Domain age is a public aspect of a website, and as such it can be considered to be a part of your overall SEO. However, it’s not something you can really change. You can’t “upgrade” into an older domain name.
Google hates giving anyone an unfair advantage in the realm of SEO. The way they see it, you have to have an even playing field, so anyone has a chance to rank. How many times have new sites come on the scene and it seems like only weeks or months before they’re big names around the world? How long did it take BuzzFeed, for example, to grow from nothing into prominence?
They can’t give domain age a large amount of value, because then older sites would always have an advantage. Two equally good sites, one with an older domain, would always end up ranked the same way due to that one factor.
Google did, in fact, file a patent for using historical data in search results, all the way back in 2005. They’ve been able to use this technology since then. The question is, are older domains more valuable?
The “common sense” version of the story is that yes, an older domain is likely going to carry more value than a brand new domain. That’s why there are so many articles like this one about how you can evaluate an expired domain to estimate its value to use for yourself.
Of course, almost all of these articles guide you towards one particular usage for the blog, which is for a Private Blog Network. Google doesn’t like PBNs, and has a history of demoting them and the sites that use them. Alternative uses tend to include things like buying the domain and using a 301 redirect to point any existing links and traffic to your site.
This only works, however, if the older domain meets two criteria. First, the older domain needs to have once hosted a site that, well, didn’t suck. If the old site sucked, it probably didn’t accumulate much if any value. Any links it had probably aren’t worth much.
Secondly, the older domain needs to have expired relatively recently. The longer a domain has sat idle, as a parked page or simple a 404, the less likely it is to have maintained any value at all. If you buy a domain that has been idle since 2001, that domain may as well be brand new.
How Google Determines Domain Age
Here’s a question for you; what determines the age of a domain? You can plug any domain you want into something like the wayback machine. I’ve personally seen domains I thought had nothing on them that turned out to have had two different websites – non-spam websites at that – since the 1990s. Does the fact that the domain was first registered in 1992 lend a new website on that domain any additional value? No, not really.
You can look up the WhoIs information for a domain, but there’s a lot of issues with doing so. Information can be hidden or it can be inaccurate. If someone lapses on renewing their domain for a week or a month, then re-registers it, the date might show as the new registration date even if the site is the same. Then you have disparate information across different registrars and different countries making it impossible to use as a reliable resource.
Instead, Google actually goes by a combination of two things; when was the first time they have record of indexing the domain, and when was the first time they found a link to that domain? Often these will be the same date; for people who don’t know to submit a sitemap for a new site, Google can only find it by finding a link that points to it. That’s why getting a brand new site indexed can be a long wait.
How Impactful is Domain Age?
Domain age, as I mentioned above, can’t be used as a large ranking factor because it’s an advantage smaller, newer sites won’t be able to beat. It would be like using staggered starting lines in a footrace for a straight race. People who start later have to run further.
If you don’t believe my logic, you can go directly to the “face of Google”, Matt Cutts. In one older video, he addresses exactly this issue. What he says is that the difference between a site that’s six months old and a site that’s a year old is minimal.
After all, if I built a site in secret and didn’t link out to it for a full year, why should that site have more base value than an exact copy and pasted version of that site that was put up on hosting today? Other than copied content issues, of course; ignore those for the sake of this thought experiment.
Domain age really only matters for the first two or three months of a site existing. Think of it like a sort of power bar or charge meter; you charge it up starting from zero when you register the site, up to 100 once you’ve had the site going for a few months. The charge stays at 100 as long as you’re keeping the site updated, keeping it filled with fresh content, and growing it. If you abandon the site and let it go, over the course of a few months or a year or two, that “charge” will be depleted. That’s why you can’t just pick up and run with an old site, you need to put a little work into reviving it.
Of course, you don’t have to trust Matt Cutts or the word of Google at all if you don’t want to. The folks at Dagmar Marketing argue that domain age IS a ranking factor specifically because, rather than saying it’s not, Matt says “I wouldn’t worry about that.”
