There's a conversation going on in our Small Business Ideas forum about domain registration and the impact it has on search engine rankings. Generally, when I hear small business owners ask about this, they want to know if the age of a domain has any impact on their rankings. In the case of this thread, the original poster is asking if the length of domain registration has anything to do with rankings. I've heard this question pop up more often in the last few months, so I thought it might be worth throwing down a few thoughts on the issue.

The line of thinking here is Google looks at domain registrations (they do) and they use what they find to influence rankings (they likely do.) They believe Google considers the length of time your domain is registered for as a sign of how serious you are about your business. By that, I mean many believe you will rank better if you register your domain name for 3, 5 or even 10 years rather than for a year at a time.

These folks believe Google will reward longer registrations because Google thinks a shorter registration period is a sign of a company who operates with throw away domains. They think spammers who are registering throw-away domains aren't going to pay for more than one year's registration, so Google gives more credibility to those who do.

While I have no definitive proof that Google doesn't consider length of registration as part of their algorithm, I do think I can use a little common sense to explain why it would be a silly thing for them to consider when it comes to determining rankings.

Bringing Common Sense to the Table

As with any other potential ranking factor, I always suggest we go back to the Pinocchio Effect to consider whether or not the factor will impact rankings.

If you're not familiar with my theory of the Pinocchio Effect, here's a quick summary:

You see, deep down, search engines want nothing more than to be real boys (or girls). That's right, it's that simple. As search engine engineers gain more and more ability to tailor the algorithms, their ultimate goal is to help the search engines make choices the way that people do.

That means anytime I'm looking at a new potential ranking factor (even before I do any testing) I sit down and ask myself if a human being would use that factor as a way to judge the quality of a site. I also ask myself how easy it would be to "game" that factor. Ninety percent of the time, common sense rules the day. So let's break this idea down using the Pinocchio Effect.

First, we need to ask ourselves if domain registration length is a good indicator of a quality site. Since I'm a big fan of analogies, let's go ahead and port this idea over to the offline world.

Let's say I'm looking to get my grandfather's heirloom pocket watch fixed. One of the springs has broken and I need a skilled watch repairman to get in there and work their magic. I start hunting for someone to hire. I'm going to ask around to get some recommendations and then I'm going to consider a few things. Among the things I'll consider is how long this person has worked as a watch repairman. The longer he's been in business, the more confidence I have in his ability to get the job done. After all, you don't stay employed as a watch repairman if you can't get the job done.

What I'm not likely to consider is how long the lease is on his storefront. In fact, I can honestly tell you I've never in my life found myself asking a business how long their lease is before I've made a purchase from them. It's just not the type of thing I concern myself with because it's not even remotely indicative of the quality of a business. Might I worry the company will go out of business because they aren't good at what they do? Sure! But I've never thought to myself "geeze, they don't have a ten year lease on this retail space...I bet they're kind of shady."

Why should a search engine be any different?

As a human, I'm interested in how long a company has been doing business. Online, this translates to how long the site has been doing business as that domain. I'm interested in how much they've grown and expanded to meet growing customer demand. Online, this translates to new content and new offerings. I'm interested in the word of mouth recommendations I might hear from friends and colleagues. Online this translates to incoming links and positive customer reviews.

All of these things factor in to the way I, a human, judge the quality of a site. They also factor in to how search engines judge a site.

How many times have you, a human, found yourself checking a company's domain registration to make sure they own their domain for at least 3-5 years before you'll make a purchase from them? None? That's what I thought. So why should a search engine care?

Still not convinced? That's ok, let's move on to the next thing I look at in the "common sense algorithmic approach" and ask ourselves how easy it would be to game this ranking factor.

Domain registration costs vary from around $7 a year to around $15 a year, depending on the registrar. Most registrars give you a bit of a discount if you register your domain for several years at once, so let's average things out to $10 a year for a registration. That means a site owner might spend around $10 to register their domain for one year, or around $50 to register it for five.

Does anyone honestly believe $40 is a high enough price that someone aiming to build throw-away domains to gain quick rankings and make money will opt for the single year registration instead? Do you think Google believes it? After all, anyone who can't make an extra $40 off a domain name in a year has no business building throw-away domains or trying to game the system anyway.

