How to find out when a website was published

The publication date of a website is very valuable information but it takes a little bit of detective work to discover it. We'll show you how to do it
Jun 24, 2020 • 4 minute read
Edward Kost @EdwardKost
Technical Co-pilot
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Curious about when a website was first published? We'll teach you 2 powerful methods

There are several reasons why you might want to find out when a website was published. You could be calculating your chances of outranking a competitor in Google, or maybe you're interested in purchasing a domain name.

We'll show you two different methods of discovering when almost any website was published. 

Method 1 - Archive.org

Archive.org archives the historical design updates of just about every website on the internet. It does this periodically crawling websites and capturing screenshots of any design changes. These changes are logged under the date they were identified.

So the date a website was archived is not the date it was published, but rather, the date it was crawled by archive.org. This is still a close enough estimate as to when a web design was updated.

So estimating when a website was first published is a simple matter of searching its URL in the archive.org database, and checking when the site was first crawled.

Here's how you do it.

Head to archive.org and search for the website you are investigating. Make sure you select  the 'search archived websites' option.

The black columns at the top indicate the presence of a crawled website. The yellow range box indicates your current position on the timeline

The colored circles in the calendar below indicate the date the website was crawled. Clicking on them will display the archived appearance of the website at that time. 

To scroll back to the first page of archive history, click on the year segment with the first black column in the above timeline. 

Then locate the date of the first colored circle on the calendar. This can be approximated as the date the website was first published. So, according to archive.org,  Ferrari.com was first published on 10th December 1997.

To see what the website looked like, hover over the colored date then click on the link. 

Not bad for a website from 1997.

Clicking on ant of the colored circles in the calendar below will reveal the webs

Method 2 - Google reconnaissance

Step 1: Domain directory search

First you need to find the date the website domain was registered. There are 3 different registration directories you can use, WHOIS, ICANN Lookup and DomainTools.

We'll be using DomainTools in our example. 

DomainTools pulls data from the primary directory WHOIS. It offers a suite of interesting domain registration query options, including reverse WHOIS where you can search a name, email or address to discover associated domain registrations. 

Paste the URL of the website in question and hit search

How to find out when a website was published

The domain registration date will be found under 'Dates'

How to find out when a website was published

You can also see the date the domain name is due to expire. This is very useful information if you want to make an offer to purchase it.

Step 2: Google date range search

We discovered that Ferrari.com was registered on February 27 1997. With this information we can now ask Google to show us all of the Ferrari website pages that were published within a given date range after this registration date. Then it becomes a simple matter of narrowing our range until we discover the date Ferrari first started publishing content.

Here's how you do it.

First we need to manipulate Google search with some clever search operators. We want Google to only display search results from Ferrari's website. To do this we'll use the 'inurl:' search operator like so:

How to find out when a website was published

Note that there is no space between the  ''url:" operator and the URL you are searching,

Make sure the URL of the website you are querying includes the 'http…' prefix so that your search results don't include subdomain variants from third party websites. To ensure your URL is accurate, load the website you are querying, select its entire URL and copy it.

How to find out when a website was published

If after clicking 'search' in Google you discover that your search results are very limited, head over to the last page of the search results and click the 'repeat the search with the omitted results included' link.

How to find out when a website was published

This should reveal a lot more Google result pages.

Scroll back up to the top of page 1, click the 'Tools' button then navigate to anytime > custom range.

How to find out when a website was published

Start with a reasonable date range. 1 year from the registration date is a good starting point.

Since the Ferrari domain was registered on 27 February 1997, we'll set the upper limit to 27 February 1998.

How to find out when a website was published

We then get the following results:

How to find out when a website was published

Let's narrow our date range search to see if anything was published before the earliest date indicated in our search results.

How to find out when a website was published

Nope, nothing.

How to find out when a website was published

So it's safe to assume that Ferrari first started publishing content on the 15th of February 1998.

For website registrations that occurred before 1991 your initial date range will need to at least range from 6 August 1991 because that's the date the internet was launched.

Here's an example.

An ICANN Lookup search for the domain apple.com indicates a registration date of 19th February 1987.

How to find out when a website was published

If we perform a Google search of published apple.com web pages within a year of this registration date we'll obviously get no results.

How to find out when a website was published

How to find out when a website was published

If we extend the date range until the internet launch date, we still get no results.

How to find out when a website was published

How to find out when a website was published

After a few iterations, we finally discover the date of the first publication on apple.com, April 15 1997.

How to find out when a website was published

Note that clicking on these results will not display the web pages as they appeared on the indicated date, they'll obviously be updated since then. This is the date that page (and therefore the website) was first published.

Final thoughts

Both methods yield similar results. In our investigation they only differed by about a couple of months. Method 1 is more accurate and should be the primary method you use, however, sometimes archive.org misses websites and doesn't store their data. In these instances, method 2 is a highly accurate backup solution you can use. 

Happy investigating!

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