The AfterBurner© is a technique where the Black Hat SEO company buys up expired domain names and then uses them to host backlinks to their clients’ websites.

How does it work?

A domain name may gather some rank and authority for the mere fact that it existed as a live website for a number of years. It may also have gained backlinks and may have pagerank too from its content collateral. But when the business operating the website goes broke, closes down, sells up, or moves offline, then their domain name may end up expiring. Sometimes this also happens unintentionally, and if the business owner doesn’t promptly renew their domain it may end up back on the open market.

This is where the Black Hat SEO company hangs out. Watching for half reasonable quality domains that have expired. Snap them up and slap a basic 5 page website on it and you’ve just inherited the pagerank it earned from previous ownership. They do this before Google has had enough time to figure out that the domain is dead and has written it off the cache. Expired domains can remain in the cache for many reasons, and for many months.

The domain is now prepared for adding blog posts or articles that the Black Hat SEO company writes for their clients, and introduces contextual backlinks to their clients’ websites. Do this enough times and you might end up with a network of many websites all used as backlink farms. The backlinks pass remaining pagerank from the expired collateral for some time, until Google eventually figures out that the site is now just a link farm and the Afterburner effect is exhausted. I’d expect the burnout period would be somewhere around 6 months.

This means that the Black Hat SEO company has to keep buying up new domains as old ones become exhausted. They simply migrate or rewrite their clients’ posts, articles and backlinks to a new domain name. If they fail to roll their content to new domains in time, then their clients risk being algorithmically penalised by Google Penguin. The flip side of that is what happens to the client should they stop their campaign and cease paying for any SEO work: they may be left with a Google Penguin penalty that the Black Hat SEO company may leverage against their former client as “evidence that you should always continue SEO campaigns to keep up with changes”.

So what’s wrong with this technique?

  • There’s an element of risk for the client if an algorithmic penalty is applied before the Black Hat SEO company has moved to a new set of domain names and websites.
  • The websites do not provide any real value for a visitor, because they will consist of mixed content based on the Black Hat SEO company’s current client base.
  • There is no valid reason for the website to link to the client’s website and pass actual human traffic, because it exists purely for SEO purposes.
  • It defies Google’s quality guidelines.
  • It’s a technique that fails as a long term strategy and is likely to be contrary to the underlying needs of the client to build a positive long term strategy.
  • The Black Hat SEO company may use the eventual failure of the technique as a tool to scam their client.
  • The technique leverages someone else’s good name and ranking credit and may breach Intellectual Property laws. It may also breach rules or regulations around use of domain names issued by the country authorities or Domain Name Registrar.

Feedback about The AfterBurner©

Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment (NZ)

August 14th, 2015

“…the registration of a domain name does not create any form of recognised or formal intellectual property right (such as copyright in the registration). Registration of a domain name does not create an intellectual property right over the domain name, but use of the domain name could create reputation and possibly goodwill in the name – something akin to rights that can arise through the use of in an unregistered trade mark (i.e. a mark not registered under the Trade Marks Act 2001).

It seems clear that the practise discussed in relation to expired domain name registrations seeks to take advantage of reputation, and possibly goodwill, that may have been created by the original/previous owner’s use of the domain name address. While such reputation and goodwill could carry over after the domain name registration expires (what we might call residual reputation and goodwill), the previous owner would only have a legal cause of action (under the tort of passing off) against the new owner of the registration if use of the domain name was causing damage to the goodwill that belonged to the previous owner. If the previous owner has gone out of business or is no longer trading, then that business is unlikely to have an interest in how the domain name is now being used (the entity that previously owned the domain name registration may no longer exist). It would seem difficult for a non-existent business to make any case that the new owner is damaging its goodwill (because any goodwill would ceases after the previous owner ceased to exist).

Where the original owner remains in business, but no longer uses the registration (e.g. having allowed it to expire – perhaps through a deliberation decision), there could be a legal cause of action under section 9 of the Fair Trading Act that the new owners use of the domain name is misleading or deceiving consumers. This would require the original owner to establish they continued to have reputation and goodwill associated with the domain name, even though they no longer the registered owner of it or used it. Unlike the tort of passing off, they would not need to show that such misleading or deceptive use was causing actual damage to them, only that use is likely to be misleading or deceptive.

Senior Policy Advisor
Commerce, Consumers and Communications | Business Law Team
Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment

Thank-you to the MBIE for your response on this matter. P Bernard

Domain Name Commission (NZ):

August 14th, 2015

The Domain Name Commission’s mandate extends to the registration of domain names only. Issues around the use that domain names are put to, do not fall within the mandate.

The Terms and Conditions of registration for a .nz domain name include an affirmation that the registration does not infringe the rights of others. .nz policies provide a Dispute Resolution Service Policy for situations where a party believes that they have rights in a name or mark that is identical or similar to the .nz domain name in question, and the registration of the domain name in someone else’s hands is unfair.

Names are frequently registered on the drop – some by domain name speculators, others by parties who have been waiting to get a name that was previously registered to someone else, and some registrars provide competitive services to decide on whose behalf they will attempt to register the name. There is a secondary market in names, with domain names fetching some significant prices internationally, although lower in NZ.

As I mentioned above, any intellectual property in the content on a website falls outside our mandate. You may wish to take further advice on that aspect.

Domain Name Commission

Special thanks to the DNC for replying to my queries. P Bernard

A further note from me:

Clearly from the responses from authorities above, domain names, their use and ownership is relatively loosely controlled. That’s not to say you can just use one for anything at all (which is governed by other than the respondents above), and anyone purchasing a license declare that they are not infringing on others’ rights.

My advice: If you are a business owner and feel that your rights have been infringed as a result of a domain ownership, refer it to the DNC for dispute resolution. If for some reason your domain expired by accident and someone else snapped up the registration, you may have legal recourse.

Perry Bernard.