Recently, a long-time client of mine was purchasing more time for two of his four domain names. Since he didn't want to deal with it again for a while, he increased all his domains to 2008 or more. As he was waiting on the phone for the credit card to process, the person assisting him at GoDaddy made a comment about domain names and search engine optimization. He claimed that due to site's that try to make a big splash using lots of doorway pages and linking sites (that they keep for a year and then dump), Google now uses the length of time a domain is registered as one of the factors in their algorithm. (Google evidently doesn't look kindly at getting stuck with a lot of highly rated URLs that lead to defunct sites.) My client hadn't heard this before (nor had I) so he asked me to investigate.
I posed the question on Andrew Goodman's SEM 2.0 list and got some interesting replies I thought I'd share here. Remember that this information is from people in the SEO business, not from Google itself.
It seems that Google, while I wasn't looking, became a domain name registrar. This gives them access to all the Whois and registration information. With this info they can see how long you have owned a specific domain (likely, if you've owned it longer, you're more trustworthy), what other domains a spammy company may own and link together (or use for nefarious purposes), the length of time in the future you've purchased the domain for (perhaps meaning you have plans to continue with it — not use it and drop it). One of Google's patent applications says in part:
" Certain signals may be used to distinguish between illegitimate and legitimate domains. For example, domains can be renewed up to a period of 10 years. 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 as a factor in predicting the legitimacy of a domain and, thus, the documents associated therewith."
Obviously, these factors are all just a small part of the overall algorithm, but smart site owners will use every legal avenue available to slowly and consistently move up in the rankings. Mike Banks Velentine, owner of Reality SEO, made this analogy:
"To the mechanically inclined, that may mean there are 24 teeth (ranking factors) on the gear that drives the ratchet mechanism. First, you must have all the teeth (ranking factors) intact. Second, implementing improvements to those factors will provide the leverage to turn the gear enough to ratchet up a notch in ranking. The ranking factors themselves don't help individually to ratchet up ranking a notch, but full presence of each of the teeth (ranking factors) on the gear is mandatory in order to have the ability to move steadily up. When all the gears in the mechanism have all their teeth – then you can apply leverage to crank up your rankings."
If having all the ranking factors moves you from #11 to #10, that can be a big jump. Taking advantage of smart, organic ranking factors is just one small step, but it could be valuable to you or your client.