Whether you’re an SEO expert or just learning about search rankings, you've probably come across the term “domain authority.”
Domain authority is a metric used in SEO to better understand how websites are ranked on Google. To be clear, domain authority isn’t a ranking factor — it doesn’t directly affect your search engine ranking score. However, it can still be a powerful SEO tool for marketing strategists. Understanding domain authority is the key to understanding where your site currently stands, as well as how to improve your ranking.
Here you’ll learn the exact definition of domain authority, including how to increase domain authority score for better ranking results.
What Is Domain Authority?
Getting your website on the first page of Google search results isn’t as easy as it used to be. The world of Google rankings can be a confusing one — everything from mobile-friendly website design to on-page optimization can make or break your website’s chances of ranking well.
If you’re trying to understand where your website fits into the rankings, you might be wondering: What is domain authority? And what is the domain authority score?
Domain authority is a ranking metric that assigns websites a score from 1 to 100. This score can be used to predict how well your website will rank on search engines. The higher the score, the more likely it is that you’ll perform well on search engine results pages (SERPs).
It’s important to note that website domain authority is a ranking metric, not a ranking factor. That means it’s designed to predict success, not dictate it. Google doesn’t recognize this metric or use it to weigh your search rankings.
With that being said, improving your website’s domain authority can lead to a better search ranking. One study found a correlation between domain authority and SERP ranking. That means your domain authority can still be a useful metric to understand your chances of ranking.
Domain Authority Score
Domain authority is ranked on a scale of 1 to 100. It’s a logarithmic scale, which means it’s easier to improve on the lower end of the scale than on the higher end. For example, going up from 20 to 30 is much easier than 80 to 90.
A lot goes into calculating domain authority. Many of the biggest websites — like Google or Apple — will have the highest possible DA, somewhere between 95 and 100. If a website is new, the DA will likely be much lower, between 10 and 20.
Depending on the industry and niche, even a lower domain authority score can be competitive. As a general rule, this is what may be considered a “good” or “bad” domain score:
- Poor (below 30)
- Below average (30 to 40)
- Average (40 to 50)
- Good (50 to 60)
- Very good (60 to 70)
- Excellent (above 80)
It’s important to remember that your website isn’t competing with every website out there. Instead, your domain authority will tell you how your ranking performance measures up against other websites competing for the same topics and keywords.
In addition to domain authority, you may have heard of another metric: domain rating. While domain authority predicts your website’s SERP ranking, domain rating measures the strength of your website’s backlink profile.
Domain authority rankings also include backlinks, along with other factors like the number of links, domain age, and more. A domain rating is based solely on backlinks.
Just like the domain authority, the domain rating doesn’t have a direct effect on Google search rankings. However, websites with high domain ratings may also rank well on SERPs. This metric can still be an effective way to determine a link’s popularity, as well as its potential to bring in organic traffic.
How Is Domain Authority Calculated?
When the concept of domain authority was developed by Moz, it added 40 different factors to make up an entire domain score. Here are a few of the most important factors for arriving at a DA score:
- The number of websites linking to your website
- The link profile, or the authority of internal and external links from the website
- The number of unique backlinks from different websites (even 100 links from the same website will only count as one root domain)
- The trustworthiness of websites linking to your site (links from university, government, or reputable organization sites help you rank higher)
- The structure of your site, including how user-friendly it is
Not everybody will measure domain authority the same way Moz does, but this can be a good place to start. To check your own domain authority, you can use Moz’s Link Explorer.
How To Improve Your Domain Authority
Domain authority might not directly impact your ranking, but it’s one of the best authority metrics you have access to. Focusing on your domain authority is a way to improve the factors that drive SERP performance. It's not a quick fix, but working on domain authority is a long-term strategy that can have positive SEO results over time.
Here are some ways to improve your site's domain authority.
1. Include High-Quality Backlinks From Authoritative Websites
It might seem obvious, but high-quality links are the number one way to improve your ranking power. In fact, 55% of websites don’t get any organic traffic at all. This is due to just one reason: They don’t have any backlinks.
It isn’t just backlinks that will boost domain authority. It's the quality of your backlink profile, which means you need high-quality backlinks from authoritative websites.
Instead of chasing every link you can get, including spammy or irrelevant ones, focus on attracting authoritative backlinks that drive real traffic. Even low-authority links can be beneficial for your DA score, as long as they’re relevant and helpful for searchers.
2. Produce High-Quality Content (Linkable Content)
What’s the best way to attract better backlinks? Create high-quality content that’s backlink-worthy.
The better your content and the more value it provides, the more it gets shared around the Internet. This boosts your chance of getting picked up by high-authority websites for backlinks. Getting links from a range of diverse sites will also improve your root domains, which also factors into your DA score.
