Has it ever occurred to you why Google hasn’t updated PageRank since 2013?
Something tells me it wasn’t Google’s way of endorsing Domain Authority. Still, in my conversations with clients and other link builders, DA and PR come up all of the time.
I was recently contacted by a prospective client who asked me, “If we go through with a link building campaign with The Upper Ranks, can you guarantee us an increase in Domain Authority (DA)?”
That prospective customer was well meaning. I understand where they’re coming from and it’s a question I receive fairly often in one form or another. Domain Authority is indeed a cool metric. Who doesn’t like to see what a website scores out of 100? It can be a pretty useful metric sometimes, too.
But it’s not a metric I fall back on in terms of success.
I replied, “In terms of success, I don’t use an increase in DA as a metric of a successful link building campaign. It’s a tricky metric that doesn’t always tell the full story. Just as an example, the latest DA update pretty much brought everything down across the board. Yet, our clients saw increases in both their rankings and traffic.”
Obviously, rankings and traffic are the most important metrics to measure the success of a link building campaign.
But when I’m prospecting websites?
When I’m asking for a link?
Relevance wins the game every time.
An irrelevant domain with a high DA score can’t hold a candle to a site that’s firing relevancy on all cylinders. Of course, it’s possible that there will be sites that boast a high DA number and are extremely relevant to any given site, but those are the unicorns of the internet.
Even if I were to believe that unicorns exist, I wouldn’t base my business on hunting for them. After all, I do need to put food on the table.
If I have to choose one to focus on, I would take relevance any day over Domain Authority.
Why Domain Authority is Good
So, I’ve established that Domain Authority isn’t a metric I put too much stock in when prospecting or measuring success.
Why, then, do so many people go crazy about it?
The simple answer; it’s tangible.
Before we go any further, I want to explain what DA is and what DA isn’t. Let’s go straight to the source.
“Domain Authority is a score (on a 100-point scale) developed by Moz that predicts how well a website will rank on search engines. Use Domain Authority when comparing one site to another or tracking the “strength” of your website over time. We calculate this metric by combining all of our other link metrics—linking root domains, number of total links, MozRank, MozTrust, etc.—into a single score.
To determine Domain Authority, we employ machine learning against Google’s algorithm to best model how search engine results are generated. Over 40 signals are included in this calculation. This means your website’s Domain Authority score will often fluctuate. For this reason, it’s best to use Domain Authority as a competitive metric against other sites as opposed to a historic measure of your internal SEO efforts.”
There are over 40 individual signals that go into a site’s DA score. We don’t know what all of those signals are. And, as Moz mentions, DA scores often fluctuate.
People love DA, though, because it shows them a concrete score out of 100. As human beings, we’re obsessed with percentages, stats, and comparing numbers. We love that and simply can’t get enough of it.
It’s an easy number that makes putting one site up against another site both simple and satisfying.
There it is, staring right back at you. A big fat number that explains how “good” a site is.
Why Relevant Links Are Better
However, with that said, I believe DA should never be the sole determining factor when you’re pursuing a link and here is why:
DA doesn’t determine the relevance that one site has in relation to another.
Let’s look at this purely from the user’s perspective: your average website visitor doesn’t even know what DA is. They’re on a website consuming content, participating in a discussion or researching a product or service. When that user clicks an external link, they sure better be happy with where it takes them. And relevant links do just that. They direct vetted traffic that is significantly more likely to assist the user.
Julie Joyce also touched on another great point in a recent interview with Anant Patel over at the SEMRush blog.
“I do look at DA but it’s mainly because clients want some kind of metric so we settled on that one. I think it’s a more accurate way to judge the authority of a domain. If you build a link from a high authority domain, it’s going to mean a bit more than if that domain was brand new and had zero authority.
However, I see plenty of great sites that have a low DA for various reasons and because of that, I don’t rely on DA as the sole metric. In terms of why it fluctuates, I would assume it’s because it’s an updated metric and a site’s profile changes a lot. If you do something amazing and generate 100 links in a month, your authority is probably going to increase. In terms of how to increase it, I’ve never really thought about that and I don’t think I know enough about what goes into DA to speak to that topic.”
That’s the other problem– no one really knows everything that goes into a DA score. We can appreciate it from afar, we can discuss it with our clients (because, again, people love DA) and we can use it as a part of our prospecting strategy, but we can’t base everything on DA.
As Julie says, there are plenty of great sites that have low DA scores for various reasons. They have awesome content, they provide a great user experience, they’re curated by humans, and they’re relevant to a client’s niche. However, they just don’t have that magic number attached to them.
So, should we just ignore such websites because of a low DA?
Relevance is the most important factor to me when I’m building a link.
If the target site is relevant to my target site, has good content, and passes the “run by real humans” test, then that is where my link belongs.
So let’s say I rub a magic lamp, and some bizarre link genie pops out. Instead of three wishes, the genie is going to grant me one of two links: a link from a relevant site with a DA of 35, or a link from an irrelevant site with a DA of 45.
45 is a great DA score; there’s no doubt about it. That domain has been around for a while and people trust it. It will definitely pass over link juice.
In this fantasy scenario, I’d say, “Well, Ms. Genie, I’ll take the relevant site with the 35 DA score. Thank you for granting me your strange, magical link.”
The relevant link makes sense. It makes sense for users, and that means it also makes sense for search engines. It’s a good, high-quality link, regardless of DA. When a user clicks on it, they’ll be pleased with the results.
That’s the whole purpose of a link after all; connecting and bridging pages of the internet in order to create a better overall user experience.
Don’t just take it from me, though. Jon Cooper is one of the best link builders in the business.
In his guide to link building strategies, he had this to say:
“In general, though, focus on relevance above all else. It’s tempting to just shoot for the big, authoritative opportunities, but by doing so you run into a few issues. The first is that you limit yourself to a smaller pool of prospects, so you generally end up with less links (in some low quality niches, this can leave you with next to none). Second, relevance is having a much bigger impact in the algorithm moving forward. And third, by targeting more relevant opportunities, you’ve got a bigger chance of having the webmasters say Yes.”
Three great points here:
- Don’t limit yourself by searching for high DA sites.
- Relevant links have a bigger impact on the algorithm.
- Webmaster are more likely to award you with a relevant link since it makes sense for their audience.
When all is said and done, I still believe DA is a great metric and if I can build a relevant link on a site with a high DA score I always will.
But DA is not my focus.
The relevant links I build are the real success stories. Trust is maintained for both sites and these are the links that fuel rankings and traffic, every single time.
When it comes to finding target sites for a link building campaign, nothing beats good, old-fashioned relevance.