Here’s my perspective. As far as I’m concerned, domain age is a factor, but it’s so minimal as not to matter once your site has been around for a few months. The extent of the care you should put into it is to register your domain as soon as you have an idea of what it should be, and throw up some kind of “under construction” or “coming soon” page. This page can even be kept up to date with the start of a blog if you have more advanced features to follow, like a storefront or a custom design. There’s no shame in starting a small blog and expanding it into a full site later.
Domain age is one of those factors that, if it counts for anything, counts for so little that you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference except in a very specific scenario. If you had two perfectly identical sites, one with a month-old domain and one with a year-old domain, chances are the older one would rank better.
Or maybe it wouldn’t! Content freshness has such a large impact. If a domain is a year old but the site only has one month’s worth of content on it, and another site is a month old and has fresher content, that newer site would rank better. The age isn’t enough to outweigh other factors.
A Bit of Minor History
There was a time back in the early 2000s where domain age mattered a little more, and it’s probably why Google filed their patent and why domain age matters in the first two or three months of a site’s life cycle. The reason is something called Domain Tasting.
When you go to a wine tasting or a similar event, you’re there to get the sense and taste of a variety of different wines, ideally so that you can find one you like and buy a bottle to bring home. Domain tasting is similar.
Due to something called the Add Grace Period, or AGP, if a user purchased a domain but decided they didn’t want it within the first week, they could give it back with a full refund. Webmasters would abuse this by coming up with lists of hundreds of potential domains. They would create a basic template site and a large checklist of information they wanted. They’d “buy” a domain, throw the site up, and do a ton of research to see how viable the site would be on that domain. They would estimate basic search engine value, they would analyze any residual value from an expired domain, and so forth.
Then, before the AGP was up, they would make a decision. If the site was worth running with, they would keep it and build a site up around it. If it wasn’t, they would return the domain for a refund, having spent nothing more than time in an attempt to find a better starting point.
Two things conspired to fix this problem. One was Google, who filed that patent I mentioned in 2005, and made domain age matter more in the first few weeks and months of site ownership. The domain tasters wouldn’t be able to get much search ranking information because their site was too new. The second was the ICANN implementing transaction fees and other pressure to make refunding a domain less palatable. People still do it, of course, but it’s less viable and more expensive these days.
Good Reasons to Find an Older Domain
There are, after all of this, still a few good reasons why you might consider finding an older domain rather than simply creating a new one from scratch.
Older domains are likely to be more human readable. To an extent, there’s something of a username problem at play here. If you were to try to go to a service like AIM, or even Twitter these days, chances are a lot of your ideal usernames have been taking. All of the common words and letters, and a lot of the ones with 2 on the end or xx before and after them are already taken. You don’t want to be WeedLord422 on Twitter, that’s just embarrassing.
These days, a lot of domains are already taken, even if there’s nothing of value on them. You can’t necessarily just buy a domain either, so you have to work around what has been claimed to find something you can use for your brand.
Older domains don’t have to compromise with TLDs. As a follow-up to the domain/username problem, you can work around a taken name by using a different TLD. If you want something that already has a .com, you could register the same thing as a .net or a .org, or one of those newer TLDs like .site.
Too many people today consider a .com to be “the internet” as a whole. Try to push a .net website, and you’ll see a shockingly large number of people trying to reach www.example.net.com. Since that doesn’t work, they’ll tell you that your site is down, if they have another way to contact you.
And, of course, you have the innate value of the .com domain. Since so many people consider it the default, it has much more base value, and it’s always better to get one. If you find an expired domain you want to pick up, you can find the .com much more easily than if you’re trying to register a new one from scratch.
Finally, older domains can have some valid backlinks you can use. They might not be worth much, but if you have a good campaign of building backlinks, they can mix in with your profile to give you a wider base and get you off the ground a little bit faster.
When it comes down to it, though, there’s just not a lot of value to be had out of older domains on their own. If the choice is between an older domain and a newer domain, but the newer domain has a better brand match URL, go with the newer one.