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Google Showing Bias Towards .org TLDs

A bit of history:

Of the many uses that Google’s webmaster tools offers, I think the most profound use is the ability to get sites easily indexed into Google without the use of links. While Google, like many search engines, has long allowed webmasters to “submit” their sites to be spidered, webmaster tools makes this easier while providing more robust data.

Essentially, in our endless quest to uncover what is behind Google’s ranking algorithm we finally have a good way to control “links” in the equation. Links make experimentation difficult. It is nearly impossible to create 2 identically valued links for the purpose of testing. (This is actually possible now, as well; and we will be using a technique to test out the implications later in the year). However, with Google Webmaster Tools, and sitemaps especially, in place, we can control several potential ranking factors at once, allowing us to isolate a single variable in question.

Does Google Intrinsically Rank Certain TLDs above others?

This has long been a question raised among search engine marketers. Should I get the $.99 .info? I hear Google is banning them because so many blackhats use them… Really? I hear .orgs are the way to go, because they look less commercial. etc. etc. etc.

However, until now, there really had not been a reliable study to test these theories out. Virante has finished a preliminary investigation and the results are published below.

Methodology:

There are several ranking factors we need to control.

  1. domain age (purchase new domains at same time)
  2. link profile (use Google sitemaps for indexing)
  3. indexing age (randomize ordering of multiple subdomains in sitemaps submissions)
  4. on-site factors (identical text, content)

So, for the preliminary examination, we purchased 3 domains, identically named, with different top level extensions (.org,.com,.net). We then created 3 separate subdomains on each of these domains so that we could create some sort of result duplication and randomize the order of submissions to Google sitemaps. Finally, we created identical content on each site and identical sitemaps.

Preliminary Results:

The results were quite shocking. The .org subdomains outranked all other extensions. As you can see, the .nets and .coms are intermixed, some not ranking at all, but the .orgs are stacked at the top. While these results must be taken with a grain of salt until they can be verified on a much larger scale, it does indicate that there may be some bias towards the .org top level domain. (many have suspected this) These results have shown true on appx 80% of datacenters we have tested.

Below is a basic table of the data which also indicates that the indexing date and creation date seem to be unrelated to the ranking as well, dispelling at least some questions as to other factors that may be at play.

variable extension indexed created rank
o3.org org 2008:02:15 11-Feb-2008 00:20:47 UTC 1
o2.org org 2008:02:15 11-Feb-2008 00:20:47 UTC 2
o1.org org 2008:02:16 11-Feb-2008 00:20:47 UTC 3
o1.com com 2008:02:15 11 Feb 2008 00:20:39 4
o1.net net 2008:02:13 11 Feb 2008 00:20:53 5
o2.net net 2008:02:14 11 Feb 2008 00:20:53 6
o3.com com 2008:02:15 11 Feb 2008 00:20:39 7
o2.com com 2008:02:13 11 Feb 2008 00:20:39 na
o3.net net 2008:02:14 11 Feb 2008 00:20:53 na

Implications:

  1. Further study is definitely needed. Virante will be expanding the number of test subjects greatly and testing with and without subdomains.
  2. Considering the costs are quite similar, it may make sense to begin using .orgs, like our good friends at SEOMoz

Possible Causes Aside from Overt Bias and Further Caveats:

  1. Google’s shifting algorithm is built on profiling characteristics – while a .org bias might exist today, it could easily shift tomorrow if spammers start hoarding .orgs
  2. Google gives bias to .org subdomains, but not .org domains
  3. Google likes to group .org subdomains in the search results, but does not care about grouping .coms or .nets
  4. MattCutts is screwing with me
Google Showing Bias Towards .org TLDs by Tags: , , , , , ,

15 Comments

  1. Clearly possibility 4 is at play here.

    No seriously, that’s some great experimentation you’ve done and it’s a pretty interesting result. Are you testing other domains as well? Using folders rather than, subs, for example? I’ll be watching for the followup :)

    Cheers
    Gab

  2. Adam Maywald
    Feb 21, 2008

    That was interesting. I always love it when people like yourself actually do testing – it makes the SEO world a better place rather then “I think its good because…” :)

  3. Robbert
    Feb 21, 2008

    Nice investigation but how do you deal with duplicate content?
    Google does not like identical content!

  4. admin
    Feb 21, 2008

    Robbert:

    You are correct about the duplicate content. The future experimentation will probably do the following…

    1. Include the keyword only in the title, not in the URL or in the content.

    2. Include as content 500 nonsensical same-length words.

  5. Joseph Stein
    Feb 21, 2008

    Although I would agree with Robbert here about duplicate content, you still got some pretty interesting results here. I’m looking forward to seeing where this goes.

  6. Bert
    Feb 21, 2008

    When was the picture taken?
    On February 12th, “2008exp1.org” was mentioned on premiumdrops.com, not the others. This might explain the bias.

    Did you also check Google’s cache? Maybe it’s ordered by time of indexing.

    In Google.nl I get totally different results (.net > .com > .org), but that might be caused by this experiment ‘going public’.

  7. SEO Canada
    Feb 21, 2008

    Thats a great experiment I’ve personally never felt that I’ve been given any bias because of my .org, in fact I’ve always felt quite the opposite :) Maybe my links just need to age a little more…

  8. Neyne
    Feb 24, 2008

    Good job on the testing. There are definitely some methods I will pick up from you for setting up testing grounds.

    It is interesting to see what is the impact of the geotargeting here, since people are reporting different results in different countries. Here (Israel), I see the .net domain being at the top, followed by the .org and then .com

    I am also seeing the subdomains ranking after all the top-level domains, regardless of the TLD.

  9. Palm Coast Coupons
    May 1, 2008

    very interesting… i know they dont like .info anymore… by why org in particular… i though dot com was the way to be for the internet

  10. Area SEO
    May 1, 2008

    great experimentation.. any other info on other tlds?? what about sub domains? any info on that… will check back.. great post

  11. Hull Web Design
    Jun 5, 2008

    Hmmm – an interesting experiment, but unfortunately just not conclusive enough.

  12. Webmaster
    Jun 20, 2008

    Interesting piece of work but not very definitive.

    I think .com’s have more of a reputation than .info’s due to their cost. I don’t think google differentiates between the two other than .info’s spending longer in the mythical google sandbox.

  13. SEO tips
    Jun 21, 2008

    Well some really intresting results you got there. The problem might be with the duplicate content or some other minor issue (like .org domain being mentioned at premiumdrops.com as Bert has mentioned.).

    Anyways I’m looking forward to reading some more information or some new more detailed research about this.

  14. seo site designers
    Aug 13, 2008

    This very interesting and a good read. Has any more study been done on this subject? I’m very interested ATM if there has.

  15. Greg Hill
    Oct 20, 2008

    Interesting post. You could take this test further by determining which TLD receives duplicate content priority given identical publishing time. In the post you could assume that the .org received priority there as well.

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