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Is It A Google Ranking Factor?

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Is It A Google Ranking Factor?


When you register a domain, the registrar has your identifying information.

However, you can choose domain privacy protection if you don’t want the names, addresses, phone numbers, etc. of website contacts listed in WhoIs for all the world to see.

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

But does WhoIs information – or using domain privacy – have any SEO implications?

The Claim: WhoIs Information Is A Ranking Factor

Some of the questions that have come up around the potential impact of domain privacy on SEO include:

  • Does hiding your WHOIS information hurt your website’s ranking?
  • If we have a large number of sites in our network but are using domain privacy, will Google count the links passing back and forth as legitimate?
  • Is WhoIs a Google trust factor?

The Evidence For WhoIs Information As A Ranking Factor

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

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

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

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

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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 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.”

As Loren Baker said at the time:

“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.”

The above blogger made that recommendation based on what Matt Cutts wrote of the site reviews he’d done at Pubcon in 2006:

“Rather than any real content, most of the pages were pay-per-click (PPC) parked pages, and 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.”

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

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As Cutts said, it could be perceived by the webspam team as a red flag. But he was talking about it popping up in conjunction with other factors.

That was all a long time ago, so let’s get more current.

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 info must be in the same general region that your site serves.

Turning on 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 have to look at the wider context of the state of Google at this point.

Google was into (or had gone through) many iterations of identity detection and verification methods by then — Google+, Authorship, IPv6, etc.

This Whiteboard Friday episode with Cyrus Shepard from May 2014 gives us a look back at the various signals and clues Google was using even then to determine who controlled which sites.

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The algorithms had become far more sophisticated than when we were having these conversations in 2005.

Given that the SEO pro simply presented a story with no backing evidence, it’s difficult to buy into that anecdotal experience that Google considered WhoIs/domain privacy a trust factor in its ranking algorithms in 2016.

The Evidence Against Whois Information As A Ranking Factor

So let’s get more current.

In 2019, John Mueller responded to a tweeted question as to whether domain privacy settings affect SEO. He was clear:

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

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

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

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His response: “No.”

WhoIs Information As A Ranking Factor: Our Verdict

There’s no evidence that Google ever used domain privacy protection as a ranking factor.

Perhaps they planned to back in 2005 when they first became a domain registrar.

Maybe they even did, for a short while.

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

With that said, if you’re attempting to mask the identity of site owners to create link networks or otherwise manipulate search rankings, you’re solidly into webspam territory.

That puts you at risk of a manual penalty if detected.

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

WhoIs is not a ranking factor.


Featured Image: Robin Biong/Search Engine Journal

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SEO

How To Use Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper

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How To Use Google's Structured Data Markup Helper

If you drill down to the very core, every search engine optimization (SEO) strategy has the same aim: convincing Google your webpage is the best answer to a user’s query.

There are a lot of tactics you can and should employ to achieve this, but that’s the goal.

And, as the Google brain has grown more complex, it’s able to display increasingly more detailed and helpful answers.

For example, if you’re looking to book a flight from Chicago O’Hare to LAX, Google can now show you options in rich snippets on search results pages.

Likewise, if you run a concert venue, you can add code known as structured data to your website that will encourage Google to display your events when they’re relevant to web searchers.

If you’re not familiar with the term “structured data,” don’t fret – there are a lot of SEO professionals and web marketers who aren’t.

In this article, we’ll set that right, plus give you tips on using the Structured Data Markup Helper to easily add it to your site.

What Is Structured Data?

As defined in this post, structured data is information (data) that is organized (structured). Organized information is basically what structured data is.

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For SEO purposes, structured data is a specific type of formatting that gives Google information about the meaning of a page.

Following a standardized vocabulary outlined by Schema.org, it is used across several search engines, including Google, Bing, Yahoo, and Yandex.

Structured data can use syntax like JSON-LD, RDFa, and Microdata, among others.

Why Is Structured Data Important?

There are several reasons why webpages use structured data.

For one thing, it makes navigation easier for both search engine crawlers and human users.

This is because it provides the information that can then be displayed on search engine results pages (SERPs) in the form of rich snippets, video carousels, and other special search result features and enhancements.

This leads to faster indexing by search spiders and enhances your site’s search visibility. This can also help improve your click-through rate, increase conversions, and grab more voice search traffic.

In an article for Search Engine Journal, Winston Burton, Senior Vice President of SEO at global search and marketing agency Acronym, detailed the results of adding structured data to the client’s website.

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With no other optimization strategies employed, the client saw a 400% net growth in rich result organic traffic and a 140% growth in impressions for the company’s answer center.

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Even if this is a statistical outlier, it still highlights the massive potential of using structured data.

What Is Structured Data Used For?

Now that we’ve covered what structured data is and why it’s important, let’s look into some of the ways it can be used.

In an April 2022 Google Search Central SEO office-hours hangout, Google Search Advocate John Mueller dove into structured data and its uses.

