Do Older Sites Have An Advantage?

Does the length of time that a site or domain name has existed play in search engine placement?

f you spend enough time looking at search engine results, eventually it will occur to you that sites seem to be ranked in part based upon the length of time they have existed. It can appear that older sites tend to rank higher than newer sites, and one can be tempted to conclude that age is a factor in the search engine algorithms.

Now, we have had no search engine engineers confirm this, but we can say with near certainty that the age of a site is not a factor in any of the major search engine algorithms. However, the age of a website does influence its ranking in the search engines in several very powerful, if indirect, ways.

The most obvious advantage of having an older website is that the site may have been added to the major search engines prior to the advent of paid inclusion or paid listings, and has thus been Grandfathered into the search engine databases without having to pay. In the beginning, it was quick, easy, and free to get your site listed in Yahoo!, even in more than one directory. Not any more. Within the LookSmart system, Grandfathered commercial sites can have several if not tens or hundreds of individual pages listed for free. This gives them an obvious advantage over new sites trying to gain a foothold in a directory which follows the one-business, one-listing rule for the most part, and which charges a fee for each page added as well as a fee for each click-through to your website. There was even a time when you could email GoTo.com (now known as Overture.com) and get your site listed for free on their search engine. As each of the major search engines moved to requiring a fee for listing your site, they each stood by their original content providers (us old webmasters), thankfully.

Another obvious advantage that older websites have over new ones is that older sites have had more time to gather incoming links. Many older sites were around at a time when there just wasn’t much content available online. During its infancy, the Open Directory needed to add enough content to fill out a wide range of topic categories – many early reference and resource sites had multiple pages added, giving them a head start. If you built a resource site in 1997, you likely linked to sites that existed in 1996. If you went online in 1998, you linked to sites that existed in 1996 and 1997. Those older sites formed the foundation of the web, and provided the feed that search engines and portals needed in order to develop into businesses.

Though the concept of link popularity wasn’t widely discussed until very recently, links to your website have always played an important role when search engines rank your page – links allow spiders to more frequently find and index your content. So, webmasters have always worked on increasing their link popularity, even though they didn’t know it. Back in 1996, getting more links to your page was a way to guarantee that your site would always be fresh in the AltaVista and Inktomi databases.

Some may be tempted to buy a domain name that has been used before in an attempt to take advantage of some of the benefits described above. That can be a good thing, especially if the site was well-run and has pre-existing links to it already. If your business is in the same space, buying a used domain from a company that was popular can give you a boost, especially if you plan to call your business, “DomainName.com”. There are enormous risks though. Some companies sell domains after they’ve been banned by one or more major search engines for trying to game the system. When you buy a used domain, you have no way of knowing whether the previous owner got into trouble with the domain. If you build a business around a domain that has been banned, you’re just giving yourself a headache. First you’ll have to convince all the search engines to remove any penalties – and that process can take months, if you succeed.

All-in-all, the advantage that older websites have over newer websites is very similar to the advantage that older businesses have over newer businesses. If you’re building a website and plan on doing the same thing that hundreds or thousands of other websites are already doing, you’ll not have an easy time of it. Putting your business online or starting a business online both require fundamental business skills, and yes, new sites can win.