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Domain name reassignment foils Google

Direct reassignment of expired domain names is foiling Google in its attempts to clean up its search results.

When Google announced it had become an ICANN-accredited registrar, the world questioned what the company’s ambitions were for domain names. This issue was further confounded when Google announced that it wouldn’t offer domain registration to the public. Why become a registrar if you aren’t going to register domains?

In March 2005 I discussed my beliefs for why Google became a registrar. At the time I said:

About a year ago Google started “deleting” from its index domains that were about to expire. This helped stop people from buying expired domains to use the popularity the previous web site had. But then sites like SnapNames started offering a service to get expired domains before they completed the domain dropping cycle, thereby retaining link popularity and indexing. With a better handle on which domains are deleting from each registrar, they might be able to combat this. Google might also be able to cross reference changes in the registrant name.

If you get a domain through direct reassignment at SnapNames or another drop catcher, the domain typically retains its original registration date, even if it was 1994.

At the recent ICANN meeting in Morocco, Google’s “Chief Internet Evangelist” Vint Cerf verified that this was part of the reason the company became a registrar.

>>VINT CERF: When a domain name has expired, and then it’s re-assigned to someone else, what happens to the SOA record for that domain name as to its start date? Does that change automatically or does it stay the same or are there circumstances where a domain name changes hands but it doesn’t look like it has if you are looking at its birth date?
>>PAT KANE: If a name is transferred, the date stays the same.
>>VINT CERF: Okay. So that’s a problem for Google. And it’s one of the reasons that we became a registrar, but it didn’t help.
We were hoping that we could detect that something had changed hands and that, therefore, we should invalidate a lot of things sitting in the cache that referred to the former content of that domain name.
>>PAUL STAHURA: I can answer that. You can still do that because you can monitor the WHOIS and if you see the WHOIS change, then you note the date.

It’s true that Google can still moniter changes to Whois to know when a domain changes hands. But it’s not that easy. For example, if CNET decides to change the Whois record for its domains to some other entity, such as CNET Holdings, then it might appear that the domain has changed hands even though it hasn’t.

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  1. Frank Michlick says

    I agree with your comments on how tracking whois output (especially considering that there are still many different formats for COM/NET whois output, since the whois informaiton is held by the registrar) can be difficult. Also most whois server do not allow mass queries in order to prevent spamming etc.

    There are two different ways how domains are re-registered when they expire today.

    Some registrars have an exclusive partnership with a drop names provider (example: Register.com/Snapnames), or their own program (Example: Enom/Clubdrop).

    In the case of these exclusive partnerships the domain name actually is never dropped at the registry, just the owner changes after the name has been sold in an auction. The creation date will note change.

    The other case is the one were the domains still go through the normal Hold, Redemption and Pending Delete cycle and the domain is actuall re-registered the moment it becomes available again (via Pool, Snapnames or Enom’s Clubdrop). In this case the creation date changes.

  2. Stephen Douglas says

    hmmm, this reply CGI doesn’t like apostrophes… let me try it again.

    Frank has a good point, and so does the article. Its also fascinating to wonder why Google would want to eliminate a large portion of their ad revenue from domains that retain their traffic stats after owner transfer, when most of the domains being transferred before the drop (or after) will have landing pages on them. A large portion of those landing pages are featuring Google ads. I’m hesitant to accept Google’s reasoning at face value for their concern regarding not being able to delete expiring domains from their index.

    There is still some mythology surrounding the claim that an expiring domain has lost its page rank with Google, so it loses its value. It’s not usually the case, but the argument continues.

  3. Editor says

    Stephen,

    I think Google’s point is that if a lot of their search results point to parked pages, the quality of there results will be viewed poorly by their users. Their main goal in life is to keep search users happy.

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