Not so long ago, analyzing domain age and the length of the domain’s registration was part of our SEO audits here at Studio. The general consensus was that domain age had an impact on SEO and an older domain with a long-term registration would have a positive SEO impact on rankings and performance.

We have since changed our audit process and now Domain Age is very low on our list of factors to analyze when running a qualitative analysis of a site.

Historical Consensus on Domain Age SEO

The debate around Domain Age and SEO is alive and well in the web marketing industry. 

SEOs have been discussing the benefits of a domain’s age since 2006 and we still don’t have a clear answer on this ranking metric. 

If you search “Domain Age SEO” right now, Google is going to serve up a bunch of search results that imply that your domain’s age is extremely important for your SEO. 

The top result is a 2017 article from SerpWoo that explicitly says, “Domain Age For SEO Is EXTREMELY Important,” right in the article title. 

The post goes on to back that claim up with data from a wide range of search results and make claims that SEO is dead and only the big brands are now relevant in organic search. Real doom and gloom stuff.

The second organic result is an article from SEOHacker titled “In SEO Domain Age Matters.” Theirs is based on a test of two websites with identical content but with different domain ages. In this scenario, the older domain immediately ranked above the newer domain. 

The pro-Domain Age propaganda continue on down the page. 

The general consensus in the SEO community has been that Google prioritizes older domains in search results based on the fact that time has a way of filtering out low quality or spammy websites, and why would they still be around if they weren’t high quality? 

The idea is that only quality websites can stand the test of time. 

Alongside that debate, there were murmurings back in 2006 that your domain’s registration length was also a ranking factor for Google. The idea was that Google saw domains with long-term registration lengths as “in it for the long haul” and gave them more authority over domains with annual renewals. 

Google’s Policies on Domain Age & SEO

Recently, some prominent folks at Google have been directly answering questions from SEOs about whether or not Domain Age impacts SEO. 

John Mueller, Google’s Senior Webmaster Trends Analyst, has shed some light on the Domain Age SEO debate.

In the tweet response above, he is explicitly saying that domain age doesn’t matter for SEO. His frustratingly abbreviated response doesn’t really give us any context as to why domain age doesn’t have an impact on SEO, but his answer is crystal clear.

He also commented on one SEO’s question about Google favoring newer domains with fresh content. 

“No” was all he said. A succinct, straightforward answer to a complex question. Again, we have an answer- a “soft” policy on the matter – but no real context as to the “why.”

Enough to put the debate to bed? Probably not. 

If you look through the Search Engine Journal archives, the subject gets brought up on a pretty regular basis. Mr. Mueller’s cryptically-simplistic public responses really aren’t helping deliver a catharsis, so I have a feeling that we will be talking about this topic again at some point.

The issue SEOs have is this: older domains seem to rank better. 

Try it yourself: search a competitive phrase in Google. You’ll most likely those that rank near the top of Page 1. That real estate almost always dominated by big brands and legacy institutions, especially in highly competitive markets. 

The data implies that Google just likes older domains, so why is Google saying that it doesn’t matter?

Quality vs. Quantity

The discrepancies between what SEOs experience and what Google says come down to a fundamental difference between what SEOs mean when they say “domain age” and what Google means when it says “domain age.”

When Google is talking about “domain age,” they’re simply looking at your registration historical length and nothing more.

If you look at Domain Age in a vacuum, it makes sense that Google doesn’t consider it a ranking factor. 

Anyone with $12 can register a domain for years and that’s not an accurate way to judge whether a website is qualitatively better than another or not.

When SEOs and web marketers are talking about “domain age,” they’re referring to all of the qualities a long-running, well-maintained website typically has: quality content, backlinks, good user experience, brand recognition and more. 

If you – like me – spend all of your time analyzing websites to see how your clients can compete, it’s nearly impossible not to associate a domain’s age with a better position in search and more authority. 

The impression is that Google favors older websites based on quantity of time registered, when they really favor websites of better long-term quality.

So, Does Domain Age Affect SEO?

If you’re going by Google’s “soft” policies on Domain Age, it doesn’t matter if your domain is 10 years old or a month old – they don’t prioritize sites either way.

But if you’re looking at Domain Age as an indication of whether a site has stayed up to date with best practices, published quality content, made sure their site is usable, and fostered a sizable backlink profile, then you would be inclined to say that Domain Age has an impact on SEO.

I think Google looks at domain age as a metric completely detached from things like content quality and backlinks. 

