The Influence of Domains on SEO

The influence of domains and domain names on SEO has been discussed around the web since its inception. However there’s hardly any resources that look separately into this topic in its entirety. This is the reason today we’ll discuss the various domain factors that have an influence on SEO and the wider implications that come with it.

  1. Domain Age

Many SEOs inherently believe that Google “trusts” older domains. The reason for this is that spammers register and drop domains quickly, thus logically spammy websites tend to have newly registered domain names. Another reason comes from the belief that well-established websites have old domain names, so by reverse logic, an old domain should mean that the site is well-established. 

Generally speaking, webmasters and SEOs alike including Backlinko’s Brian Dean seem to agree that domain age is a ranking factor but opinions vary as to the degree of importance search engines place on this ranking factor in particular. 

Although Google’s John Mueller has recently said Domain age helps nothing, Google’s patent on “Information Retrieval Based on Historical Data” of 31st of March, 2005 implies that Google does look into both domain registration and domain renewal dates. Search Engine Journal’s verdict is however that although it’s possible for search engines to use it as a ranking factor, it’s true value is often overestimated as the main value of a domain with an old registration date comes from its historical backlink profile. We’ll return to this later in this article.

  1. Domain Registration Length

According to the same Google patent on “Information Retrieval Based on Historical Data” which, by the way, is no longer available on the web, the search engine uses certain signals to distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate domains.

Namely, “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 for predicting the legitimacy of a domain and, thus, it is possible for it to be used as a search engine ranking factor.

  1. Keyword appears in the Domain name

According to Brian Dean of Backlinko, having a keyword in your domain name doesn’t give you the SEO boost that it used to, only not so long ago. But it continues to act as a relevancy signal. It stopped having such a big influence back on the 27th of September 2012, with the Google’s Exact Match Domain update. The algorithm, however, only punished exact-matched domains with thin or low-quality content by pushing them lower in search results. According to Google, only 0.6% of English search queries were affected by this update.

An “exact-match” domain is a domain that is either partially or identically matching a search query. According to Google, the exact match domains didn’t really get punished or removed from search results but rather simply fell as targets of an algorithm update that addressed thin or low-quality content by lowering their importance and thus positions in search results. 

  1. Keyword in Subdomain

Moz’s expert panel agrees that a keyword appearing in the subdomain can boost rankings for that particular keyword. After all, subdomains are more or less in the same position as domain names when it comes to exact-match targeting. It is highly likely that they have an effect on rankings but it is also likely that the exact-match-domain algorithm update could have been reflected in the use of exact-match subdomains as well. 

  1. Domain History

Domain history is another factor to take into account when thinking about domains in terms of SEO. A website that has changed ownership frequently or that has several drops may end up having its history reset by search engines, thus canceling the value of links pointing to the domain. Or, in most cases, a penalized domain may carry the penalty over to the new owner as explained in this video from Matt Cutts. 

  1. Public vs. Private WhoIs Information

As Google’s Matt Cutts stated, Private WhoIs information may be a sign of “something to hide” from the search engines, which is why although it is not necessarily bad, as further described by Matt Cutts, when combined with other factors it may be quickly evident that it is hidden from the public eye for a reason which search engines would be at odds with.

Similarly, If Google identifies a particular person as a spammer it makes sense that they would scrutinize other sites owned by that person. This further reinforces the previous concern that search engines have with regards to Private WhoIs information.

  1. Country TLD extension

As neatly described by Brian Dean of Backlinko, having a Country Code Top Level Domain (.co.uk, .ca, .pt) can on some occasions help the site rank for that particular country, but it will happen at the expense of the website’s ability to rank globally.

  1. Domain’s historical backlinks

One of the most important aspects of a domain, particularly in the case of aftermarket domains is their backlink profile history. This can either make or break the domain’s ability to outrank its competing domains. 

As previously discussed a penalised domain for whatever reason, among which could be unethical practices of acquiring backlinks is likely to pass on the penalty to its new owner, even considering the new owner had nothing to do with the reasons the domain was penalized in the first place. 

The good news is that domains that have historically accumulated and built a strong backlink profile are likely to pass on the link juice coming from that domain’s backlink profile onto their new owner. This is regardless of whether the domain is used to build a standalone website or is used to 301 Redirect to another domain.

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