Domain Authority vs. Relevant Links: Which Has More Value?

David Farkas 115 comments

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. For example, 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 client 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 DA is not a metric I rely on to determine SEO 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.”

Domain authority doesn’t tell the full story. As such, it cannot be used as a metric of a successful link building campaign.

I’ve seen instances where an update in the algorithm lowers DA across the board. Yet, our clients continue to see an increase in 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, every single 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 incredibly relevant to any given site. Those are the unicorns of the internet.

Let me say this, though: Both relevance and authority matterBoth should be evaluated in link-building. But if I have to choose one to focus on, I would take relevance any day over domain authority. That’s not to say that Domain Authority isn’t sometimes useful, however. Let’s get into a few reasons why I choose relevancy over DA, but DA still has its place.

Why domain authority is good

We’ve already established that DA isn’t the end-all, be-all. So what is it? What role does it play in link building?

Here’s what Moz has to say:

“Domain authority is search engine ranking score developed by Moz that predicts how well a website will rank on search engine result pages (SERPs). A Domain Authority score ranges from one to 100, with higher scores corresponding to a greater ability to rank.”

Many factors are included in this calculation. Some include the number of total links, linking root domains, and several other signals (more than 40!).

The kicker is, we don’t even know what all 40 of these signals are. And no matter how good your SEO efforts are, expect this score to fluctuate.

Ideally, you should just use Domain Authority as a comparative metric and not an absolute parameter to score the success of your link building.

Domain authority is tangible

That’s the primary appeal of the DA score. As human beings, we’re obsessed with percentages, stats, and comparing numbers. A score out of 100 is tangible and concrete.

It makes the life of marketers easier. You can put one site up against another and see which one emerges on top based on a simple score. Of course, like most grades, it doesn’t paint a complete picture. However, it’s still an important indicator of search engine ranking power.

I’m also big on keeping business goals specific and measurable. A DA score makes it easier to keep your SEO efforts accountable to a specific number. You put in the work. You improve all aspects of your SEO. And there it is staring right back at you: A big fat number that explains how “good” your site is. That’s worth something.

Why relevant links are even better

With all the benefits of DA laid out, it should never be the sole determining factor when you’re pursuing a link. After all, DA doesn’t determine the relevance that one site has in relation to another. When you’re building links, relevance is paramount to anything else since these are the links that are genuinely in their natural habitat. These are bona fide natural links. That’s essentially what relevance refers to. A link where the destination page is on topic and useful to the user.

It makes sense for users, and that means it also makes sense for search enginesIt’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 user experience.

Relevance is a sure thingIf the target site is relevant to my target site, it has good content and it passes the “run by real humans” test, then that is where my link belongs. 

There are also 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 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. No doubt about it. That domain has been around, 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.

Relevance yields targeted referral traffic and conversions

It’s easy to get caught up in the technicalities of link building and SEO. The problem? Most people forget that all these strategies are there to do one thing. Serve your business. More specifically, it should fuel the marketing and sales pillars of your business by influencing conversions. Highly targeted referral traffic is the first step in that process. The more quality traffic you have coming in at the top of your funnel, the more efficient your whole system will be. I can say with all certainty that relevance is better for driving the type of traffic that leads to conversions. But can’t higher authority sites drive even more traffic?

Perhaps, but with no relevance, you have zero chance of converting customers. I’ll tell you why. Relevance means context and a link that makes contextual sense is always better from a user’s perspective. Put yourself in a user’s shoes for a minute. Your average website visitor doesn’t even know what DA is. They’re on a website consuming content or researching a product or service. When that user clicks an external link, they have a specific intent and expectation that the destination page will satisfy that.

Domain authority has no weight in this case. It is a relevant link that will ensure that the user receives information that is useful and on topic. Anything short of that and you’ve lost a potential lead.  If the destination page isn’t relevant or useful you can be sure they will bounce right off and never come back. Don’t just take my word for it. Statistics show that if 100 online consumers have a bad experience on a website, 88 of them won’t come back.

Relevance is a stronger ranking signal

That top spot in organic search is prime real estate. Every marketer wants it, but securing it is a tall order. Many people make the argument that relevance isn’t as powerful a ranking signal as DA because it isn’t as concrete.

Perhaps in an SEO realm where the user doesn’t matter, that may be the case. But it’s an incredibly misguided view. Think about it. A relevant link makes the most sense for a user because it is likely to match their intent. If the information on the given page has more utility to the user, it’s undoubtedly a more click-worthy link.

When you’re in the top spot of organic search, your click-through rate is several factors higher than the guy in number two. Isn’t it in the best interest of search engines to display the most relevant content at the top? Sure it is. The same logic applies here. 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 – connecting and bridging pages of the internet to create a better overall user experience. Top ranking content is dependent on what the user will find most useful to their search query. Stick to that principle, and you won’t go wrong.

