An interesting SEO related question here. Can Google actually see your data hidden behind a private registration? In other words, if you purchased a domain and paid for “Privacy” services to protect your personal information, does Google have the ability to still see that information? After quite a few hours of research, I’ve gathered together some helpful information to shed some light on the subject.
First let’s look at why you would want your WHOIS data Private. Typically it’s because you don’t want your Name, Address, Email, and Phone number to be visible to the public. But from an SEO perspective, SEO experts don’t want Google to know that all of their domain names are owned by the same person. Is this a Black Hat SEO tactic? Not really. Especially considering the fact that many people run legitimate content heavy websites (more than 1) and deserve the SEO strength that they get by linking the domains to each other. So let’s look at the information that we do know.
Google Has Become its Own Domain Registrar
In this blog post from TechCrunch we learn that Google has become its own licensed Domain Registrar. TechCrunch also brings up that Google is in some level of partnership with registrar powerhouses GoDaddy and eNom. This partnership is most likely via a reseller program with GoDaddy and eNom. This all took place back in 2006.
Google as a Registrar Has Access to the WHOIS API
Ross Rader who is the Director of Innovation and Research for Tucows webhosting, which is actually a domain name powerhouse in the industry, said that “Registrars only have access to the data they collect. There is no master list.” This is why Google eventually decided to become an Accredited Icann Domain Registrar so that they could access this information using the WHOIS API that is given to Registrars. This API allows for unlimited queries to public WHOIS information. An obvious move for someone like Google who needs that data for hundreds of millions of domains.
ICANN Says Whois Data Must Be Used for Resolving Issues Only
According to Icann policy, the rules and purpose of WHOIS data for a registered domain name is as follows. “The purpose of the gTLD Whois service is to provide information sufficient to contact a responsible party for a particular gTLD domain name who can resolve, or reliably pass on data to a party who can resolve, issues related to the configuration of the records associated with the domain name within a DNS nameserver.”
Basically put, this WHOIS information can only legally be used to help troubleshoot a problem that is associated with that domain name. Using this data to give certain ranking within search results would be way outside of the boundaries of this policy.
Matt Cutts Says Domain Name Age Is Not That Important
Another interesting article regarding Domain Registration and Google. This one is from Searchengineland.com and talks about the issue of Domain Name Age and Google’s Algorithm. Surprisingly Matt Cutts says that domain age is really not that important with what they do at Google, and it’s of course more about quality of content on your site. In this post you learn about a “Historical Data” patent that Google has in order to look at historical data for a domain. So even though Google can see this data in a WHOIS record, apparently they don’t find it all that important!
Google Cannot See What’s Behind a Private WHOIS Record
As mentioned earlier, Registrars only have access to the data they themselves collect. Unless of course that data is made public. Like a public WHOIS record. Here’s an article written on SearchEngineOptimizationJournal.com that brings up an interesting problem. The fact that Google could actually devalue a website’s ranking if its Whois data is made private. Basically implying that Google cannot see this data, and devalues the site because of a lack of openness or reputation.
To protect yourself from Google or anyone else from seeing your private registration information on your domain name, all you would have to do is Privacy Protect your domain name, as it shields Google as well as everyone else from this data. If you do this, all Google can see is…
- Name of the Registrar (eg. GoDaddy)
- Creation Date
- Expiry Date
As mentioned earlier, it is possible that Google could see a Private WHOIS as a red flag and dock it some points so to speak. This is theory of course and has not been confirmed or highly tested. Even if it did hurt you, it’s still worth hiding your private information from the public.
Is There A Master List of Private WHOIS Information?
It makes sense then why Google became its own licensed Registrar in order to collect this public whois data on their end. Based on my research it’s highly unlikely that there is a “Master List” of private whois information that is being shared amongst Registrars. If there were, Google could have just built a private relationship with a big Registrar such as GoDaddy or eNom (who they already have a partnership with) and gather this private data from them, rather than going through all the trouble of becoming a Registrar.
All this information combined together, and you do have the possibility of Google gathering private whois data and applying it to their search algorithm. But this would have to take place as an official domain registrar (which they currently are) and the domain would have to be either purchased or transferred under them.
Therefore, the best way to prevent your whois data from having any effect on your SERP’s with Google is to purchase Privacy WHOIS services for your domains. This will keep Google away from your data, and the ranking of your site will be solely on the quality of your site.
A Few More Tips
Focus on good quality content on all your domains. Don’t be a spammer! Start spamming through your domains and it will be only a matter of time before Google, even through Private WHOIS information, catches on to what you are doing. But if you create good quality content that actually helps people, and you don’t link all of your domains together in a pattern, you can begin to create a nice little Multiple Domain Strategy on the web.