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.”