If you decide to buy a developed website, it pays to be very wary sellers who use 301 redirect scams to artificially inflate their site’s toolbar pagerank in hopes the buyer won’t know the difference between an established site and a worthless site that appears to have pagerank.
When Buying Developed Websites, How Can I Be Sure I’m Not Being Scammed?
I recently came upon an auction-style website specializing in the brokerage of developed websites. The site also allows users to sell undeveloped domain names, but the primary focus appears to be on developed sites. After spending about an hour navigating the site and learning its ins and outs, I found myself appalled at what appeared to be rampant fraud as it pertains to the misrepresentation of what I like to call “crap sites” (those possessing little-to-no value) as though they were established sites with traffic, revenue and rank (inbound links from other sites).
What was most disturbing about this is that the scams appeared to be the rule and not the exception. This particular site, which I will not be naming due both to the rampant fraud and the fact that the site offered no dofollow profile link (or dofollow link anywhere else on the site) to justify my linking back to them, appears to be a haven for unscrupulous domain sellers who have mastered the art of the 301 redirect scam.
What is a 301 Redirect Scam?
If you’ve never encountered the term “301 redirect scam” or “301 redirect fraud” (abbreviated 301 scam and 3o1 fraud, respectively), you’re not alone. Very few people – even those who are web savvy including but not limited to SEO professionals and experienced domainers – have ever heard of the term. Very few know what it means, and very few are even aware of the concept.
A 301 redirect scam is essentially when the owner of a domain name sets up a 301 redirect to a high PR (pagerank) page, and leaves the redirect in place until Google updates the pagerank figure shown in the now-defunct Google toolbar, as well as in any number of plugins and add-ons for Firefox and Chrome. Once the forwarded domain and the site it is being redirected to have been indexed, the owner of the forwarded domain removes the 301 redirect. His domain name will then show the toolbar pagerank of the site it was redirecting to at the time of the indexing of the domains. This will remain the case until the next time Google updates its toolbar pagerank, which typically only happens once or twice a year.
The remainder of this post was copied from a private email exchange between myself and another website/domain buyer who came upon my comments on the website brokerage site mentioned above denouncing the practice of using 301′s to artificially create the appearance of an established site with pagerank, then selling the worthless site to some sucker who doesn’t know any better and thinks he’s getting an established site at a great price at only a few hundred bucks.
He had emailed me asking how I knew that the purported pagerank of certain websites being advertised on the aforementioned site was fraudulent, with the sellers effectively meeting the definition of scammers.
The following was my response, complete with instructions on how to verify whether or not a website’s pagerank is legitimate or not:
How to Tell if the Website You’re About to Buy is Legitimate or Not
Go to http://siteexplorer.search.yahoo.com. Copy and paste the URL of the site you’re evaluating into the field next to the “Explore URL” button. Click the “Explore URL” button. Under the word “Results” you will see two buttons, one entitled “Pages”, the other entitled “InLinks”. Click the latter (the one reading “Inlinks”, as the initial results show pages by default).
Once you’ve clicked “Inlinks”, you will see to the right of the page the words “Show Inlinks:” The default settings are “From All Pages” in the first of the two fields, and “Only this URL” in the second. You will want to change “From All Pages” to “Except from this Domain” (just click the box and select the second option); and change “Only this URL” to “Entire Site”.
Once you’ve done all this, you will see a list of every single link appearing on other sites that point to the site you’re evaluating. If you follow the instructions above, links from the site being evaluated to other pages on the same site will not be included (you’re only interested in those on other sites, as that is the true indicator of a site’s pagerank). Provided you follow the above instructions properly, the list will include both links to the homepage and internal pages of the site you’re evaluating.
If a site claims to have lots of traffic and a PR (pagerank) of anything more than zero, but only a couple of links (or even just a few dozen), you’ll know that the pagerank is fake and the traffic is likely the result of robot visits being counted as actual visitors.
A site owner can manipulate the pagerank shown in the Google toolbar (and/or any of the third-party apps and plugins for Firefox and Chrome that show a site’s pagerank) by setting up a 301 redirect from his site to another site with high pagerank. As long as the 301 is in place when Google indexes both domains and publishes its next pagerank update, the site being redirected to the high PR site will show the other site’s pagerank in the toolbar after the 301 has been removed. This will remain in place until the next time Google performs a pagerank update, which typically only happens twice a year or so.
It appears a lot of sellers here on Flippa are aware of this trick, and make it a point to forward their domains to legitimate sites until Google updates the pagerank bar, then they remove the redirect and try to sell their useless, PR0 as if it’s a bona fide PR3, PR4, PR5 or other authoritative site, when in actuality it’s worth less than what you would have if you were to go to GoDotYourself.com and register a new domain.
Unfortunately, it appears very few people know about this trick with the 301′s, and consequently are being taken advantage of by unscrupulous scam artists passing themselves off as web developers.