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If you’ve dipped your toes into the world of search engine optimization (SEO), you’ve likely stumbled across the mysterious metric of domain authority (DA) in one form or another. Domain authority, domain rating (DR), authority score, etc. are all similar metrics used and developed by SEO tool creators such as Moz, Ahrefs, and Semrush to measure the overall quality of a webpage – that’s the intent, at least.

How do these companies calculate domain authority (the umbrella term that we’ll use going forward to describe the various webpage quality scores compiled by SEO tools), and how can you improve your site’s domain authority? What does it even matter? Is it important for ranking? We’ll cover that here, and more.

This article is meant to help you understand what domain authority is, how it impacts your site, how it affects organic rankings, and how you can grow your site’s DA. Onward, buttercup.

What is Domain Authority?

As mentioned above, domain authority is a quality metric, in the form of a numeric score, compiled by big-name SEO tool creators as a means of gauging the quality of a webpage. Hypothetically, if you compare a website page with a DA of 60 and a website page with a DA of 20, the quality of the DA 60 page will be much higher than the quality of the DA 20 webpage. Hypothetically. Reality is quite a bit different, but we’ll dive into that a bit later.

Since domain authority supposedly gives us a quality score that we can use for comparison between various webpages, it must be a pretty significant search engine ranking factor, right? It makes sense that a webpage with a higher quality score should rank higher than one with a lesser score, correct?

I’m going to blow some minds right here, right now: domain authority is not an important ranking factor in Google’s algorithm. Wait…just wait for it…in fact, it’s not a ranking factor at all. *Mic drop – exit stage left*

I’m sure this is confusing. SEO companies frequently use domain authority and improvement in DA as a key performance indicator (KPI), but in all honesty it’s not a factor that Google leverages to determine search engine results page (SERP) rankings, directly.

Domain authority is a bit more nuanced than that, and as you come to understand what DA is and how it’s calculated, it becomes apparent why.

How Do I Check My Domain Authority?

You can check your Domain Authority on any of the following platforms, just be aware that the metric might have a slightly different name depending on the platform used. Some of the most popular SEO tools and links to their DA checkers are below:

Moz
https://moz.com/domain-analysis

Ahrefs
https://ahrefs.com/website-authority-checker

Semrush
https://www.semrush.com/analytics/overview/compare-competitors/

How is Domain Authority Calculated?

Now you know how to check your site’s DA, so let’s dive into how DA is calculated, as it may help you to understand why some marketers and SEO specialists tout it as a ranking factor. Again, it’s not, but that doesn’t mean the metric doesn’t have value, or can’t be leveraged to help guide SEO strategy. It’s just not the magic bullet some think it is. In other words, a high DA isn’t going to guarantee a high ranking in the SERPs, but it’s not without value.

Domain authority is determined by the number and quality of inbound links to your site. The more inbound links from reputed and relevant sites your website has, the higher your DA will be. That’s it. There you go. There’s a bit more nuance to it than that, but links are the primary factor for determining DA.

In SEO, quality backlinks tend to indicate a reliable and trusted website, and strong backlink profiles can help sites to quickly move up the SERPs. However, links are not the only factor used in determining search engine rankings. Hence, a webpage with a DA of 12 can outrank a webpage with a DA of 65.

Need proof?
Case Study Incoming!!!

Domain Authority Case Study: Low Site DA, High Keyword Difficulty, and a #1 Ranking Nationally?!

One of our clients, Dinomite Rocks & Gems, operates an eCommerce website for selling rocks, gems, crystals, reiki supplies, and more. One of the primary keyword phrases we targeted for SEO was/is “crystals for sale”. With a high monthly search volume and clear transactional intent, it has obvious and significant value to our client. The nature of the keyword also means that it is an attractive target for competitors as well.

When we onboarded this client, they had a website DA of 0. The domain was aged, but did not have actual content on it for more than a couple months before contracting with SEO Idaho for SEO services. As such, it was a bit like starting from ground zero. Using Ahrefs, the keyword difficulty for “crystals for sale” can been seen as 41 – Hard, which indicates the need for a decently strong backlink profile (according to Ahrefs, we needed backlinks from ~ 58 websites to rank in the Top 10 for the keyword – see Figure 1. below).
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Figure 1.

Seems pretty impossible with a brand-new website with a DA of 0, right?

Well, see the results for yourself (screenshot taken from organic Chrome Incognito search on Oct 4, 2021).
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Earthcrystals.com, our client, ranks #1 organically for “crystals for sale” above Etsy and eBay, who have extremely competitive DAs (93 and 92, respectively).