Relevance is more scalable

I’ll tell you what. Tangibility is not always a pie-in-the-sky quality. It has its faults. For one, if it’s measurable, it means it’s always in flux. Domain authority can go up and down. Considering we don’t know every single factor that goes into the calculation, these fluctuations may not always be of your own doing.

This could either be catastrophic, or positive. Let’s focus on the good – you can work towards increasing your authority. So, relevant links have the potential to become authoritative over time. And that’s what I mean by scalable. But that’s not all. As you know, high-authority links are rare and difficult to land. It is infinitely easier to gather a big list of relevant links in your niche than it is to find authoritative links.

If you decide to target only authoritative sites, you’ve immediately narrowed your prospect pool. You’ll have less links and the likelihood of them being relevant to your site is just as small. If we’re talking about high-impact and low-effort, I’d put my confidence in relevant links any day. That’s not to say that landing relevant links is always easy and effortless. But you’ll certainly get more value for your work.

Relevant links are more organic and sustainable

You can’t talk about link-building without bringing up sustainability. Relevant links are the ultimate natural link. They are as a result of having quality linkable assets as opposed to deliberately manipulating Google’s algorithm. The superficial metrics can take you so far, but ultimately it boils down to two things:

  1. Creating content worth linking to
  2. Linking to content that is useful to your user

Placing a bull’s eye on relevance is the surest and most organic way to hit these sweet spots.In fact, relevance has a domino effect. Your authority will increase, and your entire SEO profile will be strengthened if you focus on quality linkable assets.

Recap

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.

Comments

  • Sean

    Hi David

    Great article, I have this issue with clients on a regular basis.

    I find a good site in their vertical and say this site “releventsite.com” has a DA of 30, but here is one ezinearticles.com/ with a DA91 which one would you like a link from? They tend to go for DA91 until I show them reports from a few years ago that call ezinearticles.com toxic and not a site to use for link building.

    This tends to scare them straight.

    I then point out the benefits of having a relevant link, such as potential clients following the link and ending up on your site.

    When training my team on link building I say imagine that Google did not count links as part of the ranking algorithm would you still want the link? If the link cost £200 would you still want it? If the answer is yes then go for it, if not then you are doing it for the wrong reasons and that may harm the site in the longer term.

    I also keep lists of thousands of links we had to go through to check for low quality spam following the first round of Google manual action link penalties – as part of the training they have to work through the list indication the links they would remove & the ones they would keep – this gets them in the zone for detecting and avoiding those great sounding too good to be true link offers from high DA sites.

    Thanks again for the time you put into the article and I hope to read more from you soon.

  • Shae Baxter

    Another great article. I was recently doing some targeted email outreach in relation to a post I wrote earlier this year. Early on, I did find myself judging the quality of sites by domain authority and whether I should reach out to them based on their DA score. However, when I found their social media profiles, some of these people had huge followings and lots of comments on their posts. So DA should never be the sole metric you assess in a link building campaign. Not only that, I had tons of referral traffic in addition to organic traffic. I agree with you that relevance should take precedence. There are still plenty of great quality sites (with excellent content) with quite low DA scores.

    Also I’m sure I’ve read somewhere that Eric Ward never never considers DA in his link building campaigns. It’s all about relevance to him.

    • David Farkas

      Appreciate the comment Shae 🙂

      Social activity is definitely something to consider, so if the site is relevant plus has a strong social following that absolutely should out-weigh a lower DA, since such a link can send traffic from your target audience, besides for the SEO value.

      I’m not sure I saw that in writing from Eric, but it makes sense he would say it!

  • Byron Trzeciak

    Hi David,

    I couldn’t agree with you more this is so common “we just want to increase Domain Authority (DA)?” or what I usually hear “Byron, I just want to rank don’t worry about anything like conversions or relevance it’s not important to us”

    For some reason clients begin their search for SEO going “we need to grow business” and “we want a 5% growth in leads” but by the time it gets to us it translates into to “rank me”.

    It’s still a maturing industry but as soon as clients can start developing tangible goals that will lead towards a successful campaign, i.e. we want 10 more enquiries from our website per month, the better reputation the SEO industry will get. It’s up to the business owners like you David to help advise, like you have, so we can mature the clients perspective on what SEO is and the ways to take advantage of it.

    If you’re interested my ranking article has a very similar message: http://www.pixelrush.com.au/seo/why-rankings-are-a-poor-measure-of-seo-success/

  • Miguel Salcido

    I think that this post resonates with all SEO professionals. Its the classic, “increase my Page Rank” issue that we’ve had to deal with for so many years. Except now its DA.

