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6 Ways Your WHOIS Info Affect Your SEO

In this post I will be covering how domain WHOIS information is attached to SEO. But first, I strongly suggest that all these are weak factors if they even contribute in SEO. You certainly should check your whois data once a year to ensure everything is all right. But you should do that mainly because it is a good practice and has several other advantages than SEO. Remember nothing here will give you some kind of boost in your SERP rankings. Moreover there are not sufficient evidence from Google that it uses and rely on whois data for ranking signals.

Do you know that Google became a domain registrar (Reg #895) back in 2005 but had no plans to sell domain registration services to public until 2014. According to their spokesperson the reason they pioneered into domain registration was it:

want to get a better understanding of the domain name system [and so] increase the quality of our search results

Well, one thing is sure. Google among all search engines want to be the big daddy of the internet. If wants every possible information about a website to make a hyper profile. The whois data it gets as a privilege for accredited registrars is a goldmine. Who will believe it when they say they do not want to use these factors in their algorithm. What are these factors I am talking about? Lets see.

1. Private whois vs public whois

Can availability of your personal data in your domain’s whois information affect your SEO? Well, here are few experts who confirm it. Matt Cutts (former head of antispam team) has once mentioned that:

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. – Matt Cutts

We should however put our eye on the wider view. Publicly available contact information encourages transparency. It shows that you have nothing to hide. Makes you more trustworthy in eyes of interested people. And it opens the path for communications if your blog/website has issues in opening.

On the other hand private whois may be looked upon with suspicion. And you will loose opportunities by missing out being contacted. What more, it is bad because apparently the registrar or protection service provider in a way becomes the owner of your domain (and charges you for this service)

I am sure that such a factor should affect the trustrank of your domain. That google should count public whois registration as good and private whois as bad. That whois information is a Google trust factor. And there are cases which claim that protected whois data can negatively affect the SEO.

In one case study Keller Tiemann claimed that his website got penalty for turning on domain privacy and it got reversed once he fixed the whois issue.

Penalty for whois protection
Graph showing daily traffic after penalty and its reversal.

Though the main issue was that his proxy whois information was showing wrong country name. Now that matters a lot for a local business like Keller’s. More on this later in this article.

Action needed

Use a public whois option if you can.

If you still want to be protected from spammers by making your whois data private, its fine. You will not be penalized for just that reason. It will get suspicious only when you whoisguard your websites just to hide your association with them. But generally it is good to appear more open and available. I recommend to use public whois option with full and correct contact information.

Moreover if one or more of your websites are indeed dodgy, private whois will not shield you completely from the search engines eyes. Your domain registrar and webhost have your real contact information which they may share with other registrars including Google. There can be even more ways to crack on identity of the owner of a dubious website by using adwords or adsense data or data from any such services.

2. Age of the domain

The age of a domain is the time which has passed since it was last registered. If the domain was dropped by its previous owner its age resets.

So, is an old aged domain good or bad for SEO? There are tremendous debate on this topic in SEO community. Some of the valid points to wonder are:

  • If this domain/website was intended to be used in spamming it would have been used early already. Spammers are not patient.
  • Well established sites have old domain names, so its reverse should be logical.
  • Old domains that don’t do well are less likely to be around.
  • Old domains have had time to do well and pick up real quality signals such as authoritative links.

There are equal advocates who do not support these theories and suggest the domain age in itself is not any good. Ann smarty explained that it is the website age which should me a more reliable factor than the domain age.

It is a ranking factor

Matt Cutts stated that they give much more weight to date of first discovery of the current form of website to determine the sites age rather than whois data. Moreover he reavealed that Google keeps an eye for at least 2-3 months of registration of the domain. It means it is a confirmed negative factor for first few months. He also said that there “a small” difference in 6 month old and 1 year old domain SEO wise. But he remained silent about really old domains, say 5+ years aged ones.