SEOs look at it as an indicator of a website with healthy qualities.

So here’s your answer:

Absent any other ranking qualities, domain age does not have an impact on your site’s domain SEO health, according to Google. However, in practice, domain age can be used as an indicator of the quality of a site’s SEO, assuming they’ve utilized best practices.

When you’re analyzing a site, the domain age metric is most useful as a way to quickly determine a level of potential quality. 

If your domain has been around for 10 years or more, you’re likely going to find a sizable backlink profile and some real ranking power behind quality pages.

That being said, it’s certainly not an infallible metric – I’ve seen plenty of sites that have been around for a long time that have years of low-quality SEO work and performance to prove it. 

Always quantify your data with context. Just because a site has been around a while doesn’t inherently mean it’s a quality site.

Should I Buy a Pre-owned Domain?

Those looking to buy a previously owned domain should be aware that not all domains are created equal. 

While its true that having some historical SEO value can help launch a new site successfully and rank higher faster, you also run the risk of incurring the impact of whatever negative SEO baggage that site carries if you don’t do a quality check ahead of time. 

The truth is you don’t know what’s going on with a domain until you do your research. 

Look at backlinks, pages, and external links on the site to make sure that there isn’t spam or malicious content on the site that will hamper your SEO growth. 

Choosing a Domain: Age or Relevancy?

If you’re looking at launching a new site or making a domain name change, you have a decision to make: “Do I get a domain that has some miles on it, or should I get something new?”

When considering what domain to use for your site, your primary concern should be relevancy. 

You’re better off locking down a domain that leverages targeted search terms in your market and publishing quality content to it rather than taking an existing site and trying to leverage the existing SEO for your benefit. 

At the end of the day, you don’t know what you’re getting and it will require a large time investment to reorient a pre-owned domain’s SEO equity around your target market.

Ultimately, if you’re dealing with rankings issues, your domain’s age shouldn’t be your main concern. 

In 2019, Google is much more likely to rank high quality content for a search term rather than a site that has been around forever, just because. 

SEO Tips for Older Domains

As the owner of an established domain, here’s what you can do to help leverage your Domain Age to positively influence your site’s SEO.

Track & Optimize Backlinks

Backlinks are the internet’s version of a popularity contest. The more votes you have from popular kids, the better your rankings. 

If you have an established domain, get familiar with tools that help you analyze backlinks (Ahrefs, Moz, SEMRush) and keep track of sites linking to your site. If you see backlinks that ended up in 404 pages, setup redirects or reach to the referrer and ask them to update the URL. 

A healthy backlink profile requires maintenance.

Reinforce Historically-important Pages & Content

You can identify high performing pages using tools like Google Analytics. Invest in those pages and enhance the content, make them more user-friendly, and imbibe them with additional resources like video, FAQ’s, etc. 

For long-standing domains, there will be some pages that simply outperform others. Reinforce those pages with improved high quality content.

Stay Up to Date on Design & Content Best Practices

It’s easy to get complacent, especially if you’ve dominated in your niche for a while. 

Don’t rest on your laurels. Eventually, a competitor will come around and give you a run for your money. Staying up to date on current best practices, including mobile-friendly sites, good site speed, proper site architecture, Schema, Local SEO, and new tech like Voice Search will ensure that you retain your long-standing rankings.

SEO Tips for New Domains

Since new domains and websites aren’t able to leverage domain history to influence SEO, here are some ways you can put pressure on the dinosaurs in your niche and compete.

Use Older Domains & URLs as a Template

It’s an uphill battle for new sites in highly competitive markets to compete with the veterans. 

The good news is that anybody can click on the top performing pages for your target keywords, see what they’re doing, and implement a similar strategy. Use high performing domains and URLs as a template on which to build your content and site design strategies.

Stay Out Front

Organic search is changing quickly. Standard organic SERPs are now having to compete with new paid ad features and enhanced results. 

Both new and old domains can ensure their longevity by leveraging the most recent best practices to stay ahead of the curve and – eventually – outperform competition that have been around for a while. Keep an eye on things like Voice Search, schema structured data, localized results, and more.

Supplement a Growing SEO Campaign with Paid Strategy

For new sites building an SEO profile, paid ads are a great way to start competing with established websites in your industry or niche right away. 

Invest in smart ad campaigns that utilize your budget to focus on ROI-positive strategies that help you bottom line and put pressure on the competition.