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The truth about KPIs: Domain authority shouldn’t be a target, it’s a tool

Domain authority is something you'll often hear people talking about in the world of SEO. It can be used to measure your website performance and understand how to improve your SEO - but not always in the way you'd expect.

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Domain authority is a popular inclusion in Key Performance Indicators, and it's easy to see why. After all, doesn't your domain authority show you how authoritative your website is? 

And isn't that a good reflection of how Google will rank your website?

Well, as with many KPIs, that's not the full story.

So, in this guide, we'll talk about what domain authority (or DA) really is, how it's calculated, and how you can actually use it to improve your SEO - which probably isn't in the way you'd expect!

We'll look at:

Let's get started.

What is domain authority?

What is domain authority?

Domain authority is a measure of your website based on how Google ranks its trustworthiness, which in turn can affect where it decides to rank your website in SERPs. 

But this metric doesn't actually come from Google.

In fact, the term "domain authority" is actually based on a calculation from SEO software provider Moz. Other tools have their own terminology, and their own calculations too. For example:

Each of these tools helps you find your domain authority score, but each one uses its own metrics and algorithm. So results can vary quite a lot between different tools.

So, if everyone is using their own metric and terminology for it, why does domain authority even matter?

Because whether it has a specific "domain authority" metric or not, Google certainly DOES factor in the reputation and relevance of a website into its algorithm.

Of course, that algorithm is a hugely complex and closely guarded secret, so SEO tools have to create their own metrics based on certain things that we know matter to Google, such as the age of your domain or the number of root domains linking to your website.

But the exact analysis, rating and weighting Google places on these metrics is unknown. That's why SEO tools come up with their own unique versions, why they can vary so much, and why it's difficult to use domain authority as a KPI.

So while your domain authority isn't in itself a ranking factor, it can be an indication of how Google perceives the authority of your site.

What's the difference between page authority and DA?

Page authority is the ranking of a single page's reputation and relevance, but your domain authority covers your entire website as a whole, including each of its individual pages.

How to check domain authority

How to check my domain authority

Any of the above domain authority checker tools (and many more!) can give you their own version of a domain authority score.

But it's so important to remember that these aren't Google's own calculations. They're simply companies trying to recreate a similar metric. 

In fact, you may find that a site has wildly different authority scores in different DA checker tools.

So if you have a very low domain authority from one tool, that doesn't necessarily mean that your website is in trouble - although it's probably a good idea to see if there are any obvious problems.

Similarly, a high domain authority score doesn't mean your work is done - even if it is a true representation of how your site is scored, you want to make sure you're doing everything you can to maintain that.

It can often be a good idea to test your website's DA in multiple tools, so that you can get an idea of the average domain authority across them all. 

If any of them give you wildly different results, it can also be a good sign that you need to take a look at your website to check your backlinks' domain authority, site structure or any other issues that might affect your DA ranking.

Should I try to improve domain authority for SEO?

Should I try to improve my domain authority for SEO?

While having a higher domain authority can be great for your website, because it's so difficult to accurately calculate it in the way that Google does, it's difficult to use your domain authority as a true KPI.

But just because your domain authority isn't necessarily a reliable metric, that doesn't mean it's not worthwhile doing the things that you know can affect it positively. It's just that it can be difficult to measure the success of those efforts.

So here are a couple of significant ways you can improve your domain authority, and improve your chance of ranking higher in the search engine results pages.

Increasing your domain authority through link building

One of the big factors in your domain's perceived reputation is the quantity and quality of links coming back to your website.

A good link building strategy can really improve your domain authority, but it's really important not to simply go out and buy a hatful of cheap directory links. 

It's much better to target links from reputable websites (that have a good domain authority score themselves), or from sites that are really relevant to yours, such as other websites specific to your industry or local area.

Making sure the external links back to your website also have good, relevant anchor text can also be useful too.

Improving your domain authority through content marketing

Content marketing is often a valuable arm of your link building strategy, as well as improving on-page SEO and internal linking opportunities too.

Great SEO content is naturally likely to encourage more links to your website, and if you market it well, it's likely to start attracting attention - which means more links.

Good ways to promote your content include:

  • social media
  • video/audio versions
  • guest posting
  • email lists 
  • online PR

Having a good content marketing strategy can also provide you with better rankings for a wider range of relevant keyphrases, which can improve your domain authority score too.

The best use of domain authority for SEO

So if domain authority isn't the best way to measure your site's performance and position in search results, what's the point of using it at all?

Well, even a rough measurement can be helpful as a way to understand if your website is improving its reputation.

Wherever your domain authority score starts, activity like link building and content marketing should help bring a positive change to it.

It's also a helpful tool for checking the value of referring domains. So if you have a list of inbound links to your website, the DA score for those domains can help you understand if this is a relevant, high-quality link, or something a little less worthwhile.

It can also be helpful when you're analysing the link profiles of competitors' websites to identify good targets for your own link building strategy.

Using a backlink checker to find websites that link to your competitors, but not to you can often leave you with a massive list to go through. But if you focus your efforts on getting links from high authority websites, it helps you refine your own link profile and saves you some time too.

Domain authority for SEO

Domain authority for SEO

Now you've got a good idea of what domain authority is and how it works, it's easy to see why using it as a key performance indicator isn't giving you the full picture.

DA can be useful as an additional way to analyse whether your link building or content marketing campaign is successful, and can also be an indicator of how Google perceives the relevance of your website.

But by no means is it an accurate measure of how your website should rank. 

In fact, plenty of websites with lower DA will outrank competitors with a higher DA for specific terms.

So don't spend all your time and effort trying to get that DA number up, a good SEO strategy should help that happen over time anyway.

Instead, use DA as a way to check there's nothing wildly wrong with your website or backlink profile, and to help you assess the value of links from other websites too.

And if you're looking for an SEO agency to help you manage your strategy for domain authority, link building or content marketing, then we are here to help - just get in touch to find out more!

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Hannah Laird

Digital Marketing Manager