This post was originally published on the StitchDX blog.
SMB marketers have a loaded quiver of SEO tools available to them — especially if their sites are built on the mighty WordPress platform. In this post, though, I’d like to shift away from keyword strategies and technical SEO to discuss a “big picture” concept: website authority (also known as domain authority or DA).
What is website authority?
Website authority measures how reliably accurate your site’s information is for a particular search query.
This metric matters because:
- There are roughly 1.8 billion websites (give or take a dozen million) out there.
- Anyone can post any information at all on the web.
- When faced with thousands of undifferentiated search results, it would physically impossible for anyone to find the nuggets of gold amid so much lead.
- Working from search queries, Google does that work in a nano-eyeblink.
You may have heard that DA is the “holy grail” of SEO. The “one SERP factor to rule them all.” That, to quote Mr. Mellencamp, “authority always wins.”
Well… yes and no.
How is website authority determined?
DA is kind of a chicken-and-egg thing.
First: The Google algorithm doesn’t specifically assess your site’s authority when ranking it. But among the data it collects are attributes that determine domain authority.
That’s where Moz came in. Knowing that Google looks at authority attributes but doesn’t provide domain owners with any actionable information on them, the Moz wizards saw an opportunity. They developed a machine-learning algorithm of their own.
Their algorithm predicts the frequency that a domain will appear in Google results and overlays it with data-driven assumptions around authority attributes. The result is a snapshot of your website’s authority.
Moz takes great pains to warn that DA has no effect on SERP placement. While the data that underpins DA is collected by Google, DA metrics are generated by Moz.
Put another way, Google gathers, Moz measures.
What are the factors that influence website authority?
The answer is backlinks. If another site (domain) is linking to yours, that means they consider a piece of your content to be authoritative. (It’s analogous to a footnote in a term paper.)
Every domain that links to yours is another signal to Google that “these folks know their stuff.” So naturally, the more backlinks, the more perceived authority.
Why should you care about DA?
It’s hyperbolic to think of DA as the “SEO holy grail.” Moz understands perfectly well that SMBs will never knock the Amazons and Facebooks of the world(wide web) off the top rung.
So they emphasize that brands should apply and assess DA in a relative sense. Where authority is concerned, what really matters your site’s DA in comparison with your competitors’. In fact, Moz specifies that “Domain Authority is a predictor of a site’s ability to rank within its unique competitive landscape.”
Good reality check right there.
How do you use DA competitively?
Find your DA and your competitors’ by typing in the URLs into the Moz Domain Analysis Tool. You’ll get back a bonanza of information for each site that you can compare, including:
- Top pages by links (aka “Page Authority,” a predictive score of how high Google will rank a specific page)
- Top linking domains (the core of your DA)
- Discovered and lost linking domains over the past 60 days
- Top keywords by estimated clicks
- Top ranking keywords
- Top featured snippets
- Branded keywords
- Keyword ranking distribution
- Top search competitors
While backlinks are main drivers of DA, they take time and strategy to generate intentionally. That’s my next post.