If you’re trying to beef up your backlink profile, you’re going to encounter the term “domain authority” sooner or later. But what is domain authority? Does it really matter for SEO?
Here are the answers you’re after:
Domain Authority: Defined
Domain authority is a metric invented by SEO software company Moz. Google does not recognize DA as a metric. However, it is a useful method of understanding a website’s probable authority on a particular subject in the eyes of a search engine like Google.
Other tools have developed a DA equivalent, but Moz’s metric, which scores a website from 1 to 100, is considered the gold standard.
By the way, DA 100 websites are almost unheard of. For reference, the New York Times website has a domain authority of 95:
Bear in mind that DA is similar to but completely distinct from page authority (PA). PA is another Moz metric for which there are probably dozens of equivalents across the various SEO tools. But it measures the authority of a particular page rather than the authority of the domain as a whole. We’ll get into PA in more detail in a later article.
Domain Authority and Link Sellers
Backlink vendors often advertise that they have access to “DA 90+” websites for guest posts. Two issues:
That doesn’t really matter because Google doesn’t recognize the metric.
It’s extremely unlikely that they actually have that level of access. You don’t get to 90 DA by selling guest post placements.
Does that mean you shouldn’t care about DA when building your backlink strategy? Absolutely not — it does matter in the sense that it’s a handy and quick way of assessing the probable quality of a potential backlink.
What Is a Good DA Score?
As a general rule, the higher the better, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore anything that isn’t in the 80s or higher. In fact, most established websites aren’t even close to that level, and a backlink from them can do nothing but help your site rank.
It’s in the really low territory — DA 25 and lower — that you have to start asking questions. Do not use this as an end-all, be-all metric to assess the backlinking quality of a website. But do investigate if a website that might link to you has a particularly low score. By investigate, I mean go to the website and read it. Make sure it has an about page with real people on it. Make sure it isn’t spam or malware or something similar.
DA Can Be a Moving Target
Note that DA is a particularly useful metric for determining how much you should pay for a particular link. However, you need to couple it with an actual investigation of the site. Why? Because DA is relatively easy to manipulate if you have a large network of websites, a large time horizon or the chance to purchase an expired domain with existing DA.
Link scammers do this all the time: Acquire a website that has existing DA and sell links on it, meanwhile doing nothing to preserve or improve that DA. Before long, the DA score slips, and the people who bought the links are left holding the bag.
The point? DA doesn’t decide everything about whether a site is worth pursuing a link from. It’s an imperfect metric at best, but it is still a metric to use. However, other factors and metrics may come into play in your link building strategy.
A Link Building Mini-Horror Story
A client of ours recently partnered with a link building agency that has a particularly good reputation in this space. Honestly, it was kind of hard to believe, but they started trying to get the client link placements on not just sites with low-quality content, but sites with text classically associated with spam, such as advertisements for sexual wellness medications.
The sites had pretty good DA scores. And that’s the problem. Going only by DA, the client would have ended up with links that could have gotten his business website penalized. Luckily, our clients are sharp, and he caught it before the links could go live.
How to Check DA
How do you check DA? Go straight to the source: Moz’s Link Explorer. Moz offers a limited number of free DA checks, and you can get the same basic idea from most comprehensive SEO tools like SEMrush and Ahrefs.
A Word of Caution About High-DA Links
It’s possible to overdo it with high-DA links. Consider the age and realistic authority of your website. If you just launched the site last week and suddenly rack up a few links from DA 90 websites, that’s going to look extremely unnatural to Google. A site that new probably won’t have any links whatsoever — much less links from sites that are (probably) that authoritative.
Many people make this mistake. It’s understandable — you get over-eager about the potential you see for your website and business and overshoot your link building strategy.
It’s not always going to get you penalized, but it can. To be clear, in this case, “penalized” means removed from Google’s index of websites that appear in search results.
Does DA Really Matter When You’re Building a Backlink Strategy?
This question is like asking whether a drill really matters when you’re building something out of wood. It sure is helpful, but a screwdriver can usually get the job done with a little more effort. Think of DA as a tool you use to shape and understand your backlinking efforts, but don’t oversell it in your own mind or let scammers oversell it to you.
Ready to Expand Your Online Reach? We Have Something for You
Some of the Hire a Writer specialize in backlink and linking strategies. Reach out and learn more about our SEO services here.