Would reviving content on a parked domain have any kind of ranking advantage?
That was one of the more interested questions Google’s Search Advocate John Mueller answered in the latest Google SEO Office-hours hangout.
Mueller also explained how Google handles expired domains.
Parked & Expired Domains
What’s the difference between a parked and expired domain?
- Parked domain: Is registered, but is not being used.
- Expired domain: Has been previously registered but was allowed to expire and it returned to the general pool to be registered by someone else.
When many people buy an expired domain from a domain broker, what they’re really buying is a parked domain that had previously been registered.
Authority Of Expired Domains?
The person asking the question wanted to know if there was any “authority” left over from a parked domain that would cause Google to speed up the indexing and ranking of the domain.
While Mueller did not address the issue of website authority in his answer, he has in the past vigorously denied that Google uses any kind of metric that represents “authority”.
This is the question:
“I have a domain that hasn’t been used in four years. The blog I had was doing great in its niche. But because I didn’t want to sell it I deleted all the content and left the domain parked.
I want to revive the content on it but I want to take a slightly different approach.
My question is, does Google need to learn about my blog again as if it was new or do I have a better chance to be an authority in my niche faster than usual because of this old domain?”
Screenshot of John Mueller, from Google Search Central YouTube Channel/English Google SEO office-hours, November 19, 2021
Google & Expired Domains
Mueller confirmed that there is no ranking related advantage to using an expired domain. So what are the next steps from the point of view of SEO?
According to Mueller:
“So if the content was gone for a couple of years, probably we need to figure out what this site is, kind of essentially starting over fresh.
So from that point of view I wouldn’t expect much in terms of kind of bonus because you had content there in the past.
I would really assume you’re going to have to build that up again like any other site.
Like, if you have a business and you close down for four years and you open up again then it’s going to be rare that customers will remember you and say oh yeah I will go to this business.
And it looks completely different. They offer different things. But it used to exist.
I think that situation is going to be rare in real life …if you will, as well.
So I would assume that you’re essentially starting over, here.
This is also one of the reasons why it usually doesn’t make sense to go off and buy expired domains in the hope that you’ll get some kind of a bonus out of using those expired domains.”
Expired Domains Have No Ranking Bonus
For those of us with 20 years or more of SEO experience, Mueller’s explanation that expired domains have no bonus does not come as a surprise.
We already knew this because it was our generation that pioneered the practice of buying expired domains and experienced the moment when Google applied an algorithm update to deal with them.
We experienced first hand how expired domains did in fact help sites rank better.
Not only were they useful for ranking purposes but we could actually see in Google’s toolbar how much PageRank they offered.
And it wasn’t just expired domains that contained holdover PageRank. A link to a broken domain could be a source of PageRank as well.
The practice was to run a crawler on a popular website and review the outbound links that returned a 404 Page Not Found error message.
Those 404s were links to pages and sites that did not exist.
So we purchased those domains, usually misspellings, and then redirected those domains to affiliate sites. In a matter of weeks the PageRank would flow and the affiliate site would begin to rank higher.
These practices of buying misspelled domains with lots of inbound links and buying expired domains were part of a practice of recycling PageRank to help rank sites without having to build links.
They were link building shortcuts.
Google Algorithm Already Handles Expired Domains
Google found out about the practice and in 2003 changed their algorithm to reset the PageRank of expired domains.
That might come as a shock to those who are new to SEO and have five or so years of experience and believe in expired domains.
But it’s true.
I was practicing SEO at the time when it happened and I witnessed the fallout from that change.
Announcement Of Google Expired Domains Update
The announcement about resetting the PageRank for expired domains was done by a Google engineer who used the WebmasterWorld nickname of GoogleGuy.
Most of the time the identity of GoogleGuy was Matt Cutts.
But other search engineers used that alias as well to make announcements in the name of Google as well.
In a WebmasterWorld post called Good News About Expired Domains, Google posted this:
“Hey, the index is going to be coming out real soon, so I wanted to give people some idea of what to expect for this index. Of course it’s bigger and deeper (yay!), but we’ve also put more of a focus on algorithmic improvements for spam issues.
One resulting improvement with this index is better handling of expired domains–the authority for a domain will be reset when a domain expires, even though dangling links to the expired domain are still out on the web. “
Google affirmed that an expired domain could still rank but not because of any pre-existing links since they no longer counted.
“…you can get that domain into Google; you just won’t get credit for any pre-existing links. “
GoogleGuy additionally noted that expired domains with pre-existing penalties would still carry those penalties.
“Right now the penalties can remain on a domain. So you’ll want to do your research before you buy a domain.”
PageRank resetting wasn’t limited to expired domains. The PageRank of misspelled domains were also reset as well.
The market for expired domains collapsed soon after and people pretty much stopped buying them.
Resurgence Of Expired Domain Buying
Then around ten years later a new generation of SEO professionals came along and rediscovered expired domains, without knowing the history of Google taking measures to assure they no longer worked.
The whole expired domain thing started all over again.
Anecdotal evidence can be found to support virtually any SEO practice. One can even find vocal advocates in support of ineffectual strategies such as comment spam. So it’s not surprising that something like expired domains would catch on all over again.
Adversarial Information Retrieval
- Google can stop PageRank from flowing from links in the sidebar or the footer.
- Google can limit how much PageRank flows from one site to another depending on whether that link is relevant.
- Google can stop PageRank from flowing from one site to another site because there is no relevant context for the link.
Most SEOs can comprehend those facts about Google.
But when it comes to expired links, some SEOs feel that Google is ineffectual and unable to reset the PageRank of expired domains.
Google has over 20 years experience dealing with manipulation of their search engine, including dealing with expired domains (which is documented above).
There’s even a name for designing search systems that are resistant to manipulation, it’s called Adversarial Information Retrieval.
In a world of Natural Language Processing, BERT, and MUM, and given that Google announced a PageRank reset for expired domains in 2003, a case could be made that it strains the limits of plausibility to claim that all it takes to defeat Google is to buy an expired domain.
2003 Announcement That Google Will Reset PageRank On Expired Domains
No SEO Bonus For Expired Domains
Watch John Mueller explain that expired domains have no SEO advantage at the 35:31 Minute Mark