Do Links From Expired Domains Count With Google?

From time-to-time, issues about how domain names can impact Google rankings come up. Is it true that if you buy a name, all the “link equity” that name has gained is lost? Below, a look at this and some related questions.

Several years ago, Google sparked some concerns when it said that buying an established domain name meant that links to that domain before the purchase were effectively lost. In other words, say someone bought a domain today that was registered in 2003 and which had built up hundreds of links over the years. All those links were effectively slapped with an invisible nofollow tag, passing along no credit. But links from after the purchase date would accrue credit.

Why did Google do this, way back then? Many people were buying old domains simply for the links – in some cases, also because they were listed well in the Yahoo Directory, when that was far more important than it is today. Putting the word out that buying domains wouldn’t gain link credit was a way for Google to dash cold water on the tactic.

Since that time, there have been any number of web sites that have had domain names change hands for various reasons, such as through acquisitions. For example, Company A absorbs Company B, which causes the domains owned by Company B to transfer to Company A. Was all that link credit was really lost?

That didn’t seem to be the case, so it’s been on my list to get the current state of how domain transfers impact link credit from Google. And that is? Google’s Matt Cutts told me:

There are some domain transfers ( e.g. genuine purchases of companies) where it can make perfect sense for links to transfer. But at the same time it wouldn’t make sense to transfer the links from an expired or effectively expired domain, for example. Google (and probably all search engines) tries to handle links appropriately for domain transfers.

Adding further, he said:

The sort of stuff our systems would be designed to detect would be things like someone trying to buy expired domains or buying domains just for links.

Let’s take those statements and see how likely it is that different types of domain acquisitions will pass link credit.

Buying Expired Domains: Don’t Expect Credit

Have you picked up a domain that was once owned by someone, not through buying it directly from them but because it had expired and went back into the common pool of domains for purchase by anyone? That’s an expired domain – and chances are, the backlinks aren’t going to pass credit according to Matt’s statement.

Buying Domains & Redirecting Links: Probably No Credit

Did you see a tasty domain and think it would be nice to get it, in order to obtain its links for a different site, such a redirecting them? Sounds like there’s a good chance that Google is going to notice the purchase date, take note of the redirection as well and decide those “historic” links shouldn’t count. What about if you just paid someone to keep the domain going under their name but closed down any existing content and point to another location? Might work; then again, Google might note the change, the oddity of one site to completely point at another, and it might be that the links won’t count.

Buying Domain & Running Web Site As Usual: Credit Likely

Did you buy a web site from someone else and are maintaining the business on that site as normal? Despite the fact that your domain name registration will have changed, since the site is carrying on as usual, there seems to be a good chance that link credit will continue as normal.

Getting Domains Through Acquisition: Credit Likely

Have a domain that changes hands, due to a company acquisition – company A buys company B? You should be OK, thought it’s unclear how Google tells the difference here from an ordinary transfer. And no, Google wouldn’t share more on how they can tell the difference.

Does Domain Registration Length Matter?

Finally, from time to time I’ve seen suggestions that the length of domain registration is a factor – domains registered for longer are rumored to be more trusted by Google. In the past, I even saw one domain registrar claim this as fact. Matt said about this:

To the best of my knowledge, no search engine has ever confirmed that they use length-of-registration as a factor in scoring. If a company is asserting that as a fact, that would be troubling.

He also added:

The primary reason to renew a domain would be if it’s your main domain, you plan to keep it for a while, or you’d prefer the convenience of renewing so that you don’t need to stress about your domain expiring.”

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Google: SEO | How To: Links | How To: SEO | Link Building: General | SEO: Redirects & Moving Sites | Top News

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About The Author: is a Founding Editor of Search Engine Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search engines and search marketing issues who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

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  • http://www.attitude.ie attitude

    Would love to know how google spots acquisitions as opposed to buying sites for their link profile

  • http://twitter.com/roquelagellera Roque Lage de Llera

    So domain lenght registration doesnt count? I took this as a fact…i saw it somewhere…
    Anyway if Matt Cutts told you that, i do trust more your sources…. XD

  • Ben Donahower

    Agreed!

    I don’t see how a legitimate acquisition and buying a site for links are difference in practice if you purchase a site in the same or similar niche. The site owner of abcwidgets.com is buying xyzwidgets.comand redirecting links, potentially, in either scenario just as a bricks and mortar ABC Widgets would buy XYZ Widgets store and change the sign while having acquired the rest of their assets.I see the scenario where abcwidgets.com buys a site that’s in a completely different market and redirects those links and how that would look suspicious to Google, but so long as they are in the same or complementary industries you’re buying competitors and should be entitled to their assets links and all. Do you have some thoughts about how Google differentiates between these more or less legitimate acquisitions?

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