If you browse through webmaster forums, you are bound to come across questions regarding domain name age and its impact on search engine optimization (SEO) efforts. The questions generally revolve around two aspects of domain age. First, is it true that well-established domain names mean that the site itself is well-established? Second, do search engines associated new domains with potential spammers?

For years, webmasters have agreed that domain age is not an important factor in ranking. This may be changing however, with admissions from the likes of Yahoo! and Bing that domain age is becoming increasingly important. Both companies point out that their efforts to include domain age in rank are at least partially in response to Google’s doing the same. So how much does having an older domain matter with new ranking algorithms?

Google Patent Information

In 2005, a forum on WebmasterWorld revealed information about Google’s search patent. Two points stuck out regarding domain age and rank. First, Google clearly stated that “the date that a domain with which a document is registered may be used as an indication of the inception date of the document.” In other words, Google is interested in the age of web content and will use domain registration dates to gauge just how old content is.

The second thing that arose from Google’s patient declaration is their claim that “certain signals may be used to distinguish between illegitimate and legitimate domains.” They go on to say that “valuable domains are often paid for several years in advance while doorway (illegitimate) domains are rarely used for more than a year.” Again, this is evidence that Google is paying attention to domain age when determining how “valuable” a particular piece of content is.

Now the catch regarding the above information is that Google is generally referencing domain registration length and not necessarily domain age. Does domain registration length matter more or is domain age the important factor? If it is the former, then even established websites might see a hit to their rank if they stop registering for multiple years and instead register only for a year at a time.

Reading Between the Lines

Part of the problem with using domain registration date for rank is that it isn’t a great indicator of quality. For instance, domains can be registered and left parked, old domains can simply point to new domains, and domains that have been used for spam in the past might be sold to a legitimate webmaster. All of these problems revolve around the fact that domain age is a poor indicator of quality. The question then is, can age become a significant factor when used in combination with other criteria?

The answer to the above question is almost certainly yes. Age alone may be an unreliable factor, but age in association with things like Alexa Rank, keywords, and other common ranking criteria is important. The bottom line is this. If you create spam with an old domain, the age of the domain won’t be of much value because search engines are pretty good at identifying spam. On the other hand, a mediocre but legitimate page will rank higher simply because the domain is older. Great pages will rank high no matter what and will get little boost from domain age, which simply reinforces the old, and very true, adage that “content is king.”

Domain Age and Backlink Value

An interesting caveat to the argument regarding domain age comes down to backlinks. Backlinks from aged domains are considered more valuable and more powerful than backlinks from newer domains. If this can be used as an indicator of Google’s interest in domain age, then it would suggest that the company finds older domains to be more valuable than new domains. If Google is willing to give extra weight to backlinks from old domains, then it makes sense that it would also give weight to older domains in general search ranking.

Bing and Yahoo!

Bing tends to track Google in terms of how it ranks pages based on domain age. That is to say, Bing will allow new pages to move up quickly in the ranks, even as compared to older pages, so long as the rest of the SEO on those pages is legitimate. Having said that, it is important to know that Bing gives slightly more weight to domain age than Google does. This is why you often see older pages in the top spots on Bing and up to 50% more fresh content on Google.

Yahoo! appears to have put heavy emphasis on domain age. Studies have shown that pages with the exact same content may be take up four months longer to rank well on Yahoo! as compared to Google. Yahoo! has openly stated that domain age is important in its algorithm–though it hasn’t explained why it is so important. The speculation is that Yahoo! is attempting to one-up Google by presenting search results that have less spam. Unfortunately, this comes at the cost of outdated rankings, which can kill a search engine when people are looking for trending topics.

Real Value

Lest you think that domain age is only a minor category, consider the survey carried out by SEOmoz. They asked 37 SEO professionals to sort 50 factors that affect a website’s search engine rank. First and foremost was keyword use in the title tag. That was followed quickly by anchor text of outbound links and global link popularity of site. In fourth place was the age of the site.

Not only did SEO experts rate the age of a site as an important factor in search engine rank (top five in fact), they said that its importance had increased in recent years. They point to the fact that Google will “sandbox” the newest domains, which means it will not assign a PageRank, sometimes for as long as three months, if certain aspects of the site seem “spammy” and the site is new. This only reiterates the point that good SEO practices are critical for newer sites, perhaps more critical than they are for established sites.

The bottom line is this. Domain age is critical, but content matters more. Domain age will be factored into a determination of a website’s quality, fact that makes other aspects of SEO extremely important for new websites. New sites cannot afford to let SEO slip.