It's ludicrous to think $40 is a high enough price to sort the serious businesses from the search engine gamers. I know it, you know it and the search engines know it.

So What Should You Do?

How long you register your domain for is entirely up to you. I know quite a few businesses who do register their domains for five or ten years at a time, though generally that's to avoid screw-ups that might cause you to lose your domain. After all, it can be expensive and time consuming to recapture a lost domain name. Registering for an extended period of time simply for the convenience factor makes perfect sense. Registering for an extended period of time because you think it will help you improve your rankings? Seems sort of silly to me.

That said, if you aren't convinced you can always register your domain for a full 100 years with Network Solutions. Of course it will cost you more per year ($9.99) than it will to use a cheaper service and set things to auto-renew, but you can rest assured you'll be set if the search engines ever DO start handing out better rankings for longer domain registrations.

Like anything else in search engine optimization, only the search engines know for sure. Ultimately, I can only tell you I'll continue to leave all of my domains on auto-renewal for one year at a time. (Granted, part of that is because I'm cheap...) Of course domain registration is cheap these days. $100 will easily buy you ten years worth of "security." But I highly doubt it will buy you better rankings.

Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.


November 15, 2007





Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.





Comments(23)

Jennifer,

I have to disagree with you on this one. Continuing on your analogy: A new watch repairman enters a town, opens up a store next to his older colleague, sets up an aggressive pricing plan, gets all the customers (and their money), then after a while closes down his shady business and leaves the town with a lot of money and a lot of unsatisfied customers - heading for the next town to continue the fraud.

That some things can't be traced in the real world doesn't necessarily mean they shouldn't be traced online (i.e. there's no way you could know that the new nice watch repairman would flee the town with your money without ever repairing your watch).

Domain registration information is public, and only one of alleged 200+ factors Google uses to rank pages, so it's not likely you'd see significant changes based on that alone. However, if I was Google, I'd try to get my hands on any public information on a site I could possibly get to compose better SERPs.

Google's patent application couldn't be more explicit (see http://tinyurl.com/5fpfj ):

"[0099] Certain signals may be used to distinguish between illegitimate and legitimate domains. For example, domains can be renewed up to a period of 10 years. Valuable (legitimate) domains are often paid for several years in advance, while doorway (illegitimate) domains rarely are used for more than a year. Therefore, the date when a domain expires in the future can be used as a factor in predicting the legitimacy of a domain and, thus, the documents associated therewith."

With this in mind, I will keep the recommendation to extend short domain reservation times in my SEO site audit checklist.

Best regards,

-Leevi

Leevi,

I guess I don't see how your post negates my point. You're talking about age of the business (i.e. how long as the domain existed and how long as the company been doing business on that domain) which is a COMPLETELY different issue than how long they have PRE-registered their domain name.

That's why I compared age of business (age of domain) against length of lease (how many years your domain is registered for.)

I never said the age of your domain or how long you've been in business doesn't help your rankings. I firmly believe it can and does. (though I believe that's more due to the natural build-up of links and content than sheer age)

What I DON'T believe is that Google, or other engines give you any type of boost for registering your domain name for 10 years at a time instead of renewing it each year.

Oh, and to note...I don't disagree with the fact that they COULD use that as a factor. As you pointed out, they've even filed a patent stating they can look at this as a factor.

But just because they can and just because they've filed a patent for it doesn't mean they DO.

It's certainly not going to hurt you to register for greater periods of time, but I don't at all believe search engine rankings are a reason to rush out and extend all of your domain registrations for the next ten years.

Jennifer,

thanks for the fast (!) replies.

I wasn't referring to the age of the business. What I tried to say but probably failed (sometimes I do wish I was a native speaker :-) was that in the offline world you wouldn't have a clue beforehand that the new kid in town would just run with the money, but that's something you could actually try to determine online, in combination with various (200+) other factors. And since it might be (and I admit we really don't know for sure :-) part of an algorithm anyway, why not let the machine do its job?

So it might not boost your rankings, but it might help stating to Google that you're one of the good guys. In a competitive organic space, I would use whatever means possible to stay on the safe side (with the white hat firmly on my head :-). So I'd still go for 3+ years, just to differentiate my site from the spammers, if nothing else.

