If you have worked in digital marketing or worked with an agency on the optimisation of your website, you have probably heard of domain authority (DA). Domain authority has long been recognised as a key metric for search engine optimisation (SEO) specialists and is used as a way of quantifying the overall quality of a website to establish its ranking potential.
Mistakenly, DA is often referred to as a ranking factor for Google and this is not the case (more on that below). It is, however, an important metric for SEOs to gain an understanding, not only of the website they are managing but also the level of competition and the potential to rank for the keywords they want to target.
What is domain authority?
Domain authority is a metric that was created by SEO software specialist, Moz (previously SEOMoz). The metric is on a scale of 0-100 with higher scores expected to drive higher rankings in the search results (SERPs).
How is domain authority calculated?
Moz use a wide range of factors to calculate the domain authority score of a website. According to the Moz website, “Domain Authority is calculated by evaluating multiple factors, including linking root domains and total number of links, into a single DA score. This score can then be used when comparing websites or tracking the “ranking strength” of a website over time.”
They are also quick to point out that, “Domain Authority is not a Google ranking factor and has no effect on the SERPs.”
In order to keep the domain authority score of websites up-to-date, Moz uses its constantly updated Link Explorer Index to monitor the links pointing between websites. Sites with more backlinks and unique referring domains are more likely to have higher DA scores (depending on the authority of those domains that are linking to them).
There is heaps of information available in the link above when it comes to calculating the DA score, however, in the simplest terms, your DA score is heavily linked to your backlink profile.
What is considered a good domain authority score?
Ah, the million-dollar question and one that there is no definitive answer to.
Th obvious answer would be that 100 is the best possible score so that’s what you should be aiming for. The truth is, it is very difficult for a site to reach that 100-point target.
Some of the highest performing sites include:
- icloud.com – 91
- reddit.com – 92
- instagram.com – 93
- wikipedia.org – 93
- neftlix.com – 93
- twitter.com – 94
- google.com – 94
- bbc.com – 95
- facebook.com – 96
- amazon.com – 96
- youtube.com – 100
Here in New Zealand, we can see how some of the most popular sites in terms of traffic, rank in terms of their domain authority:
- stuff.co.nz – 92
- nzherald.co.nz – 91
- tvnz.co.nz – 82
- trademe.co.nz – 76
- spark.co.nz – 61
We can see from the results above, that only YouTube manages to make it all the way to the golden 100-point mark. When we look at NZ-specific websites, we can see that outside of the two major news outlets, the scores quickly start to drop off and that’s the key thing to consider with domain authority. It is not purely about your own DA score. It’s about your DA score in relation to the websites you are competing with.
We work with clients with DA scores from as low as 1 (a brand new website) to 92 and whilst we are always striving to improve the DA of our clients, we look at the metric comparatively in the sector that our client is competing.
In the travel sector, we have worked hard to get our client a DA score of 46 over the past nine years. This now puts them as the number one brand in that particular sector, however, if we tried to compare them to Stuff, we would think we weren’t doing a great job.
A new client we have recently started working with has a new website and a DA of one. We have a blank canvas to work with and when we look at the leading competitors in the sector, they have DA scores of 17 and 15 respectively so we don’t have a massive mountain to climb.
When thinking about a good DA score, you have to look at it in the context of the keywords you are targeting and the DA scores of the sites already ranking for those keywords. Your goal should be to achieve a higher domain authority score than the domains you hope to outrank. That is what makes a good domain authority score.
Checking your domain authority score (and your competitors)
If you have a Moz paid account, that is the best way to check your domain authority score and any other website you want to compare.
Free Moz accounts are limited to five DA checks per day so this can be quite limiting if you are doing some competitor analysis. Instead, use Linkgraph’s bulk DA checker tool that allows you to check up to 10 domains in one search and can be used to check unlimited domains in a day. It will also give you the individual page authority score and the spam score for the domains you are checking.
How do you improve your domain authority?
We’ve already touched on the correlation between domain authority and backlinks and that is why link building is the best way to increase your domain authority score.
As we know, link building is not easy. It is fraught with potential hazards that can seriously penalise your website when done incorrectly so it is important to focus on white-hat link building tactics and avoid any “quick win” schemes that promise to boost your DA score.
Link building used to be a favourite tactic of black hat SEOs. They would attempt to manipulate their overall authority by engaging in spammy link practices and this given the practice of link building a bad reputation, even when it is been done in the right way, following white hat tactics.
The launch of Google’s Penguin Penalty in 2012 saw a major clamp down on spammy backlink practices, with thousands, potentially millions of websites hit with a penalty by Google which could see a website removed from the search results until those backlinks were cleaned up using the disavow tool.
This, however, should not put you off trying to improve your overall DA score by carrying out white-hat link building practices including:
For small, local businesses, getting listed in relevant directories is a great way to improve your overall domain authority score. There are hundreds of directories you can list in, however, the truth is that there is only a handful you really need to focus on.
Sadly, a number of directories have jumped on to the fact that this is a valid tactic and have spun up spammy sites to try and get people to pay for multiple listings on essentially the same directories so we recommend focusing on the following directories here in New Zealand:
- Google My Business
- Bing Places
- Apple Maps
- Yahoo Local
Getting listed in directories is also an extremely valuable local SEO tactic that can help to improve your chances of ranking in the local map pack results. It is important from a local SEO perspective, that you use the exact same data in all your listings (Name, Address and Phone Number).
Write amazing content
A great way to get more websites to link to you is to create amazing content. Whilst this is easier said than done, when you get it right, you can achieve some astounding results.
Writing link-worthy content is about creating something new, unique and exciting. Your content should provide insights that make it something that other website owners want to link out to. Creating content using original research or creating a thought leadership piece is a great way to grab attention.
There are some amazing examples of businesses jumping on the latest breaking news and creating some highly link-worthy content off the back of it.
A great example of this popped into my LinkedIn feed a few weeks ago with a step-by-step guide to what they did to achieve such amazing results:
You can read the post and comments here.
One of the most common white hat link-building tactics is guest posting. Whilst this has lost some of its impact over the past few years, especially when Google introduced the “no follow” attribute which many sites choose to deploy on external links, there are still lots of opportunities out there.
As with any link building, choosing guest post sites with domain authorities that are similar to or better than your own is a great place to start. Of course, that’s not always possible and there are lots of great websites that don’t necessarily have high DA scores but that are really relevant to your business.
Each prospect should be assessed on its own individual merits and a calculated decision made as to whether a link from that website would add value to your own (and add value to people on the linking website).
Many publishers are always on the lookout for great content so if you can provide that for them, they are often more than happy to include a link back to your website as long as it is contextually relevant.
Broken backlinks/Competitor links
A really popular way for SEOs to build backlinks is to look at existing links that are “broken”. This means using specialist tools to discover backlinks that previously pointed to your website which now return an error code (404 error).
You can also use the same tool to look at competitor links (both active and broken). Once you identify pages that contain a broken link, you can identify the issue with the link and then look to create content that would fill the gap left by the broken link.
With competitors, this can be a double win. Let’s say you identify a link to a competitor’s site from a domain you have identified as a great prospect. You can use the skyscraper technique to create a better, more relevant piece of content and then reach out to the editor and offer up your content as a replacement. If accepted, not only do you get a link from a key target, but you also remove one of your competitors.
Domain authority is an important metric that can be used to inform a lot of your SEO decision-making, as well as give you a better understanding of your position in the competitive landscape.
Hopefully, this post has helped to provide a better understanding of what it is, how it is calculated and importantly, how to increase your domain authority score.