Better Understanding Domain Authority When It Comes to SEO

**This article was updated on July 11th, 2020 to provide more up-to-date information than what was provided on its original publish date. 

Domain Authority (DA) is a search engine ranking score developed by Moz that predicts how well a website will rank on search engine result pages (SERPs). 

Domain Authority has turned into a generic term that is not just used when referencing Moz’s tool. Think of Kleenex and Bandaid. These are each brand names that turned into household names due to the popularity of the product. 

There are many within the SEO industry that get frustrated when they hear reference of “improving domain authority.” As Bill Slawski alluded to, (screenshot below) Domain Authority was developed by Moz. It can be misleading if you believe Google developed the tool. Moz even admits as much on their resource on domain authority: “Domain Authority is not a metric used by Google in determining search rankings and has no effect on the SERPs.” 

So…. What Is Domain Authority? 

I don’t get frustrated when a current or prospective client calls or emails and asks, “how can I improve my domain authority?” I interpret the question in a similar way to the Kleenex and Bandaid reference. I know what they are trying to ask, which 99% of the time is the following: “How can I improve my SEO.” 

I inform the person trying to improve their SEO that domain authority was actually developed by Moz and isn’t an actual metric that Google uses. I then explain how “overall authority and credibility” can be improved, which I will dive into more detail below.

So…. What is Domain Authority? The Domain Authority score ranges from one to 100, with higher scores corresponding to a greater ability to rank [source]. It takes into consideration multiple factors, one of the most important including linking root domains and the number of total links, into a single DA score. When you are looking to gauge the overall quality of your backlinks, domain authority is a great place to start.

There are other tools similar to domain authority, such as:

What’s funny is Ahrefs states the following on their website authority checker page: “Here at Ahrefs, we have a website authority metric of our own called Domain Rating. It runs on a scale from zero to a hundred. The higher a website’s Domain Rating (DR), the stronger and more authoritative it is.”

Our agency utilizes SEMRush more than Moz. Below is an example of the domain overview tool for comparing CNN.com versus FoxNews.com. You can see CNN.com has a higher authority score (87 vs. 84) compared to FoxNews.com. You are able to see that CNN had twice as much estimated organic traffic and nearly twice the amount of backlinks. While this is just a tool and not 100% accurate, it’s a good way to gauge the backlink power

 

Why are Quality Backlinks so Important? 

Backlinks are a core foundation of Google’s algorithm. If you’re curious why domain authority focuses on the number of external backlinks an external website has pointing to it to help arrive at its domain authority score, it’s because backlinks play a crucial role in SEO.

There are two fundamental ways that the search engines use links: To discover new web pages & to help determine how well a page should rank in their results [source]. High-quality links are extremely important. You can’t just have low-quality links pointing to your site as this could come across as spammy which means Google wouldn’t have as much trust in your site. You want authoritative links pointing to your site.

A backlink is a hyperlink on an external site that points back to your site. Below is an example of a backlink, highlighted in red. There are also internal links, which play an important part [learn more].

Let’s say a local dermatologist was quoted in the Cleveland Clinic’s most recent article on Skin Cancer. The Cleveland Clinic decides to link back to the doctor’s bio on his/her website so readers can learn more. For the dermatologist, this is a “win” because of the relevance and authority of the backlink. The more quality backlinks you have, the more your domain authority score would increase. It’s an indicator of how Google would perceive the backlinks pointing to your site.

Why You Need to be Leery of Domain Authority

There are bad backlinks that can also get you penalized. This is why you need leery of domain authority. Just because you have a high domain authority doesn’t mean you should be outranking your competitors. The bad backlinks that are pointing back to your site could be spammy, which could cause more harm than good.

This is why many SEO professionals get frustrated by reference to domain authority. There are so many other factors that come into play pertaining to your Google rankings. Using domain authority is not an accurate indicator of how well your site will rank. It can give you insight on your backlink profile versus competitors.

Below is a list of other areas of SEO that are important yet wouldn’t be taken into consideration with domain authority:

  • Quality Content
  • Unique Text Content
    • The verbiage on your site should be unique. If you have duplicate content, this could cause a drop in rankings. 
  • Internal Linking 
    • Google wants to see your site provide users with a solid user experience. The majority of visitors should go to multiple pages as this is a natural progression if they are trying to learn more. That’s why internal linking is so important. It guides the visitor to different pages and resources on your site. 
  • Sitemaps
    • Sitemaps are important for SEO because they make it easier for Google to find your site’s pages. Without a sitemap, Google could be confused about which pages to crawl. 
  • Accessibility
    • Regardless of how well your content is written and how many quality backlinks you have, if your pages are not accessible, this could hurt your SEO. For example, a no-index page would mean that the page wouldn’t show up in the search results. You need to make your site accessible to search engines. 
  • URL Structure
    • Think of the importance of a structure when building a house. The same is true for the URL structure of your website. If you have a bad structure, your house (or your site) will have many issues in the future. You want to make it easy for the user to understand where to go and this is predicated on the structure. 
  • Mobile Responsiveness
    • Over 60% of traffic now takes place on mobile. Google moved to mobile-first indexing. Not having a mobile site will provide a bad user experience and can ultimately come back to haunt your site’s SEO rankings.  
  • Site Load Speed Time

In Closing

You cannot look at the domain authority tool and use this as the only indicator as to how well your site will rank on Google. There are countless other components that must be taken into consideration.

Moz built a powerful tool they should be proud of that others have copied along the way.

SEO’s shouldn’t get frustrated when others utilize domain authority as a measuring stick. There must be clear communication between each party as to the main purpose of domain authority, which is to provide a guesstimate into the authority of your site based on backlinks. It must be relayed that many other factors that must be taken into consideration.

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