If you have 30 minutes to spare, it’s well worth the watch. If you’re in a hurry, the part that’s relevant to the current topic begins at 27:19. Or better yet, read Roger Montti’s coverage of it here.

In this hangout, Mueller was asked a question about how to choose the best format for structured data.

His answer was that it’s not so much about what format a page uses, but rather what kind of rich result is available for the page.

Structured data is very versatile and provides a lot of opportunities for businesses to use it to drive clicks. Some of these you may wish to take advantage of include:

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Knowledge Panels

Used for things that are part of the Google Knowledge Graph, they provide a quick overview of information about a topic.

Screenshot from search, Google, June 2022

As a business, you can use knowledge panels to give users at-a-glance information about your brand name, logo, and phone number, among other things.

Rich Snippets

Sometimes referred to as rich results, this is the additional data Google shows users in addition to normal search results. This may include things like music, events, or recipes.

Rich Snippets ExampleScreenshot from search, Google, June 2022

For commercial purposes, this is where reviews can be shown. It can also highlight things like products, addresses, and special offers.

Hosted Carousels

Common on mobile devices, this shows multiple “cards” from the same site.

Not to be confused with ordinary carousels, which can include images, video, and other data pulled from multiple sites, hosted carousels use content from only one “host” site.

Google currently supports the following types of hosted carousels:

  • Educational Course.
  • Movie.
  • Recipe.
  • Restaurant.
Carousel exampleScreenshot from search, Google, June 2022

AdWords

If you’re using Google’s automated ads as part of your PPC strategy, you can use structured snippets to give more information to customers.

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For example, you could use them to provide information about a line of products, included features or services offered.

AdWords exampleScreenshot from search, Google, June 2022

But, before you go inserting structured snippets into your webpages willy-nilly, you should know these are subject to standard Google Ads policies and must meet a number of requirements, a full list of which can be found here.

Getting Started With Structured Data

By now you should see the benefits structured data can offer, so let’s look at how to add it to your website.

The simplest way to add structured data to your webpage is by using Google’s Data Highlighter tool.

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To use this, simply open the tool and highlight data like name, date, location, etc. with your mouse.

Google will note this information the next time it crawls your site and present the data in rich snippets on search results pages.

You can also manually markup elements on HTML webpages. Sound intimidating? It’s not. You just have to have a small working knowledge of coding.

For your convenience, we’ve provided a step-by-step guide to help you through the process:

  1.   Open Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper.
  2.   Click the “Website” tab.
  3.   Select the type of page you’re marking up (e.g., job postings, restaurants, Q&A page, local businesses, etc.)
  4.   Enter the URL of an existing page or raw page HTML.
  5.   Click “Start Tagging.”
  6.   Highlight the parts of the page you want to be included in rich snippets and identify them in the dropdown that appears.
  7.   Fill in the required information. For an event, this includes the event name, location, and date.
  8.   After you have finished tagging, click the “Create HTML” button and choose an output format. JSON-LD is Google’s preferred format, though you can also choose Microdata.
  9.   Copy the code or download it. If you are using JSON-LD, paste the generated code into the body of the existing page. If you choose Microdata, replace your page with the generated HTML.
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Some other things to note:

  • To test the generated code, copy and paste it into the Rich Result test, which will show you any missing fields you need to fill in.
  • You can have multiple items on one page, but Google recommends that they are all the same type, e.g., all movies or all job postings.
  • All pages you want to display rich snippets for should be available to the public and not hidden behind login screens.
  • It may take a few weeks for Google to crawl your new page, but once it does it can be shown in rich snippets.

Is Structured Data A Ranking Signal?

Now for the $10,000 question: Will structured data markup help your site appear higher in search rankings?

Unfortunately, no.

In a deep dive into the topic, Search Engine Journal found that while it offers many benefits, there is no direct evidence schema markup is used by Google to determine search ranking.

That said, because it helps search engines more easily understand the content of your website, it can help you show up in relevant queries you may have been excluded from in the past.

Key Takeaways

Traffic is always the name of the game in digital marketing. And leveraging structured data on your website is a great way to help attract visitors.

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Not only does it enhance the appearance of your content in search results, but it can help your site get indexed faster.

Rich results (particularly positive product reviews) can also significantly improve your click-through rate and average time on the page.

If your page is used in a featured snippet, it will show at the top of SERPs.

In addition to the increase in visibility that provides, featured snippets are used to answer voice search queries. That means you’ll be the only result for anyone who uses Siri or Alexa for a query.

The final reason you should use structured data on your website is that it gives you more control over your information.

You determine how Google understands your brand and allows you to control how your information is defined.

Structured data is a useful tool in your toolbox. It doesn’t work for every site and every type of content, but if you’re in a field where it is useful, it’s something you need to be using.


Featured Image: NicoElNino/Shutterstock

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