But there are more things that come free with aged domains. A history of earlier website which should be looked out for. When you intend to buy an old domain to start a new website. Make sure earlier website(s) were not involved in questionable practices and do not have spammy backlinks. But if the earlier websites were just fine. The attached pre-existing backlinks, social signals and mentions are huge bonus. However algorithm will try its best to reset the value of pre-existing backlinks and social attention, it can not be ever zeroed. The only problem involved is handling the 404 errors users click on those backlinks to come to your website.

Moreover a new freshly registered domain is not guaranteed to be history-less. Make sure that if it was registered earlier, it was not blacklisted or involved in spamming.

Action needed

Well, existing owners need not and do anything at all. You will feel some pain ranking in first few months of registration of your domain.

However if you are planning to start a new blog/website buying an existing domain, you should keep domain age in mind among other factors. Buy an old name if it is really good name and have other trust factors like quality backlinks attached to it. If you plan to start a blog/website do it as early as possible becuase the website age matters more than the domain age.

3. Length of registration/expiry

Does the length of registration of your domain affects SEO?

Whenever a question such simple is asked to an official, like Matt Cutts, the answer has always been vague:

They always keep secrets. As you can see in the above video, he has not denied it. He just said it is not that important.

John Mueller has tweeted that most registrars do not provide accurate registration length, so it cant be a reliable ranking factor.

I believe it must be a ranking factor, though acute. A lot of SEO experts do. The only proof that supports the theory is that Google has a patent which basically proves that domain registration period can be used as ranking factor, if they want:

“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”.

Action needed

Register/renew your domain for long duration (say 2+ years) if you can.

But it does not mean that you should pay your domain registrar for 10 years in advance and expect a boost in your traffic. If you think that you are going to have this blog/business for several years, then you should buy/renew your domain for several years. Not for SEO. If you are getting a discount for multiple years renewal, you should avail it. But make sure your registrar reflect correct expiry date once you pay for multiple years renewal fees. If not you may want to contact them or prefer another more reputable registrar.

4. Inaccurate or fake contact information

It is even more evident using fake registrant info in whois (than using protected whois) that something is fishy in your business.

Who would use false contact information in his whois data?

  1. Amateurs who do not know that they are doing.
  2. Private blog network owners who do want to leave a ‘footprint’.
  3. owner of websites involved in fraud, unethical or illegal businesses.

And none of them deserve love from search engines, right? Private blog networks are in fact the single biggest black hat way to build links and get high rankings these days. And search engine giants are after them. One certain reason that makes a website suspicious? Fake whois data. I did not find much discussion about direct SEO effects of fake whois data, but Matt Cutts has mentioned that they hate it. It is also counted as a factor in 2015 report of ranking factors by moz.

Some expects even suggest you to put your real contact information (physical address and phone) on your contact us page (or home page) for transparency. And it should match the one in whois records. Moreover it is a legal obligation to use your correct information while registration of a domain. A domain registration with false or inaccurate details may even be cancelled by registrar.

Action needed

Use real and accurate whois contact information if you can.

Never use fake whois data in your domain’s whois.  Put your correct address and phone number there if you really want to be transparent. But if you are just too concerned use private whois rather than fake whois. Make it a rule to review your whois data once a year. Update the changes if any in whois data along with everywhere else. For security reasons never ignore emails from your registrar about changes in domain info.

5. Geo location of your physical address

This one is exclusively for local SEO. And this one is a strong one too. Remember the case study of SEO penalty above? Well, the main reason for penalty was change in geolocation in whois data rather than the use of privacy protection. If your business is of pretty local nature you can not afford to shift to “panama” and wish that it will not affect your business.

Providing a false business address is a certified negative factor for SEO. If your business is local and you depend on local SEO for its success, you want to have a local address and phone as well. Having a foriegn address while targetting local clients doesnt help. And that contact information should be correct and consistent at all sources.

Action needed

If your blog/website is not targeting local clients, all is good. Using your correct whois data should be sufficient for you.

However if you target a specific geo location, say a specific country, make sure you have a valid address and valid phone number in that country. And make sure that the same local address and phone is reflected in your whois contacts. And it should match with contact us page, business directories, Google My Business listing and everywhere else.