Thanks again for your insight, and the open discussion!

Best regards,

-Leevi

>By that, I mean many believe you will rank better if you register your domain name for 3, 5 or even 10 years rather than for a year at a time.

From G's patent why Leevi quoted "Therefore, the date when a domain expires in the future can be used as a factor in predicting the legitimacy of a domain and, thus, the documents associated therewith."

Looks like a match to me.


>It's ludicrous to think $40

Not if you're burning through domains at 100+ clip per month. I see the churn-n-burn guys reacting to a $2 difference in .info registration, so I'd say domain registration by spammers is more price sensitive than you'd think.

>a little common sense to explain why it would be a silly thing for them to consider

It's been my experience that this would be a good metric for Google to apply. Whether they use it or not is, as you say, unknown. I have anecdotal evidence that they may use it, but my sense is that it's weak --as in determining who wins a tie.

Personally, I go 10, but it's to get rid of the nuisance factor of managing renewals.

Again, can and do are not the same. :)

I also never said it didn't factor in, just that I think it would be awfully silly for it to count. I really can't see an engine giving it enough weight to actually matter.

And while it's true that money adds up when you're registering hundreds of domains a month...it's been my experience that anyone skilled enough to try and game the engines with throw-away domains is making more than enough money to shell out for a few extra year's registration for the sake of legitimacy.

Besides, think how many perfectly legitimate web sites are set to be renewed each and every year. Again, while Google COULD look at it, they'd be idiots to think the length of your domain registration was actually indicative of the quality of a site. Not when there are a million other factors that actually DO tell you whether or not a site is legitimate.

My domains renew automatically. I don't have to do a thing other than keep paying my credit card bills. I just don't see how that's a hassle.

>can and do are not the same

Neither is the converse --do and can, but the point is that you're making assumptions and providing arguments that are no more than speculative wishful thinking.

>skilled enough to try and game the engines

Who said anything about them having skill? I'd say that the vast majority of noticeable long-tail spam hitting the domain floodgates is newbie-ish blackhat crap.

>just don't see how that's a hassle.

It's more long-term insurance for some. I've been called to the scene of horrific accidents to try and mop up the mess; like a $6-figure, generic, single keyword domain lost the client forgot to update his credit card info and his email filters.

Have you thought about doing a follow-up story to look at whether private vs. public domain registration could affect your search ranking?

rcjordan,

I'm not saying you have to agree with me. SEO is very much a "to each their own" kind of thing. I'm laying out my case for why I don't think it matters enough to rush out and lengthen the registrations on domain names.

Others will disagree. As I've said you certainly aren't going to be HURT by lengthening your registrations.

As for the other points, I see two things at play.

1.) If the spammer/throw-away domain owner has so very little skill, I don't see how they'd ever creep into the rankings in th first place...thus, I can't see why you'd really have to actively combat them. Those types of sites...the ones that pop up and vanish by the hundreds day in and day out are unlikely to EVER have an impact on the rankings.

2.) You're absolutely right on the whole lost renewals, credit card changing, etc... But that's a totally separate issue. If someone wants to register their domain name for 100 years to make sure they never have to worry about renewing it again, that's their call. Most businesses simply need to have the same plan in place for covering domain renewals as they do for renewing the lease on their office space though.

Although I don't have any hard evidence, it seems like the only use for penalizing short-term registrations would be to stop domain squatters who register chunks of domains under the 30-day grace period and then only keep the ones that seem viable. Practically speaking, Google's algorithms are already tipped enough towards domain age and some sort of sandbox (whether it's deliberate or just an artifact of the system) that additional penalties probably aren't required.

Even using black-hat tactics, a domain needs time to get spidered, establish links, etc., and 30 days isn't going to cut it. Beyond those 30-day registrations, I doubt there's much correlation between the quality of a website and whether the domain is registered for 1 year or 10 years at a time.

> Again, can and do are not the same. :)

Not to be harsh, but your article and your replies in the comments speak from two different angles, and nothing really gets resolved. Your article is written from the perspective of trying to convince us that your common sense approach is right, (e.g. "Still not convinced?"), whereas your post article comments have you sitting on the fence and repeatedly going over your "can and do" regimen.

