Sorry Rand, Domain Age does matter!

We will seo no page before its timeAre domains like a fine wine, improving with age (from a SERP ranking perspective)? Contrary to what you may have heard previously, the answer is a resounding – YES.

[***Note - this entry was composed a few weeks ago, as part of my process for queuing up sufficient content for this blog.  But today I saw that Rand Fishkin does some debunking of domain age in a Whiteboard Friday today - so I decided to push this posting out - sorry Rand, I must disagree! ***]

First, some background. Google filed a patent application in 1995 which was granted in 2008 titled “Information retrieval based on historical data”. It talks about scoring a document based on the document’s inception date which could be determined in a number of ways.  Two of the inventors names are eye-catching; Matt Cutts (no introduction required), and Monika Henzinger (if you Google her you can see she is an information retrieval/search engine academic researcher from way back, a heavyweight in this discipline).

In paragraph 39, the patent application says “the date that a domain with which a document is registered may be used as an indication of the inception date of the document”.

Matt Cutts refers to this patent and attempts to address the issue in the following video…


…but if you watch it a few times, you’ll notice the following:

1.) He never says “no” (Translation: Yes!)
2.) At 1:27 he says “not to worry that much” (Translation: worry about it a little)
3.) At 1:29 he says “the difference between a domain that’s six months old versus one year old is really not that big at all” (Translation: there is a difference)
4.) At the end he says “The fact is, it’s mostly the quality of your content, and the sort of links that you get as a result of the quality of your content that determine how well you’re going to rank in the search engines” (Translation: ranking is at least a little bit about Domain Age)

Throughout the video there is a lot of rambling about how WHOIS information is somehow difficult to obtain even for a registrar like Google (frankly, a laughable claim – Google practically knows what you had for breakfast this morning, but they have a hard time getting WHOIS information?). Also Matt sort of pooh-poohs domain age because Google has data on when a page was first crawled or when a link to it was first detected anyway. Of course, before a page can exist at all its domain must be registered, by definition, so this angle doesn’t make much sense either.

Well, there is some finally hard data that sets this issue to rest.

Recently, some academics published the result of an extraordinary study. They used Ph.D-level machine learning techniques to essentially create what amounts to their own search engine. They then collected Google Search Engine Results Pages, and then extracted a large number of features from each individual page. They then trained their search engine using Google’s results, and eventually their engine was able to correctly predict 8 of the top 10 Google results about 80% of the time.

In these academics’ resulting paper “How to Improve Your Google Ranking: Myths and Reality“, they actually went over the data and reverse-engineered how important each feature they extracted from the pages was for ranking – and domain age was one of the features they looked at. As the graphs in the paper illustrate, domain age was a little less than 1/5 as important as PageRank, and more important than having the keyword in an H3 tag or in the Meta-Keywords tag (which they found actually mattered slightly, surprisingly).

The paper is based on research done prior to Google’s Caffeine update. However, although Google is constantly tweaking their ranking algorithms, they probably don’t change them radically very often. Most of the improvements Google seems to have been making over the last few years have been oriented around individual search use-cases like travel, local searches, social updates, and so on, rather than broad swaths of overarching changes to all SERPs. So it’s likely that even after the Caffeine update, Domain Age still matters.

Does this mean you should run out and buy an aged domain, and follow some convoluted process to convert it over to your website to ensure Google’s age counter doesn’t get reset? Perhaps. How does one do so? Good question. There is a lot of tinfoil-hat and coconut-headphone stuff out there on this topic, but I have found none of it convincing – and the truly successful people who use this technique probably aren’t talking! If you are reading this and you have any data or even anecdotal evidence in that regard please post a comment – I would really like to dig into that question as well down the road.

15 Comments

  1. Hi Ted,

    I agree with you I think Rand was pretty wrong on this one, I have dealt with many older websites and they are great if they have been utilized effectively for SEO over time. I do not believe if you have a domain from 2008 you can easily beat a 2008 domain. I think giving the wrong message to new SEO’s is not good. But that is the best thing about SEO every one has their own view point, people have different views.

