SEO Question : Do WhoIs Privacy Services Harm SEO?

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This morning I was sifting through a post from the Redfly Marketing blog of Dave Davis entitled : The 5 Easiest Ways To Get Search Engines To Trust You.

Number 5 caught my interest:

Don’t hide behind domain privacy services if you don’t have a legitimate need to.

There is evidence that search engines can see right through this “wall” anyway and it makes your site less trustworthy to normal (albeit tech savvy) visitors/customers.

Make sure the whois data matches the contact details on your site and in your privacy policy too.

Making sure all WhoIs contact information matches, besides billing and tech contact info, with your Privacy Policy and your Contact Us page seem like legit SEO recommendations, and make total sense.

But does blocking WhoIS users from accessing this contact information via privacy services really have a harmful effect on SEO and lead to the search engines not trusting you?

There are numerous reasons not to list your contact information with your domain registrar, such as blocking your contact info from telemarketers, email spammers and snail mail domain registration spammers. By not wanting to be spammed in your inbox, mailbox, phone box or possibly even via your XBox, are you telling search engines that your site cannot be trusted? I’m not sure this is the case.

And, since Google is a domain registar, they should be able to see right past these blocking attempts anyway, should they not?

Loren Baker
Loren Baker is the Founder of SEJ, an Advisor at Alpha Brand Media and runs Foundation Digital, a digital marketing strategy & development agency.
Loren Baker
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  • It’s been confirmed Google can only see registration information on domains they hold. See here.

    I also heard Cutts mention they can’t see it at some conference I was at (can’t remember which, they seem to blend).

    As Carolyn mentions, they could be profiling you in other ways. Just don’t register your stuff with Google (or GoDaddy since they could buy them) if you want to hide.

    How about this? Does your site gain extra trust if you register your domain at Google?

  • Matt Cutts basically verified that private whois data can contribute to a site being penalized, or at least scrutinized, last year during the Site Review session at Pubcon.

    He said:

    “when I checked the whois on them, they all had “whois privacy protection service” on them. That’s relatively unusual. Having lots of sites isn’t automatically bad, and having PPC sites isn’t automatically bad, and having whois privacy turned on isn’t automatically bad, but once you get several of these factors all together, you’re often talking about a very different type of webmaster than the fellow who just has a single site or so.”

    Did a post about this last year after the conference:

    http://www.sharpseo.com/blog/index.php/archives/48

  • Loren I read Dave’s post yesterday and wondered the same thing you did. I suspect Dave is right and it sounds like Adam above is confirming that, but it strikes me as one of those things where Google might be making judgments based on motives they apply instead of what’s really going on.

    Like you say there are many legitimate reasons why you’d want to hide your whois data and to make the assumption that it can only be about spam isn’t a fair one.

    Adam it’s been awhile since I read some of what Matt said, but I think the word ‘all’ is an important part of his statement. I don’t think Google will automatically assume foul play for one site hiding the whois, but say an unusually high percentage of your inbound links come from sites with private whois data that would be unnatural and probably lead to further investigation.

  • Adam Sharp

    Yeah, it’s probably just one of hundreds factors that can contribute to a site’s “sketchy score”, for lack of a better word.

    I remember reading somewhere that Google will use almost any factor to judge sites if it improves their overall algo. They do large-scale manual reviews, and apply the findings algorithmically.

    If low-quality sites are more likely to have hyphenated domain names, or private whois data, or whatever, that data might be somehow be applied to their algo.

    And here’s where I got the quote, Matt’s full post about the site review session :

    http://www.mattcutts.com/blog/2006-pubcon-in-vegas-thursday-site-reviews/

  • Just thought I’d make a minor correction. The author is Dave Davis not Dave Davies. As an SEO named Dave Davies I though I’d just try to make sure I wasn’t getting credit for someone else’s work.

    His site is http://www.redflymarketing.com/.

    Cheers !

    Dave DAVIES 😉

  • Jon Glick, a former search guru at Yahoo, confirmed this for me when I interviewed him about a year ago:

    “This is one more potential “flag” that can earn you points to a spam audit. It works well for spammers who are attempting to keep the engines from finding all their sites in one swoop. Those guys are in the business of disposable domains; if you’re not it’s better to avoid this tactic.”

    Here’s the link if anyone wants to read more. It was a great interview, if I may say so myself. 🙂

    http://www.smallbusinesssem.com/2006/11/05/the-sbs-interview-jon-glick-pt-2/

  • I’ve read the article… And since I use my home address, as I work out of my home… I’m gonna hide my info… If Google that’s like it oh, well… But since I have never heard that they have commented about this issue… I believe it’s a non issue. If it has that big of a deal I think Google would let the community know through Matt or something.
    This is all just a guessing game, supposition, if you will, or theory… So much of SEO is theory but is written as fact… This never stops amazing me.

  • A. 1) You can’t be hurt by sites that link to you.

    Fact. They won’t hurt your ranking; otherwise I could just create a bunch of spammy domains, link to a site I didn’t like and bam! they’re penalized.

    Yea. You want to test that out? It’s been done many times. It doesn’t always work but it does sometimes.

    6) Private/hidden domain registration is a bad SEO tactic.

    Fact. This is one more potential “flag” that can earn you points to a spam audit. It works well for spammers who are attempting to keep the engines from finding all their sites in one swoop. Those guys are in the business of disposable domains; if you’re not it’s better to avoid this tactic.

    “it works well for spammers”. That’s the key point. There are also about 50 other flags that are usually there that they get hammered with. Private whois alone does not do any harm at all by itself.

    Spamming is about automation and volume. Normally that means it’s easy to leave a footprint. The ones who know what they’re doing know how to randomize things to slip past leaving footprints, and I guarantee they have privacy enabled…not that I would know anything about it, but it pays for my beer at leasts 😉

  • @ Dave Davis, oh, I mean Davies. Thanks!

  • Thanks for the detailed post Loren and thanks for all the clarifications from the comment leavers. 🙂

    Dave, the funny thing is that TODAY I was speaking at the Enterprise Ireland eMarketing conference and my name badge, seat sign, presenter name thingy and profile all had my name spelled DAVIES. One of us should change our names. Who’s older? 😉

  • On the contrary, I do not think the whois privacy policy will cause a site being penalized. Yahoo itself is offering that service and I do not think they will penalize their own service right?

  • Any way does it really matters? It is up to individual webmasters to decide its importance of hidding his/her information. Whois privacy policy is a worldwide thingy to protect registrar privacy and i do not see any valid reason for Google to state that every webmasters MUST show their information. If that is the case why not call Whois Public Policy?

  • I do not think it will down your site. It’s a legimate service therefore the main search engines do realize it otherwise they can lose a big marketing pie.

  • I totally agree with SEO Web Design as it is up to the webmasters to decide whether he or she wants to hide its information or not. Why Google is saying that every webmaster must show their information. Does any one know the reason??

  • You know, I have to admit that this was news to me when I came across it. I can see why it would play a factor in determining how “trusted” a site should be, after all a site that is privacy protected could easily be so for several devious reasons, but I think that its a shame to be penalized for protecting your privacy from spammers or others that could hold ill intent for using the garnered WhoIs Information.