit your favourite backlink checker (I personally use Ahrefs), and enter your domain name. Next navigate to the anchor text section. You want to lookout for high numbers of commercial anchor text, which could be a product brand (eg. buy ugg boots), or service (eg. SEO services), anything that signals manipulation and over optimisation.

Mysterious Gaps in the Archive.org Record

So you may have checked the Wayback machine record of your domain, and initially thought that it looked good, no spam to report, or outbound links that looked like spam. But maybe there were a few years where the Wayback machine displayed the “Not found” message.

There are times when an SEO will block the archive.org from accessing their site, and this usually coincides with them using the site as part of their PBN.

What we are looking for is a long period of no records, followed by a few entries where the robots.txt is blocking the archive.org.

This means that the website was dropped, and then re-registered with the robots.txt blocked, and is a clear sign that the domain was used for a PBN.

In the example below, you can see that the website was very active in 2003/2004, then had a period of little to no activity, followed by a period in 2014 where it displayed a default message.

A period of blank activity in archive.org

Checking for a penalty via Webmaster Tools

Sometimes a domain may have such good metrics, that you think it might be worth the risk to see if it could be a powerful asset in your PBN.

In this case, you want to register a new gmail on a unique IP, and verify the website in Google Search Console. From there, you want to check the manual spam actions tab, to see if you have a message there. If you have no message in the search console then you can keep the domain in your list.


The next step is how to host your PBN without creating a footprint.

How to host your PBN without footprints
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