Is it a Google ranking factor?

When you register a domain, the registrar has your credentials.

However, you can choose domain privacy protection if you don’t want names, addresses, phone numbers, etc. website contacts are listed in Who is for everyone to see.

There are many legitimate reasons people want to protect their privacy online.

But does WhoIs information – or the use of domain privacy – have any SEO implications?

The claim: WhoIs information is a ranking factor

Some of the questions that have been raised regarding the potential impact of domain privacy on SEO include:

  • Is hiding your WHOIS information hurting your website’s ranking?
  • If we have a large number of sites in our network but use domain privacy, will Google consider the links being exchanged to be legitimate?
  • Is WhoIs a Google Trust Factor?

Evidence of WhoIs information as a ranking factor

When Google became a domain registrar in January 2005, SEO professionals immediately became suspicious of how registration information could be used in the ranking algorithm.

Barry Schwartz noted next month that a Google spokesperson fanned the flames with this comment to the New York Times:

“Although we have no plans to register any domains at this time, we believe this information can help us improve the quality of our search results.”

There was no real industry consensus on this for a few years, as SEO professionals and webmasters shared conflicting experiences and advice in forums.

In 2007, an industry blogger cited Matt Cutts as the basis for this recommendation:

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

It is proven that search engines can see through this “wall” anyway and it makes your site less reliable for normal (albeit tech-savvy) visitors/customers.

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

As Loren Baker said at the time:

“By not wanting to be spammed in your inbox, mailbox, phone booth, or possibly even through your XBox, are you telling search engines that your site is not trustworthy? I’m not sure that is the case.

The blogger above made this recommendation based on what Matt Cutts wrote site reviews he did at Pubcon in 2006:

“Rather than any actual content, most of the pages were parked pay-per-click (PPC) pages, and when I checked the whois on them, they all had a ‘whois privacy protection service’.

It is relatively unusual.

Having a lot of sites isn’t automatically bad, and having PPC sites isn’t automatically bad, and having whois privacy enabled isn’t automatically bad, but once you get several of these factors together, you’re talking often from a very different type of webmaster than one with just one or more sites.

Even then, there was no evidence that “hiding” behind domain privacy protection and choosing to keep your home address out of the WhoIs database had any impact on rankings.

As Cutts said, this might be seen by the spam team as a red flag. But he spoke that it arose in conjunction with other factors.

That was a long time ago, so let’s be more up to date.

In 2016, an SEO pro published a case study on a fairly reputable site claiming that WhoIs was a trust factor, and he could prove it.

Specifically, he said, the address you use in your WhoIs contact information must be in the same general region that your site serves.

Enabling domain privacy protection or using a mailing/physical address outside of the area your site intends to serve would kill your rankings. Or so the story goes.

We need to look at the larger context of Google’s state at this point.

Google was then in (or had been through) many iterations of identity detection and verification methods – Google+, Authorship, IPv6, etc.

This Friday whiteboard The episode with Cyrus Shepard from May 2014 gives us an insight into the various signals and clues that Google was already using back then to determine who controlled which sites.

The algorithms had become much more sophisticated than when we had these conversations in 2005.

Given that the SEO professional simply presented a story without supporting evidence, it’s hard to accept this anecdotal experience that Google considered WhoIs/domain privacy a trust factor in its ranking algorithms in 2016.

Evidence Against Whois Information as a Ranking Factor

Let’s be more current.

In 2019, John Mueller responded to a tweeted question about whether domain privacy settings affected SEO. It was clear:

And today, Google only has one 2% market share in domain registration.

They don’t have access to enough data for this to be reliable as a search signal.

In 2021, Mueller was again demand (this time on Reddit) if domain privacy settings impact SEO or rankings.

His answer: “No”.

WhoIs Information as a Ranking Factor: Our Verdict

There is no evidence that Google has ever used domain privacy protection as a ranking factor.

Maybe they planned to come back in 2005 when they became a domain registrar.

Maybe they even did, for a short while.

But not for long, if so – and they certainly aren’t using it today.

That said, if you’re trying to obfuscate the identities of site owners to build link networks or otherwise manipulate search rankings, you’re solidly in spammy territory.

This exposes you to a manual penalty if detected.

Google recognizes that online privacy is important, and there are perfectly valid reasons why people choose to keep their personal information out of WhoIs.

WhoIs is not a ranking factor.

Feature Image: Robin Biong/Search Engine Journal

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