    I’ve always been a relevancy guy myself, for my entire 11+ year career in SEO and link building.

    People so badly want tangible, direct, ways to measure SEO. And its harder than ever with ‘not provided’ making up 90+% of Organic traffic and conversions in analytics. Of course you can get better keyword level data for visibility and clicks from Google Search Console, but you can’t tie that to conversions.

    We do alot of link building at my agency. And it seems that 4 out of 5 leads these days are asking for high DA links only. Everyone wants to be on Forbes, Wall Street Journal, etc. Because of the high DA.

    • David Farkas

      Thanks for the comment, Miguel!

      You’re 100% on the money about the importance of building natural and relevant links, and not just chasing after metrics. Next time you get a lead that asks you about DA, just tell them to read this article 😉

  • Rubel

    Improving Domain Authority is proving very difficult task for me, I was wondering how, Domain authority 40 can be achieved.

    But recently getting help from many experts, so now I am focusing on tips which can increase DA,

    Although, I have a question here, Will High DA means my ranking will be good? or it’s just a waste?

    Regards,
    Rubel

    • David Farkas

      Thanks for stopping in, Rubel!

      As far as I’m aware, Google rank sites based on DA. IMO you should focus your time on creating quality content that your audience would appreciate and build natural links, rather than putting too much thought into how you can raise your DA. Good luck!

  • Tim Martine

    I’ve tried to use some of these things as guidelines when creating content – 1k+ words, internal links, on-page seo, but didn’t think about looking in to my backlink profile to see if there are any problems there. Sharing and promotion are a couple big things I’m focused on right now.

  • Linda Schrier

    Hi,

    I am Linda, I own number of websites and I have hired people for SEO of all those sites, but Lately I myself learning something about technical stuff, which can help me handle my site son my own and latest i learned about Domain Authority and I have been working on it in past few months.

    But despite having good internal Linking and god content, Most of my sites Domain Authority is around 15-20 which I think is not good, as I love to attract more advertisers and without having Good Domain Authority, it is tough to attract high paying advertisers.

    So, what basically, I want to ask here, is there any way to increase Domain Authority quickly, I mean in 2-3 Months?

    ~ Linda

    • David Farkas

      Not sure how long it’ll take to increase your DA or why advertisers would give a hoot what your DA is if your site has an audience.

  • Jan Beej

    After doing some linkbuilding for one of my websites. I was wondering how long it takes before your domain authority gets updated? For example when I check it with MozBar.. does it take 1 month? 1 week? Any ideas? Thanks

  • jadi

    Many Bloggers and SEO’s focus on High DA and ignore user’s and what’s best for them. I totally agree that if you focus on your user’s and what they need you’ll be in a lot better shape!

  • Shah g

    Well written and very informative!

  • Stacy Stony

    This is a well written article and I’m sure will benefit link builders and SEO’s.

  • Sonia

    You did a great job explaining the importance of relevant links over metrics. Thanks for sharing.

  • Sammy

    Just landed on this excellent page by searching some relevant information to increase authority of my site and hence traffic. I will always keep in mind the importance of relevancy above all else. cheers.

  • TechGeek365.com

    Great post! The best combination would be getting a link from a high domain authority website that is also relevant to what you’re linking too.

  • Bright Joe

    Hi David,

    According to what I have seen, domain authority is just a number and it’s not used by Google to determine your rankings. However, the DA definitely tells how powerful your links are, but as I have seen, it’s not actually important.

    I carried down a small experiment for a month, and I found a blog lower DA could easily outrank a higher DA domain if it got relevant and powerful backlinks. That’s all that is necessary!

  • naeem08

    Great post!

  • Ted Smith

    Hey David,

    We see eye to eye with you on this abd i always recommend my clients to believe in relevancy over DA. Well done buddy.

  • ity

    I carried out a small experiment for a month and found a blog lower DA could easily outrank a higher DA domain if it got relevant and powerful backlinks. That’s all that is necessary!

  • Andrew Marsh

    David, This article is appreciated and came in the nick of time.

  • Mirza Sharz

    I was doing some research regarding Domain Authority and stumbled upon this article. Apprecaite you for sharing this useful info David.

  • Dilip

    wow! amazing article, seriously helpful

  • Nice Deals

    Great articles, thank you!

  • Mark

    Your topic selection is good and well written. Thanks for sharing. I feel like all your ideas are incredible! Great job!!!

  • Daniel

    Seems like everywhere I turn in the SEO world there is talk about DA this and DA that. As if Google actually cares if someone increases their DA – ha! Awesome write-up!