Also, I think there are some contradictory ideas (or at the very least poor financial advice) in your argument concerning price. You, for instance, say this:

> "It's ludicrous to think $40 is a high enough price to sort the serious businesses from the search engine gamers."

...so you think the cost of multi year registration is nominal... so nominal that it would be foolish to include it as legitimacy indicator....alright... but then you turn around and say this:

> "I'll continue to leave all of my domains on auto-renewal for one year at a time. (Granted, part of that is because I'm cheap...)"

...so now you think it's too expensive for multiple year registration.. alright...even after you've already said this:

> "Most registrars give you a bit of a discount if you register your domain for several years at once"

Obviously by your own admission it's actually cheaper for you to register domains in advance. Thus, the financially reasonable person in most of us should be saying that we should be registering domains for longer periods of time in the interest of getting a better rate, and paying LESS than we would have if we renewed the domains annually. If a boost in rankings comes with that, however minimal, that's just a bonus.

>How many times have you, a human, found yourself checking a company's domain registration to make sure they own their domain for at least 3-5 years before you'll make a purchase from them? None? That's what I thought.

I'll concede I'm probably in the minority, but I actually do this all the time... and more people wouldn't be ripped off from small-time/bogus vendors if they did it as well. I do it especially on the occasion when I work with a business that *isn't* a recognized brand. For instance, I recently purchased a custom chess set from a vendor in Spain. I also purchased a custom fitting case for my portable mp3 player. I checked the domain registration on both of these businesses as one of a few indicators on legitimacy.

Another item your article didn't address is simply that search has become ever increasingly competitive. Thus, there is the "why not" factor. Given you've already deemed the expense of multiple year registration to be low for a "serious business" (which brings up another topic entirely... who forks over the cash to become a business and isn't "serious"? I guess I don't understand the concept of "serious business" over a "not serious business"), why not register for multiple years in advance if you get a lower rate and the possibility of some brownie points with Google? Any margin you can gain over your counterparts (while saving money as well) is a smart business decision.

The "do" portion of your "can and do" theory doesn't really matter. The fact is, they CAN do it, so it would be foolish not to act accordingly knowing that they CAN figure it in, especially when it comes at a cost savings for you to do so. Despite what you think is foolish, I think it's foolish to assume that registration length isn't in the equation. Not doing it at this point is just silly given you are foregoing cost savings, and potentially missing out on any benefit, however small, that Google might be giving to it.

Your argument seems more bred in obstinance than common sense... essentially you're just saying, "Yeah, I could save money by registering domains longer in advance, and Google COULD reward me for doing so... but I'm not going to do that because I think it's silly."

I'm inclined to believe that it may have been a factor, but if it was it's value has decreased since the idea became "public". Obviously, if a spammer is able to recoup the added expense of a multi-year registration by ranking improvements resulting from that multi-year registration then they're going to go ahead with such a registration.

Bracket,

I don't think anyone will argue with you over calling me obstinate, certainly not me. ;) But that's not what's going on here.

I'm not sure if you're a small business owner or an industry type...but the perspective makes a difference here. So, let me address your points.

1.) I haven't changed my stance between the article and the comments. I said in the article that I had no definitive proof. I made it clear that this is my personal theory. Thus, in the comments, when I was challenged, I continued to say that it may or may not be what Google is doing. That's consistent. It's not like I'm going to sit here staunchly insisting that my theory is fact, simply because someone challenged me.

That's how debates go. You lay out your reasons and what facts you do have and you try to form a convincing argument. I may have convinced you, I may not. (Obviously not.) That's fine. SEO is an art, not a science because we do not KNOW exactly what and how the engines look at. We know some of them and we can test to find others, but ultimately, a large part of SEO is still guesswork.

2.) I only contradict myself on cost if you ONLY look at total cost. I don't work that way. Yes, I may save $3 in total cost by registering something for three years instead of one, but I WOULD end up spending more right here and now.

My house would be cheaper if I'd pay for it in cash instead of financing it, but like nearly every one else in this country, I have a mortgage. I pay more over time for the convenience of paying less AT a time.