6. Track record of domain owner

Cyrus Shephard of Moz has detailed that how google determines “administrative relationships” between two domain using various methods. It is only intuitive that they should be using this data to “devaluate” artificial backlinks made by the same person from his other websites. But there are more applications of it. So track record of the whois registrant can possibly link his good or bad works on his other domains with this domain. A past penalty may be forwarded to new domain belonging to same person. Or owner of a good popular brand maybe rewarded when he is working on a new project.

Google will never publicly accept that it uses whois or any other data for detecting administrative relationships because its success lies in the secrecy of the method.

Action needed

It would be best if you don’t own shady websites/domains at all.

But if you do, dont associate it with your own name. Preferably get rid of it as soon as possible especially if you have another good quality website getting nice results. And dont unnaturally linkback to your websites from your own websites.

If you own a good website, do not try spamming or blackhat things to the other website you own as both websites are linked through you.

Conclusion

I will not suggest you to make any effort at all on tricks or things which require more efforts than the impact they make. But this one is easy. And it has more good reasons than SEO alone. Just once a year you should see your whois data and make sure your contact information is correct, valid and visible. And if you have not done it already you should do it right now. It just takes few minutes.

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Are Forum Links Still Effective For SEO in 2017?

History of forum links?

Forums or discussion boards are online communities for like minded people to hang out and discuss various topics and issues about a common interest. Forums are generally free and open for everyone to join. And every member can jump into an existing discussion (or start one) to speak his voice. One useful feature of most forums is that members can quote a link in their posts. And this ability to link to any website gives them opportunity to build a backlink to their own website/blog. There was a time when forum links were easiest and fastest method of link building.

There are three kind of backlinks you can build using forums. When you sign up on a forum/discussion board in related niche and mention your website/blog in profile section. This backlink is called a forum profile link. It takes only few seconds to make a profile and get a forum profile backlink. Then you can join a discussion and along with your response post a relevant link in your post. Let’s call it a forum post link. And then most forums have a feature called signature which appears below each of your post. If your signature is allowed to contain a link then backlink such made is called a forum signature link.

An example of forum profile link
An example of forum profile link

Why forum links were so popular?

Some highest authority brands and organizations (e.g. MySQL, CNET) have forums for customer support. Even .edu and .gov websites have open forums. Since forums are open and free for everyone, you can use those forums to get high authority backlinks even .edu and .gov backlinks.

What happened then?

Automation software like scrapebox and xrumer abused forum links to the extreme. These software can build thousands of forum profiles per hour. And solo purpose of such profiles is link spamming. They can even go steps ahead of spam protection by solving simple captchas, verifying email and even post on discussion threads to activate certain features of forum membership. All major forums are now constantly bombarded with spam profiles using these software.

So search engines had to intervene and with introduction of nofollow attribute most forum links are now devalued. Moreover there is a risk of google penalty for forum spammers after penguin update. Even forums have updated their criteria for users who want to publish links in their posts.

Should you use forums for SEO now?

Those SEOs (and their customers) might still be in deep sleep all this time who are still selling link building services using forum profiles. You can easily get services on fiverr selling tens of thousands of backlinks to your blog for mere $5. One philosophy or rule of thumb I always follow in SEO is that backlinks which are easiest to get are most worthless. No matter are they dofollow or nofollow, high pr, edu, gov, authority, tiered or anything. Never buy such services.

Also do not buy/rent signature link spots of established members or use your own signature to build links. Because signature links are bad anyways. Any automated link is bad for SEO and a signature link is automated because signature appears automatically whenever you post something. Even if you use signature to build a link do not use keyword anchors to avoid penalty.

The effective way to forum link building today

It may or may not be worth the time and efforts depending upon your niche and the forum you are building links on. In some niches forum can be better for link building than other niches. If you are already an established member of a popular and active forum very much related to your niche, it makes much more sense to use that forum even if it is a nofollow forum than to register as a new member on a dofollow forum or high authority or high pr or .edu forum. Do not think about nofollow or dofollow. Because even dofollow links will not bring much link juice. Do not think about keyword anchor either. If fact you will increase your chances of penalty with exact keyword anchors in forum links. And do not think about SEO at all but look from marketing perspective.

