Rank theory: Interview with Sean Markey about domains and SEO

Sean Markey – SEO Supergod

Sean Markey’s Rank Theory serves up a weekly newsletter about SEO and domain names. Instead of delivering boring stuff, Sean cooks up a delicious cake of useful information mixed with caustic humor and unpretentious attitude, CAPITALIZED FOR EMPHASIS.

We just had to ask Sean a few things important to domain investors, a special group of people that are often plagued by ADD and ADHD (insert proverbial squirrel reference here.) Sean was gracious to reply to our questions right before the year’s end, so that you can begin your quest for better SEO in 2024!

DomainGang: Sean, how long have you been working with the magic of ranking web sites (and thus, domains) via SEO and what led you there?

Sean Markey / Rank Theory: I started fucking around with SEO and building out sites back in 2011. I had heard something something about the four hour work week and eventually read it. Like every other marketing person that started messing with online business in the mid/late AUGHTS, that book is where it all started.

I was a special ed teacher at a boarding school in Utah and spent all my free time trying things, building awful sites on embarrassing domains as I learned. When I finally quit the teaching job (fired!) I went to work at a local SEO agency. From there I went on to start my own agency, which failed spectacularly, and then did some work leading SEO efforts at SmashDigital.com.

In late 2018/early 2019 some side affiliate site I was building in the CBD space took off and was doing four-figure affiliate revenue DAYS. I sold that site (shout out Andrew Rosener of Media Options) and have been building sites/messing around/writing stupid SEO newsletters ever since.

DomainGang: Regarding domain value, is it true that development and SEO will increase value by multiples? How easy is that to achieve?

Sean Markey / Rank Theory: Yeah, all those GoDaddy auctions that are inexplicably thousands and thousands of dollars on a domain you wouldn’t even accept as a gift–the price is (mostly) being driven by those domains having a high SEO value (meaning–a bunch of links from big, authoritative websites).

So that’s specifically about expiring domains, but a developed site on a good domain, a live site getting traffic, and getting links from a bunch of big websites absolutely explodes the value of a domain. If you’ve got kind of a meh domain but it’s got a site built on it and that site gets organic traffic? That’s worth money.

I have sold 2-3 sites over the last quarter for between $15k and $25k because they had a site on them that generates traffic by ranking for keywords–not sites that necessarily earn money from those subscribers, but because the site has demonstrable value by way of traffic, that’s worth money to SEOs who know how to take that kindling and create a roaring fire with it. The more traffic it gets/the more keywords it ranks for, the better the price you can get.

As for how easy it is, well: it goes harder every year–with the SOLE exception of this last year due to the proliferation of AI content generation. Other than that, it’s very difficult. If your name has zero links going to it, you need to build out a site, fill it with content that’s good enough to attract an audience (or at least, novel enough to attract a bunch of links, which is HARD), and optimized enough to rank for keywords relevant to your site.

Takes a LOT of work and energy and money.

Real quick–that’s why these SEO domains sell for so much. If you just buy a domain that already has a bunch of links and niche-relevant authority, you can just start building out content and ranking, because the hard part of building authority is done, you can just cash in on the existing authority. Way cheaper (mostly–these domains nowadays are SO EXPENSIVE. You used to be able to get them for a few hundred bucks, like $170 or $245 or something. Now it’s like SEVEN THOUSAND DOLLARS or something. Crazy).

DomainGang: Google dominates the SEO game but can we safely ignore other sources of search traffic (example, Bing, Yahoo, DuckDuckGo, Yandex – j/k)

Sean Markey / Rank Theory: Yes. Though if your site is big and authoritative, there are enough people using bing (??) via being on Windows OS that can still send decent traffic through bing. No offense…

DomainGang: As a domain investor how do you visualize an undeveloped domain’s potential, knowing that SEO works only for developed, content-rich web sites?

Sean Markey / Rank Theory: You just look at a competitor via a tool like Ahrefs.com. You can see what kind of traffic a site is getting, what kind of links it has, which keywords it’s ranking for. You can get a sense of what kind of potential is there in a certain niche (esp. if you have some idea of how to monetize–what the affiliate payouts are or the price of a product if you’re selling yourself, the margins, etc). You can also use SimilarWeb to get a sense of traffic a site has.

Then it’s just plotting out how you’ll actually get from point A to point B. If you’ve traveled that line in the past–either with clients or with your own sites, you can get a good idea of how worthwhile it is to build out a name.

And if you can’t do that yourself, then hire your favorite handsome, foul-mouthed SEO expert that’s writing a response to this question right this very second to help you.

DomainGang: Your newsletter packs a lot of valuable information that domainers can benefit from. Here’s your chance to tell them why!

Sean Markey / Rank Theory: Because I’m dumb and rather than just building/leading a team that runs a portfolio of sites making money and getting a bunch of traffic, I apparently prefer to rant about SEO things for a very small subset of people entertained by such things…

But seriously I talk a lot about aged domains and SEO in general. If you’re a complete beginner it might be a little over your head, but it’ll at least give you an idea of what you don’t know, and you can go and chase that info–it’s all out there on the web.

I also have a domain-and-SEO focused newsletter at domains.beehiiv.com where one or twice a month I talk about the best domains at auction for both building a brand, and building a website (AKA SEO domains), so you can sign up for that if it’s something you’re interested in (and we both know it is, if you’ve read this far in the interview)…

DomainGang: Is there anything else you’d like to add that’d be fun and informational beyond the final days of a dying 2023?

Sean Markey / Rank Theory: Mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell. If anyone has an absolute killer domain (or site with traffic, or biz making money) and is looking to partner with a world-class SEO, check out my partnership page.

If anyone has questions from this interview I’ll hang out in the comments for a few days to try and answer them!

DomainGang: Thank you Sean! This was the best, most informative interview we had about SEO for, like, ever!

Make sure you visit RankTheory.com and sign up to Sean’s weekly newsletter, it’s FREE!

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