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.
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.
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