Rank Theory #3

affiliate site absolutely killing it, a 301'd domains conversation with Google, and more

Hello again!

Two weeks in a row, what is this, your birthday?

Hope you’re doing well. I had a pretty fun week on Twitter.

Basically, I published a tweet and it got a lot of engagement… likes, RTs, responses etc. When it comes to twitter I’m a peasant, most of my tweets are barely noticed, so it was cool to see it take off.

It’s a thread, but it was the first tweet what got all the attention:

Are you following me on twitter yet? @seanmarkey

A Quick Thank You

Last week I put out a call that I had some time to devote to consulting, and to hit me up.

Thanks to all the people that did hit me up. It was really cool to connect and see how we can work together.

Hopefully next week I can announce on this newsletter—if not publicly—the thing that I’m building.

If you run an agency that has clients with really bad, unoptimized content, holler at me. I’d love to run a few ideas by you. (Not a sales call, just want to get your opinion on an idea or two).

An Expired Domain in the Wild Or: Affiliate Money Printer Goes brrrrrrrrrrrrrr

This is a story about a website that served as a non-profit focused on health. The founder of the non-profit passed away a few years ago, and the site found itself up for auction, as sites like these will.

I’m going to try and write about what they’re doing and how they’re winning without outing the site, cuz I’m not trying to be a dickhead. I think there’s plenty you can take away without knowing the exact URL (and if nothing else, this can maybe give you a roadmap of how to reverse engineer shit you find in your SERPs).

Here we go.

In 2019 the site was purchased for over $20k at auction. It was a DR 65+ ranking for just under 2k keywords. Completely expired site, it looks like the owners rebuilt some of the content that was there previously, and it stayed that way from fall of 2019 to spring of 2020, when they published V1 of the affiliate site.

Since then, they’ve played it super straight, only building high quality, very natural links that they earned by writing good content and having a good PR team.

Just kidding.


They fucking melted the face off of this site with dirtiest, naaaastiest links.

And look at how beautifully it performed:

My god. Brings a tear to one’s eye.

How are they doing?

They are ranking in the top 10 for some head terms.

Top 3 for ultra profitable “best X”

And multiple top spots for the longer tail “best X for Y” that I can tell you. I can TELL you.

Money in the bank.

If they’re not making 6 figs/mo on this site then I’m the softly glowing bacteria that lives on an Angler fish’s lure.

And we both know that I’m a human person that isn’t bioluminescent…

Link building examples they are doing:

They’ve got exact-match anchor text links from .edu blog comments.

They’ve got thousands of amazing links from the site that used to be built on this domain (that’s why it went for $20k+).

They’ve 301’d entire (DR 50+) domains to their money page, and then absolutely BLASTED that tier 1 link with garbage, I’m talking obvious PBNs, .com.tw links… you get it.

Several 301’d domains, instead of going to the money page, instead go to a /page of what the site used to be called (here’s a super dumb example. Say Coke acquired Pepsi.com—in this example they would make a page like coca-cola.com/pepsi — where they say that Pepsi.com has been acquired and oh, BTW, check out some of our great content SPOILER ALERT, it’s the money pages. Now those money pages get some big fat internal links from SUPER AUTHORITATIVE PAGES (with an entire 301’d domain behind them) and help them rank super well.

So… on the one hand, don’t over-complicate things. Get a strong expired domain, build some good content, and then just build a shit-ton of links. Because it works.

On the other… this wasn’t cheap to do. Acquiring this domain, acquiring all the others they 301’d, building the sheer amount of links they built (however dirty), getting a bunch of legitimate sponsored links that rank for the same terms so they can take over a whole goddamned SERP (which I said nothing about, but they are for sure doing that)… you gotta bring a heavy wallet to the niches where it counts.

If you want to find your own site like this, just search for the biggest, baddest MFer keywords in your niche, and see who’s ranking there… and who doesn’t belong.

Find some SERPs that look like:

  • ThePointsGuy

  • Chase

  • NerdWallet

  • DavesCreditCardReview.net

  • Mastercard

Because one of those isn’t like the other, and WTF are they doing to get there? That’s what you wanna focus on.

So anyway… that’s my write up.

What’d you think?

OH YEAH, I didn’t tell you the best part.

This is so good.


They built their own amazing “affiliate” site on a secondary domain that won’t take their main brand down, and they just funneling traffic to their own site from this affiliate site it is infuriatingly beautiful.

If you’re selling a product and you have a budget for this kind of shenanigans GET ON IT.

The end.

This Tweet Thread From Google (Maybe?) Changed My Mind About 301 Redirects

Well, one part of them.

I can’t really figure out how to get you to the beginning of this particular thread, so I’ll post this tweet from the middle of it. You need to scroll up once it loads to read it all.

It is seriously worth reading, so… you know, do it.

Basically, Gary Illyes is saying that after one domain has been 301’d to another for at least a year, that redirect is now considered permanent by Google’s algo, and all the juice from Domain A, once they have been redirected to Domain B, will forevermore be attributed to Domain B, no matter what you do to Domain A in the future (like un-301-it and build a site on it).

This obviously has HUGE implications for people that buy expiring domains and then use them. My position has previously been “eh, it’s fine, if it’s still indexed, I guess.”

But no, opposite!

In general, I’m pretty tin-foil-hat-y and don’t believe much of what Google says. But I am inclined to take them at face value on this one.

So… if you’re buying expiring domains with juice, check that Archive.org! Has it been 301’d for a dog’s age (that’s a real expression, google it)? If so, maybe it’s not such a valuable pick-up.

However… I have seen expiring domains with juice that have been 301’d forever, and also… are ranking for some keywords?


Probably this is a situation where some experiments would be helpful. I’ll see what I can cook up, and y’all stay subscribed to my newsletter so I can tell you about what I learn (if anything).

BTW, there is a bit of nuance in that Twitter thread, and Patrick did a GREAT job of teasing it out. Highly recommend you check it out.

Wrapping It Up

Well shit.

That was a much longer email than I thought it would be.

I’ll leave my update of what I’m up to with a newly acquired domain until next week (cuz I have no idea what else I’m writing about for next Friday. Quick! Someone publish a case study or something!)

So check back for that update, it’s pretty interesting IMO.

Otherwise… hit reply and say what’s up. I love hearing from people—what did you think? Helpful? Interesting? A waste of digital ink? Don’t tell me about that last one…

Until then,