How much of a factor is the age of a domain name in search engine rankings and search engine optimization (SEO)? Does the weight given to domain age vary from one search engine to the next? Does registering a domain for more than a year provide a boost to rank? Understanding the answers to these questions can help web developers decide whether to ditch a domain name in favor of a new one (remember “thefacebook.com” changing to “facebook.com“) and whether to register their domain for a year at a time or to sign up for longer spans.
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As a General Rule
As a general rule, age matters. Forum posts around the web recount situations in which the exact same content is posted to two domains, one new and one old. Even though everything is identical (keywords, meta tags, etc.), the older (registered for longer) domain performs better. This holds true even if the younger domain has been active and the older domain has been sitting idle.
It makes sense that domain age would matter. After all, time is usually kind to high-quality websites and harsh to those that have little value. Spammers and con artists also tend to have short attention spans and switch domain names frequently to avoid detection and law enforcement. It stands to reason that older domain names are probably more reputable, as a general rule, and will tend to have withstood customer evaluation. It also stands to reason that people who register their domains for long periods of time (more than a year at least) are more serious about their business or the content they are posting.
This metric is not unique to the Internet. After all, if one were to hire a plumber, chances are good that the one who has been in business for thirty years knows a thing or two about plumbing and has done well-enough to avoid lawsuits and poor word-of-mouth reviews. It makes sense that an older domain name and one that has been registered for a longer period of time reflects, at least to some degree, the quality of the site and its content. The question then becomes, how long is long enough?
How Long Is Long Enough?
Unfortunately, there is no clear answer to questions regarding length of registration and ranking. The exact amount of time that is important isn’t clear and seems to vary. Fortunately, domain names are relatively cheap to register (maybe $50 for five years), so owners can error on the side of caution and simply register for longer periods of time. The general recommendation is to go for at least two years and that anything beyond five years probably isn’t going to help much.
In terms of age, there is, again, no clear answer to how much impact it has. In general, as your site gets older, your search engine rankings will improve provided you maintain your SEO strategy and update as algorithms change. A reputable website that hangs around will get a little boost year after year, though the magnitude of that boost seems to diminish over time.
How Does Google Use Length of Domain Registration?
At least one study, entitled Components of Google’s Ranking Algorithm, suggests that length of domain registration accounts for approximately 6% of rank. Six percent is not an insignificant amount. More importantly, it is incredibly easy to get that 6% boost simply by extending a domain’s registration from one year to two years or more.
Despite what the study above found, many SEO experts claim that length of domain registration has no effect on rank. They claim that well-ranked websites derive no boost from extending the length of their domain registration. This is where the idea of domain age comes in. In the cases where length of registration has had no impact, it appears to be a result of the fact that the domain is already established and ranked well. Google, it seems, pays less attention to domain age (how long the domain has been registered) if the site itself is already established.
The take-home message is this. If the domain is new and the site is not established, then register for longer periods of time. If the domain is older and the website already ranks well, registering the domain for more than a year at a time is unlikely to have much impact. That said, if you find your ranking is neck-and-neck with a competitor, lengthening your registration time may be a cheap way to get a little boost.
What About Bing and Yahoo!?
Bing puts more emphasis on both age and domain registration length than Google does. In fact, starting over with a new domain name can have a huge impact on a site’s ranking with Bing. Bing tends to return older content and Google tends to return fresher content (sometimes up to 50% of a Google search is “new” content that Bing doesn’t rank). This latter fact supports the emphasis that Bing puts on age.
Yahoo! used to be a difficult case to pin down until an employee of the company said that “domain aging is becoming a solid way of determining a site’s long-term value and quality score.” It other words, domain age is not just important, but is more important now than it was in the past. Part of the decision to make this change came from the fact that Google was using age as a factor in its rankings. The use of age in ranking now, even though it was less relevant in the past, makes sense. The web is mature enough that age can be used as a reliable measure of how much a website offers and how popular it is with users.
It isn’t clear if Yahoo! cares about the length of domain registration, but it is a safe bet to assume that the company does. Give that Google and Bing care, the question is moot anyway. Choose the longer registration.
Unless there is a compelling reason to change a domain name, don’t do it. Branding is becoming important now and it has always been a good idea to have a short, keyword-rich domain name. If a domain is missing those two factors, then switching makes sense if you can get one or the other. If these aren’t factors for you, then leave the domain name as it is.
Register your domain for at least two years. It may not give you a huge boost, but every little bit counts. Registration fees are usually pretty small anyway, so why not just cover your bases? You never know when the algorithms will change either. Age and registration length appear to be increasingly important for rank, so the next iteration of Google or Bing may put even more emphasis on these factors.