If that’s the case, then what’s the use of domain authority? Here, you can clearly see a site that had no DA (now higher, but at the time 0), ranked above sites with extremely high DAs, which somewhat negates the idea of DA as a ranking factor or useful metric. Does that mean it’s worthless? Not exactly.

What is Domain Authority Used For?

Domain authority is a useful metric for comparing the strength of backlink profiles between websites, whether your own or a competitor’s. In other words, if you’re having trouble ranking for a keyword phrase, you can compare your site’s DA to the DAs of your competitors and see if your backlink profile is potentially hindering ranking improvement. If your competitors have DAs of 47, 78, 63, and 55, and yours is 12…you may want to implement a link-building strategy for your website. Are all the DAs of your competitors similar to yours? Well, backlinks probably aren’t the problem and you may want to start ruling out other facets of optimization.

At SEO Idaho™, we seldom use domain authority as a consideration when optimizing for keyword phrases on webpages. Why? We have repeatedly and consistently outranked higher DA-having websites with quality on site optimization. As such, the metric hasn’t played a prominent role in how we achieve our optimization goals. That’s not to suggest that it doesn’t have value, or that other companies, agencies, freelancers, and marketing departments haven’t found value in improving these metrics. For us, it’s just not a priority as we achieve greater results more quickly by focusing on other elements of SEO. For entities that rely heavily on backlinking strategies, DA may indeed be an important metric.

Another use for DA scores is identifying quality sites to acquire backlinks from. Sites that have a high DA have a strong backlink profile, and obtaining a backlink from such a site is advantageous to your backlinking strategy/profile. Quality backlinks tend to come from sites with higher DA scores.

DA is not the end-all, be-all to search engine optimization that some have made it out to be. Again, does DA have value? Sure, depending on how you use it. Is it important to ranking on Google’s first SERP? Certainly not that we’ve seen.

What is a Good/Average Domain Score?

Domain authority scores leverage a logarithmic scale ranging from 0 to 100, with 0 being fairly poor, and 100 being the number of pushups I can do in 20 minutes…and the top end of the scale. Since the score is logarithmic, it’s easier to move from 0 to 30 than it is to move from 30 to 60.

As you can probably intuit, newer sites and sites that do not naturally draw high-quality backlinks tend to reside on the lower end of the scale. Well established sites with quality content that receives frequent backlinks from reputable sources tend to reside on the upper end of the scale.

Identifying a good score is a bit subjective. You have to remember webpages are competing against each other for rankings not in a vacuum, but in unique landscapes specific to their industry. So, a DA of 40 might be amazing compared to the other sites that pull for one specific search query, whereas it might be bottom-of-the-barrel compared to the DA’s possessed by sites that rank for another search query. I’m sure that’s a bit of a frustrating answer, so here’s a bit of an anecdotal answer. Generally, a DA of 40 or above is considered to be average, and above 50 is considered to be good across the various DA compilers. This information will vary by each platform, but you can loosely use these figures to gauge how strong your site’s DA is.

How to Improve Domain Authority

If you’ve read the entirety of the article above, you probably have a decent guess as to the answer to this question. It’s pretty straightforward. If DA is a metric that reflects the overall strength of a website’s backlink profile, it stands to reason that acquiring more, high-quality backlinks will improve DA score. Backlinks, also known as “inbound links”, are links coming from other websites to your site. Getting some more should be easy-peasy, right? Ehhhhhh….

Honestly, link building isn’t particularly easy unless you naturally create quality content that draws numerous backlinks from high-quality sources. That’s why people tend to run away from this process. If your content doesn’t naturally draw links, the only other white-hat SEO option is outreach, and that can be a brutal numbers game.

Remember, it’s against Google’s Webmaster Guidelines to pay for backlinks or otherwise exchange goods for links. The policy also includes other no-no’s such as exchanging money for links, exchanging goods for links, link exchanges, etc. As such, you may be sending out a large volume of emails just to get one backlink, and if the backlink isn’t high-quality, it’s not going to help with rankings anyways.

There are, however, some ways of ethically acquiring quality backlinks. If you’re adamant about improving your website’s DA score, you can use the following suggestions to build up your backlink profile:

  • Start writing fresh up-to-date blogs with informative content that readers will naturally want to link to (infographics used to be popular for acquiring backlinks, and can still work if the infographic is high-quality)
  • Audit your backlinks and remove obvious spam links via disavow
  • Check your competitor’s backlink profile and reach out to the same sites to see if there’s an opportunity for you to obtain a link
  • Get active on social media
  • Reach out to webmasters who manage sites for businesses in your industry, but also in non-competing locales (i.e a plumber in the next town over probably won’t link to your site, but a plumber three states over – it could happen)

Domain Authority – A Quick Review

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