Now, if I honestly thought paying that extra money up front to register my domain for multiple years gave me a boost in the engines, I'd totally do it. I don't HAVE to pay a graphic designer to design a site to have a reasonable site design (Well, clearly we do on SEG, lol, but soon enough) done, but paying that fee often results in more credibility due to the good design. You're buying your credibility and sometimes, that's a worthwhile investment.

What I'm saying is, I don't believe this investment increases your credibility with buyers or with search engines, so if you don't want to pay it, you don't HAVE to. This is what I want to pass on to our small business readers.

The cost is low enough that if they're paranoid about their rankings they can certainly pay the extra fees for the peace of mind. At the same time, if they're looking to save money to spend on other things in their business, they can continue to renew a year at a time with little worry that they'll take a hit in the rankings.

3.) I suspect you ARE in the great minority in terms of checking domain registration. I know a LOT of folks in the industry and a lot of non-industry types who are Internet savvy. I don't know of a single person who has ever checked the domain registration to determine how legitimate a company is. I know plenty who go look up consumer reviews, check the BBBonline or take other measures...but I know none who consider domain registration a sign of "quality."

4.) In regards to serious business verses non-serious business, perhaps you aren't familiar with the concept of a throw-away domain. A company looking to register their domain and a few variations of it so they can build a web site and use it to run their business count as "serious" businesses here.

The search engine spammers who flood the engines with scraper sites monetized by AdSense or with landing page sites dedicated to affiliate schemes KNOW their sites will eventually get penalized and tossed from the index. They buy domains knowing they have a shelf life because once they're caught, those domains are basically worthless. These are "non-serious" businesses. (In my mind)

5.) So rather than my article saying "Yeah, I could save money by registering domains longer in advance, and Google COULD reward me for doing so... but I'm not going to do that because I think it's silly." like you think I am, I'm actually saying...

"Domain registration is cheap, but it IS an expense. I don't believe length of registration has any impact on how well you rank, so it's up to you to decide whether or not you want to pay extra money now."

Hi Jennifer,

Good read, but I don't think you took it far enough.

First, I MUST comment on this because Friday I had a new client who knows almost nothing about Internet marketing say that she wants to do a multi-year registration because it helps ranking. I was like, 'ok' probably has a small positive effect. So now that we know this is in the big registrars (Godaddy) playbook for increasing sales, here's where I think you stopped short.

I can't fault what you said, but I still think it can be an important signal when length of domain is *compared* with other important signals about domain registration habits. So what I'm saying is by itself it probably means almost nothing, but when compared to other data about the domain account I think multi-year registrations could play a postive (but likey small) role.

I love your common sense approach, so here's mine...

If a domain account holds thousands of domains and is constantly buying domains, launching low value sites, squating domains, and drops domains frequently by not renewing then common sense tells me that long multi-year registrations should have no value. You're basically telling SEs you have income to mess around with domain registrations and that you're a player.


Now if a domain account holds 1 or very few domains, the domains are all active sites running live and have ok link value, then I think muti-year registration is a postive signal that they're serious about the site and common sense says that it's a good signal to value.

I'm probably giving SEs too much credit to think things through to this level, but this is my view.

Jeff

I so enjoy reading your work... I really do... I read so much garbage that is only theory and speculation written as fact. I enjoy when someone takes a good hard look at these myths.

I once challenged a blogger who wrote an article about 5 sure way to get better search rankings and this topic was #3 on his list. He actually responded that his article was best on a hunch rather than fact... Which I thought was cool... Keep up the good work!

I read your article and thought it may be helpful for you to know that I just registered a domain at network solutions, and during this process they pucjed an ad that claimed that search engines give better ranking to sites that are registered (reserved)for 5+ years. Of course they have a reason to say that since they make more money if you register for longer. Just thought you'd like to know what network solutions is claiming.

Jennifer and SEO friends,

I'd like to share some comments from the perspective of an Internet old-timer who precedes the commercialism of the 'net and an SEO e-commerce expert. Of course, I'm not too modest either ;)

I enjoyed reading this article and the comments that followed. The very first comment was right by pointing out the wording of Googles Patent section 99!

A couple of my comments include:

I shared a link to an article I wrote in detail from my personal experience the three months following the release of Googles Patent on March 15th 2005 for those that are curious. It is too long to be cut and paste here.