Any well-written, keyword-targeted post can rank if it’s high-quality content. But your best chance of earning a backlink comes from original content. For example, original research, unique takes on topics, or thought leadership that readers won’t be able to find anywhere else have a good chance of performing well.
One way to elevate your backlinks more quickly is to write a guest post in a well-known, industry-specific publication.
3. Perform Backlink Audits and Remove Bad Links
Links are the backbone of your domain authority rating, but not all backlinks are created equal. Links from low-quality, spammy websites can tank your domain authority. Too many of them can even lead to a penalty from Google.
To make sure that Google only indexes your best backlinks, you need to find and remove these bad links. Using different SEO tools, like SEMRush and AhRefs, you can audit your site to root out those links and remove them as quickly as possible.
4. Enhance Your Website Structure
There’s more to domain authority than just link quality. When a search engine like Google assesses your website, it has to “crawl” through your web pages to index them.
If your site isn’t well-optimized and easy to navigate, your ranking can suffer. Make sure that your website is easy to navigate, for both a human visitor and a search engine crawler.
5. Minimize Bad User Experience
The usability, aesthetics, and accessibility of a website all go into what’s called user experience. Most website users expect a smooth experience, which means a clean, attractive design and simple navigation.
But the effect of user experience goes beyond each individual visitor. It’s also a factor in your domain authority score. If your website is cluttered and hard to navigate for the average visitor, it could affect your score.
Google also tends to prioritize mobile-friendly sites. That means it’s important your site functions smoothly on mobile and is optimized for quick loading times.
6. Improve Your Internal Link Structure (Inbound Links)
A strong domain authority linking strategy doesn’t just involve backlinks. Your internal linking structure is just as important.
Make sure there are no dead ends on your website. If each page has internal links — acting as a bridge from page to page — visitors and search engines can explore your page with ease. It can also lower your bounce rate, keeping visitors engaged on your site for longer.
Can Your Website Still Rank If You Have Low Domain Authority?
With Google’s search rankings becoming more competitive year over year, many smaller or newer websites feel outmatched in the SEO space. They fear that huge, successful companies or fast-growing brands will dominate the search rankings, making it nearly impossible for others to compete.
While it’s true that bigger companies often have higher DA scores, this doesn’t always correlate to search engine relevance. Wikipedia, for example, may have a near-perfect DA score thanks to its vast number of high-quality external links. That doesn’t mean smaller websites can’t compete on the same playing field.
In fact, it’s not uncommon to find small and medium-sized websites outranking their bigger, more established competitors. In 2018, small to medium-sized websites that competed directly with the top 1,000 publishers saw an increase in 34% of organic traffic, even while they produced only a fraction of the content. The top 1,000 publishers actually saw a decline of 14% in organic traffic.
Having the highest score doesn’t translate to the top spot on a Google search. The top website for a particular search term in your niche may not even have a score considered “good” on the broader scale. If your competitors at the top of the search ranking have a score of 45, for example, your goal should be to beat that number.
While domain authority is a predictor of your site's ranking strength, it's still up to Google to determine its top rankers. Here are some of the ways you can use domain authority to better understand the Google search algorithm.
Google Ranking Algorithm
At the end of the day, domain authority isn’t an official ranking factor. It’s Google that decides where websites rank.
However, Google’s ranking algorithm is extremely complex. From keywords to backlinks, there are more than 200 ranking factors. The algorithm is updated more than 2,000 times per year.
With this constantly changing algorithm, it isn’t easy to stay on top of Google’s requirements. That’s why metrics like domain authority and domain rating exist — to help websites better understand where they stand, as well as how they can improve.
Search Engine Ranking Factors
With more than 200 constantly changing ranking factors, nobody knows exactly how Google’s search algorithm works. However, Google revealed a few of their most prominent search engine ranking factors:
- Authoritative backlinks
- Content freshness, or when the site was last updated
- Relevant keywords, both short-tail and long-tail
- User experience (website design, navigation, mobile optimization, etc.)
- Topical authority, or having lots of relevant content and links
As you may have noticed, many of these factors are the same ones that Moz uses to measure domain authority. That’s what makes domain authority such an effective tool. Improving your domain authority means improving your Google search rankings, even if the two aren’t directly linked.
Don’t Go At It Alone!
Domain authority is just one of many helpful metrics to measure your SEO success. This simple score can tell you a lot about the success of your link-building strategy.
Just remember: Domain authority predicts success. It isn’t a guarantee of search engine rankings. The best way to increase your search rankings is to stick to your strategy, from authoritative links to high-quality, keyword-optimized content.
If you want to know where your content stands, and what needs improvement, you don’t have to go about it alone. Learn more about how you can get better results from your content with a personalized keyword research report from Compose.ly.