Try to help other members with your post to solve a problem. link one of the most valuable post of your blog in and try to attract forum members to your website. If not a valuable dofollow backlink, atleast you will earn new readers/visitors and buyers to your blog. Focus on building relationship with the forum members so that they trust your link, find it useful and be grateful for it. If you are answering to someone thread make that answer authoritative and complete enough. If you are opening your own knowledge sharing thread make it so compelling that everyone wants to post a thank you message.

From SEO point of view you won’t gain much link weight. But you will certainly gain:

  1. Variety in your link profile.
  2. Very relevant new readers to your website/blog.
  3. A recognition in a community of your niche.
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How Poor CTR Can Spoil All Your SEO Efforts

Optimizing your page title tag for search engines is bad.

The title of a page (or post) is one of the most important on-page factor that Google (and most top search engines) uses to decide what the topic of that page is. SEO gurus always insist to drop your primary focus keyword at the beginning of the title tag. Some experts even suggest  to use a secondary focus keyword in the title itself.

But there is one more important purpose of the title of your blog: To attract the searcher’s eyeballs while competing with nine other high quality results on the search result page. If your blog post appears on the first page of google for a popular search term but no one likes to click on your listing how effective is your SEO?

CTR matters even if you rank all the way to the top

Optify CTR Curve 2
Organic CTR curve shows which rank gets how much traffic. Source

It is natural that in the first page of the search results the search user is more likely to click the first result than the second or subsequent ones. But the fact is that all ten results are right there in front of his eyes trying their best to grab his precious attention. And if they all fail to do so, there are millions of “next” pages to do the job.

If you rank first on page one but a search user likes (say) eighth result, and clicks it, better luck next time. But if it is happening all the time, then either the eighth result is too good to resist or your result snippet sucks (or both). The Click Through Rate (CTR) of each result starts playing a vital role here.

You may loose your rankings just because of low CTR

Joost De Valk of Yoast SEO plugin (the most popular SEO plugin for wordpress) warns in his post about SEO titles that “if you’re ranking but never getting clicks, over time, your rankings might deteriorate”. In other words if your result in the search engine gets more CTR than the ones with better ranking results there are good chances your will get a free ranking upgrade in the next update.

Think of it in this way. The purpose of complex ranking algorithm of a search engine is to provide the search user the result which best suit his needs. If every other user chooses for himself one particular result out of the ten options, isn’t it an indication that this result is the best suited result for that particular search query. If not then what is the purpose of showing the user so many results for a search rather than just one best result.

Your Title CTR matters beyond search engine rankings

Have you though about it in this way. Your blog/page title remains same irrespective of the source of acquisition of the reader. So if it is not able to attract clicks despite appearing in search results. How the same title will attract customers from other platforms? If it ugly in Google, it will be ugly in facebook. And it will be ugly in all those social platforms which use your page title in their snippet.

facebook uses page title and meta decription in its snippet
How facebook uses your page title and meta decription in its snippet. CTR matters the most here.

So your title and meta description should be catchy (not SEO optimized) to attract more clicks each time your page is shared on facebook. In fact several social bookmarking and social media platforms and a number of discussion board software (forums) use your title as their default text when a link to your blog post is shared there.

It is possible to increase CTR without sacrificing SEO

The whole purpose of this blog post is to make you look at your blog titles (and meta description) from a whole new perspective. Next time when you are writing title for your blog post, think beyond SEO. It is OK to put your important keyword(s) in title and meta description. But do not forget that actual real human beings will be reading it each time your blog appears in search results or is shared on social platforms.

You have roughly one second to grab your visitors attention with your wonderful snippet. And if you promise your visitor exactly what he is looking for and if your promise is better than your competitors you will earn that click through.

How to write titles that both humans and bots love

Google is known to play with your title and meta description while generating a snippet. It sometimes dynamically generates a better title for your search result snippet and often dynamically generates a better description taking excerpt of its choice from that blog post to best suit the search query. But it does not mean that you do not to do anything at your own. Great titles are valuable assets for your blog. Learn how to write great click worthy titles.