Google’s John Mueller responded to a Google Office-hours hangout question about whether reviving content on a parked domain would have any ranking benefit. Google’s John Mueller explained how the company deals with expired domains.
Domains That Are Parked Or Expired
An expired domain is one that was previously registered but was allowed to expire before being returned to the general pool for registration by someone else.
A parked domain is one that has been registered but is not in use.
When many people purchase an expired domain from a domain broker, they are actually purchasing a previously registered parked domain.
Do Expired Domains Have Authority?
The questioner wanted to know if there was any “authority” leftover from a parked domain that would cause Google to accelerate the indexing and ranking of the domain.
While Mueller did not address the issue of website authority in his response, he has previously vehemently denied that Google uses any kind of authority metric.
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?”
Expired Domains and Google
John Mueller confirms that there is no ranking benefit to using an expired domain and explains what the next steps are in terms of SEO.
“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.”
There is no ranking advantage for expired domains
Mueller’s explanation that expired domains have no bonus does not surprise those of us with twenty years or more of SEO experience.
We already knew this because our generation of SEOs pioneered the practice of purchasing expired domains and witnessed the moment when Google implemented an algorithm update to deal with them.
We saw firsthand how expired domains helped websites rank higher.
Not only were they useful for ranking, but we could see how much PageRank they provided in Google’s toolbar.
And it wasn’t just expired domains that had lingering PageRank. A link to a broken domain could also be a source of PageRank.
The standard procedure was to run a crawler on a popular website and examine the outbound links that returned a 404 Page Not Found error message.
Those 404s were links to non-existent pages and websites.
So SEOs bought those domains, which were usually misspellings, and then redirected them to affiliate sites. The PageRank would begin to flow in a matter of weeks, and the affiliate site would begin to rank higher.
These practices of purchasing misspelled domains with a high number of inbound links and purchasing expired domains were part of a practice of recycling PageRank to help rank sites without the need to build links.
They were shortcuts for link building.
The Google Algorithm is already capable of handling expired domains
Google discovered the practice and changed its links-related algorithm to reset the PageRank of expired domains way back in 2003.
Those who are new to SEO and have five or so years of experience and believe in expired domains may be surprised by this.
However, Google’s algorithm has been resetting the PageRank and link influence of expired domains since 2003.
I was practicing SEO at the time, and I witnessed the consequences of that change.
Google Expired Domains Update Announcement
A Google engineer with the WebmasterWorld handle GoogleGuy made the announcement about resetting PageRank for expired domains.
Matt Cutts was most of the time known as GoogleGuy.
Other search engineers, however, used that alias to make announcements in the name of Google as well.
Google stated in a WebmasterWorld post titled Good News About Expired Domains:
“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 confirmed that an expired domain could still rank, but not because of any previous links, which no longer counted.
“…you can get that domain into Google; you just won’t get credit for any pre-existing links. “
GoogleGuy also stated that expired domains with pre-existing penalties would still be subject to those penalties.
“Right now the penalties can remain on a domain. So you’ll want to do your research before you buy a domain.”
The resetting of PageRank was not limited to expired domains. The PageRank of misspelled domains has also been reset.
Soon after, the market for expired domains collapsed, and people stopped buying them.
The Renaissance of Expired Domain Purchasing
Then, about ten years later, a new generation of SEOs came along and rediscovered expired domains, unaware of Google’s history of taking steps to ensure they no longer worked.
The whole “expired domain” saga began all over again.
Almost any SEO practice can be supported by anecdotal evidence. There are even vocal supporters of ineffective strategies like comment spam. So it’s not surprising that something like expired domains would resurface.
- Google has the ability to prevent PageRank from flowing from links in the sidebar or footer.
- Google can limit the amount of PageRank that flows from one site to another based on whether the link is relevant.
- Because there is no relevant context for the link, Google can prevent PageRank from flowing from one site to another.
Most SEOs are aware of these Google facts.
When it comes to expired links, however, some SEOs believe that Google is ineffective and unable to reset the PageRank of expired domains.
Google has over 20 years of experience dealing with search engine manipulation, including dealing with expired domains (which is documented above).
Adversarial Information Retrieval is a term for designing search systems that are resistant to manipulation.
In an age of Natural Language Processing, BERT, and MUM, and given that Google announced a PageRank reset for expired domains in 2003, one could argue that claiming that all it takes to defeat Google is to buy an expired domain pushes the limits of plausibility.
Learn more from SEO and read Google Describes How To Remove A Website From Search Results.