Is an Aged or Old Domain an SEO Ranking Factor?

SEO

Is an Aged or Old Domain an SEO Ranking Factor?

We look at how Google used to take Domain Age into account when ranking websites, whether that still applies to day, and if so, to what extent.

We look at how Google used to take Domain Age into account when ranking websites, whether that still applies today, and if so, to what extent.

Impact on Rankings: Very small
Confidence level: Low

There are many factors here that could muddy the waters. Firstly, an old domain is likely to have more authority and more links, and a greater number of pages which all could result in higher rankings. However, the question is whether an old domain could be awarded higher Google Rankings simply because it is an old domain is difficult to ascertain. 

There are a few very old sources (2005, and 2010) that indicate that Google "may" award higher rankings to old domains, but we suspect that any ranking boost will be very small if it still exists at all. 

Google's patent “Information Retrieval Based on Historical Data.”

This patent granted in March 2008, states the following, under the heading "Domain-Related Information":

"Individuals who attempt to deceive (spam) search engines often use throwaway or "doorway" domains and attempt to obtain as much traffic as possible before being caught. Information regarding the legitimacy of the domains may be used by search engine 125 when scoring the documents associated with these domains."

While not directly referencing old domains, it is clear that Google has a filter to try and remove spammy throwaway domains from the search index. It is likely a domain that has been around for some time would not be caught by these filters.

You can read more about Long Registration Terms, and Whois records being used to determine spammy domains in the respective links.

A few other mentions are made in the document. Firstly, Google is clearly looking at data that may suggest the domain age, like DNS record monitoring over time, contact information changes may be monitored to filter out bad domains:

"Also, or alternatively, the domain name server (DNS) record for a domain may be monitored to predict whether a domain is legitimate. The DNS record contains details of who registered the domain, administrative and technical addresses, and the addresses of name servers (i.e., servers that resolve the domain name into an IP address). By analyzing this data over time for a domain, illegitimate domains may be identified. For instance, search engine 125 may monitor whether physically correct address information exists over a period of time, whether contact information for the domain changes relatively often, whether there is a relatively high number of changes between different name servers and hosting companies, etc. In one implementation, a list of known-bad contact information, name servers, and/or IP addresses may be identified, stored, and used in predicting the legitimacy of a domain and, thus, the documents associated therewith."

"Also, or alternatively, the age, or other information, regarding a name server associated with a domain may be used to predict the legitimacy of the domain. A "good" name server may have a mix of different domains from different registrars and have a history of hosting those domains, while a "bad" name server might host mainly pornography or doorway domains, domains with commercial words (a common indicator of spam), or primarily bulk domains from a single registrar, or might be brand new. The newness of a name server might not automatically be a negative factor in determining the legitimacy of the associated domain, but in combination with other factors, such as ones described herein, it could be."

Unfortunately, the Patent seems to be skirting around the issue and primarily tries to deal with spammy, black-hat domains. It is more of a penalty for bad domains, rather than a boost for good domains. Furthermore, it is clear that the techniques used to determine spammy domains do not work in isolation, and that several negative factors may be required before a domain is marked as spammy.

However, the next reference is more promising. It specifically says that the domain registration date may be used as an indication of the date of a document.

"According to another implementation, the date that a domain with which a document is registered may be used as an indication of the inception date of the document. According to yet another implementation, the first time that a document is referenced in another document, such as a news article, newsgroup, mailing list, or a combination of one or more such documents, may be used to infer an inception date of the document."

Buying an old domain, that does not have a history of the new site topics will not help

One trick by many black hat SEO's is to buy up old domains and stick new content on them hoping that the old backlinks and domain authority will help the new content to rank. Google seems to have thought about this too:

"Alternatively, if the content of a document changes such that it differs significantly from the anchor text associated with its back links, then the domain associated with the document may have changed significantly (completely) from a previous incarnation. This may occur when a domain expires and a different party purchases the domain. Because anchor text is often considered to be part of the document to which its associated link points, the domain may show up in search results for queries that are no longer on topic. This is an undesirable result.