  2. I’m definitely not convinced by Rand’s argument. He only presents theory with no real supporting evidence to back it up. A couple of things my backlink checking seems to support: 1) old reciprocal links still seem to pass link juice; and 2) it requires time for a new site to start ranking well, even if it has a much better link profile than an older site with a bunch of crappy reciprocal links.

  3. Vlad says:

    Hi, great post, but I have a few comments to make. I agree with you when you say that the domain age matters, because the older a website is, the more time it has to obtain trust and authority from Google, it has more time to acquire backlinks, etc. However, I’m not 100% sure that the age itself matters that much, if it does at all.

    I also recently saw a video on SEOmoz in regards to the age of a domain that explains a few things: http://bit.ly/fJGOiK

  4. Ted Ives says:

    Vlad – yes, that video is the same one I referenced and linked to at the beginning of the posting.

    I don’t agree that domain age is important because of its correlation with the number of backlinks – my point is, I believe Google is actually plugging the domain age number (in days, months, or years) directly into their rank scoring equations.

    It would be great to do a test with near identical domains of different ages with no backlinks – probably easier for the domainer community to test this than most SEOs as finding the right domains to make it a fair test would be challenging, you’d have to own a lot of them.

  5. I was a bit negative on Rands, comments also but then recently I have taken a site developed 3 Months ago to 2nd place on Google for its competitive term despite the sites around us being there for 5+ years and the site at the top spot has been there for 13 years. But I think we will soon go over that also.

    I guess for extremely busy new websites, that are mentioned in the news and gaining totally natural links fast etc etc this rule can apply that domain age no longer matters. But for websites in less competitive niches it would be alot harder to gain rankings.

  6. thomas says:

    Actually, it’s the “continuity of content” rather than age.

    Google can easily score a page based with a historic “usefulness” score. It’s trivial with a large dataset.

    We rank well, even on search terms we no longer actually include, but linked to our topic (immigration law) precisely because we have always stayed to topic.

    I’ve noticed this with a number of our sites. Good quality, over a long run, does yeild results.

  7. Ed Rude says:

    Part of the question of age is: What if my website goes down for a few weeks – when it comes up are my rankings based on what’s new or what’s old?

    I miscalculated the amount of time left on my hosting agreement. One of my websites went down and stayed down for four weeks.

    Once I got it up and running – at first the ranking on the SERPs was the same as before, but then a few days later the pages were ranked even better.

    So it is not even the continuity that matters so much as Google’s understanding of the quality of the content.

    Or perhaps this was the exception that proves the rule.

  8. Wood Railing says:

    Hi Ted, I definitely agree that the age of a domain affects its rankings . However, I don’t feel as if it’s as simple as taking the domain age and plugging it straight into the algo. It seems from work I’ve been doing recently that it is more like old SEO working really well. All those crappy reciprocal links from 2005 add up to make a strong link profile. More tellingly, I’ve seen big brands in these same directories while investigating smaller niches. So these link directories are linking to smallsite.com and also to nationalbrand.com. These links are 5 years old. Therefore, through what seems to be some reverse linke engineering, smallsite.com is gaining cred for being in the same link directory as nationalbrand.com.
    I’ve written a post at seomoz which led me here and would love to have you read it and comment. http://www.seomoz.org/q/aged-sites-or-5-year-old-seo

  9. VERY TRUE! I’ve gotten great success with my Long Island web design company by purchasing domains that are at LEAST 5+ years old

  10. Compare to other signals that Google uses Domain age is a small bit but never the less it has its own importance.

  11. Great post,
    According to Google Sandbox and Honeymoon effect,every dominwill be in Google Sandox for the first 4-6 months. Then it starts recieving some organic traffic.

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