Do Not pay for your domains 99 years in advance since anything over 10 years is not counted or transferable. I suspect that is Network Solutions way of locking people into them as a domain registrar.

SEO is NOT a to each their own kind of thing. Indeed there is over 200 items or issues that have a relationship to the placement of a URL in the engine, however there are about 5 basic principals that when performed, will help any site. These are published all over the 'net



Lastly, as to the importance of prepaid domain registration... The very first thing I try to do a new potential client is considering my SEO services is to read my article which details from personal experience what happened to my companies domain when I did my test over a three months period and to get them to prepay the 10 years. I even tell them that it'll make my job easier and make me look better in the end and of course that it is addressed directly in Google Patent.



SEO is a bunch of little things that are often one time issues which when combined can make for a very powerful site when it comes to placement on the engines. Domain prepayment is one of the most important things that can help...assuming other elements are also in place. If you have a one page site with no content, you're not going to do well regardless of domain prepayment!

Best 'net regards,
Joe

I agree with the author.

I don't really think Google now gives high weightage to domain age. Had been they so, facebook, digg, technorati, etc would not have good SERP. Instead what I think is the popularity and traffic of website that really matters. People always measure the popularity in terms of PR. Google webmaster does not think so. They are of the opinion of not thinking too much about PR. So, PR is taking a back seat these days. In a fast changing Google's algorithms inclined more towards universal search, being rigid over the PR as a strong measuring tool for your website shows an outdated thought. C'mmon, analyze the current trends and then put forth your opinion.

This is just a hype made by people who are into domain buying and selling business. To makes sure their business will run smoothly and there remains many buyers and sellers, they have promoted this and have populated articles, blogs, etc across various websites.

Someone argues that domain age does matter because Google considers this as a measuring tool to authenticate a web site. Longer be the domain age registration, higher trust value Google assigns to such site to avoid SPAMMING sites which are booked for a short time. This is hype and many SEO firms have begun believing this.

I don’t know about couple of years back whether Google was giving weightage to domain age or not, but my observation says NO. Google seems to have dropped this in its algorithm.


Jennifer,
Honestly, I don't know for a fact if search engines really look at the length of domain registration, but I know from personal experience, working at a major registrar, that people are very cheap, especially people involved in shadier things. And lacking other cues that a human might be able to pick out Regardless of whether an extended registration actually improves search engine ranking, any company that's unwilling to drop a measly hundred dollars on preserving what is basically their most important asset, what people will remember them by, is probably digging their own grave in all sorts of other ways as well.
If it's a personal website, no real reason to register it that long, but, what's $100 compared to, say, the cost of renting an office for a month? People make mistakes, leave domains autorenewing on expired cards. Even if the chance is low, consider the cost of losing a domain that everyone knows you by, and you'll see that it's WAY more than $100

Great column. Found this while looking for an answer to my question, "why is my domain age listed as unknown" and is there anything I can do about it?

Look, If this is counted as a factor its probably worth say "1 point"

while each backlink may also be worth 1 point. I don't think its worth much overall, it wouldn't hurt to do it, but alone its worth jack.

Thats my 2 points worth.

Clay

No one knows the truth, but consider this analogy.

When you are interviewing someone for a job OR looking to partner with or gain a reliable vendor long-term, you want to know they will be around in 5 or 10 years.

It makes sense to inquire into this because you want to know that they will be dependable. This minimizes risk. If Google is looking at the length of domain name life, then it would make sense or an extra peek to see how long the domain name will be available in the future. This makes sense simply because there is less risk to Google in providing a higher rank.

I joined a gym one time back in the 90's and joined for 1 year. They closed down, literally, 3 days after I joined. All my money disappeared. It would have been nice to know what their long term plan was, how long they leased their building for, or if they owned the building.

One assumes companies want to persevere, however, with the internet, there is no guarantee that any DOMAIN NAME will be around come the next calendar year - unless it is already paid for in full.

From my personal experience, I believe a mature domain does rank better in the major engines.

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Search Engine Guide > Jennifer Laycock > Does Registering Your Domain for Longer Periods Help You Rank Better?