One way to address this problem is to estimate the date that a domain changed its focus. This may be done by determining a date when the text of a document changes significantly or when the text of the anchor text changes significantly. All links and/or anchor text prior to that date may then be ignored or discounted."

So what can we conclude from the Patent?

Google is on the lookout for spammy domains and uses a variety of techniques for doing so, including looking at the length the domain has been registered, changes to the DNS and contact information. But, none of these will result in a positive boost. It is merely that those spammy domains will be penalized.

There are vague references to document dates, but we cannot draw anything conclusive from it.

Furthermore, the patent is nearly ten years old, and there have been many changes in the search algorithms since then, so we cannot be sure that any of what is said in the patent is still relevant. As such we must treat the patent with caution. However, it still makes an interesting read.

How does Google determine domain age, and is it important for ranking? — Video by Matt Cutts.

With the most relevant patent not revealing too much issue on the topic, a video by Matt Cutts, former head of Google's Webspam team, published on Oct 26, 2010, can provide some further insight.

Matt Cutts discusses three things:

  • The use of Whois data
  • How the determine age
  • Whether to worry about domain age

Let's deal with these in turn:

The Use of Whois Data

We go into more detail about Whois Data here, but Matt Cutts acknowledges that the availability of Whois information is varied.

"So the first thing that you need to know is that whois data is not generally available, even if you were a registrar. And whois data can vary from country code TLD. For example, .co.jp, .fi for Finland, .in for India."

How Google prefers to determine age

In a similar way to what was discussed in the Patent above, Matt Cutts refers to many other methods and data that they may use to determine website age, and specifically refers to the patent:

"We did file a patent on using historical data in the search results and that issued, I think, back in 2005. So there are a lot of ways you can think about the age of a domain."

How is important Age for website authority?

Matt Cutts clearly states that you should not worry about it that much, but that there is a difference between a six-month domain and a one-year domain, albeit very small. It does make us wonder, that if there is a difference, even a very small one between a 6-month domain and a 12 month domain, whether there is a difference for much older domains.

"So in general, how important is it for website authority? Well, my answer is not to worry that much. The difference between a domain that's six months old versus one year old is really not that big at all."

Matt Cutts continues to explain that there may be a delay of a few months before a new website will see rankings, but this should not be something to worry about.

I would say it's often good to go ahead and buy a website, put up a place holder page to tell people what's coming, and then just go ahead and develop the website. And by the time you get your website live, often that's two or three months down the line already.

Matt Cutts explains states that you should not "obsess about trying to have an old domain." He stresses that they mainly take into account the quality of content and backlinks when it comes to ranking.

Conclusion

We cannot be confident that domain age plays a role as a positive ranking factor. It is clear that Google monitors various age related things to ensure spammy and black-hat websites can't just register a new domain and rank quickly, and that old domain authority from backlinks won't necessarily pass over if you buy a new domain and don't use it for a similar topic.

A video by Matt Cutts in 2010 is not overly authoritative either. A lot has happened since 2010, with Penguin (anti-spam algorithm), Panda and Machine learning all enhancing the algorithm significantly. It is clear their spam filters are significantly better now, and as a result, it is quite possible that more focus is on content quality rather than age related issues.

Nevertheless, as of 2010, Matt Cutts did say that Domain Age is a very small ranking factor, and no Google Trends Analyst has spoken out on the issue rebutting this since.

Personally, we don't think you should worry about domain age at all. It is better to focus on quality content, and with time, and hard work, your OLD domain will have built up topical and domain authority by gaining backlinks and containing some great content.

Here are our final thoughts on the matter:

  • Domain authority, built up over time is more important. This naturally comes with age, but age in itself is not that important. Age is just a correlation, not a causal link.
  • Domain age can act as a signal that the domain is spammy or using black hat practices resulting in a penalization of the domain.

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