  • Shaun

    Thanks for the pointer (and I’m a first time visitor to your website). I’m really keen now to actually “find” those relevant opportunities to obtain a link from. I’m fired up but frustrated at the same time.

  • George S

    Great post, David and since Domain authority is just a third party metric it behooves me why it’s so popular. Especially since Moz’s index is so weak compared to Ahrefs.

  • Rand Ulsberg

    In a nutshell, the links have to MAKE SENSE! Two thumbs up for this one David 🙂

  • Wendy

    Enjoyed this post but still feel it’s important to check into a site’s metrics since some links are just not worth the time and effort if the DA is too low.

    • David Farkas

      Fair point, Wendy but you should at least take a look at the site’s DR beforehand. Ahref seems to have a much more robust index than anyone else.

  • Usman

    I was recently wondering about the value of DA vs relevance. You convinced me that with all things equal I’d go for relevance.

  • Neha

    Great article here, thank you.

  • Rand

    Thanks for posting your article, David… you did a great Job!

  • Michael

    So often people ask me if there is a way to build rankings on Google. In other words, they want to know if they can build rankings without leaving it all to whether or not people like their content enough to link to it.

    Let’s be honest, hoping that someone else will link to your content, although probably the right way to do things, is a terrible business strategy.

    In my 15 years of doing SEO professionally, I have always been about building backlinks with a purpose.

    So when I launched Guest Post Tracker just over a year ago I knew I needed an awesome link building plan in place that would help me not only target the key phrases I wanted to rank for but also build a brand Google would trust.

    I wanted to make sure I would steadily climb the rankings while building a backlink profile that would be immune from Google updates.

    • David Farkas

      Hey Michael,

      I totally agree that ‘hoping’ is not going to get you very far and isn’t much of a business plan.

      As the saying goes ‘you can hope in your right hand and pee in your left and see which one fills up first’. In order to build up your backlink profile, you’re going to need to have an outreach plan and be proactive. After all, no one can link to that which they don’t know exists 🙂

      Best of luck with your project!

  • Cleveland Nessa

    Thanks for the informative article and awesome tips.

  • Hafeez Khan

    Domain authority will soon end in near future. Bloggers and webmaster will have to look for Citation flow and Trust flow. Same as PageRank that disabled nearly by google…this time it is confirmed from sources that DA PA will also end. I think you should add a part about it in your post. thanks

    • David Farkas

      Sure about that, Hafeez? The only way I see that happening is if Moz would close down. Personally, I stick with ahrefs metrics but I’m sure trust flow is solid as well. Thanks for taking the time.

  • Stanimir Mihov

    Awesome article. Shows pretty much why I beat big sites for certain keywords.

  • Ravi Kumar

    Great article and thanks for sharing this helpful information.

  • jerin

    Hi david

    really nice to see the article.Its very useful for the readers to know the techniques about the DA.

  • Ghazala

    Helpful article and happy I found it. Thanks

  • Mark Hurram

    Awesome article David and thanks for sharing!

  • Sofie

    Great read and bookmarked your blog.

  • Adam Rubin

    Really awesome read and this is one of the posts that changed my entire outlook on SEO. Thanks for sharing David

  • Ravi Kumar

    wow, nice post thank you for sharing!

  • Scintilla

    Awesome article, thanks for sharing this article 🙂

  • Rajesh

    Very Nice Article!

  • Alex Leo

    Good article indeed. Lots of information for newbie and expert marketers. Thank you David.

  • Philip

    I’m really impressed with your article and very useful info. Thank you!

  • Tiffany

    Such a great and well-written article. Crazy how popular DA has become despite the fact that MOZ has the weakest backlink checker compared to everyone else. Shows you how good branding is more important than a good product.

  • Ajay Chander R.

    Such a very great article about domain authority vs relevant links. Loved the informative post. Great share. Thank you for sharing

  • Ana

    Very cool article. Thanks for sharing David.

  • Asim

    Great post and thank you for sharing, David!

  • Mohnesh Kohli

    Such a wonderful post about domain authority vs relevant links. I am sure that It will be a great help for the newbies.

  • lyon iyke

    So happy I came across this article, as I am new blogging.

    Thanks alot!

  • Mahesh

    Glad I found this blog. I was trying to get a better understanding of domain authority and this article gave me all of the info I need. thank you.

  • Pete

    Thanks for the article, David.

    So refreshing to see someone not relying on DA or PA as a link campaign success metric.

    I’d rather have a link from a relevant site that drives traffic (or a growing site that has the potential to), than a high DA, irrelevant site.

    It’s also future proof. At some point DA/PA may go the same way as Google’s PageRank. Don’t rely on metrics. Relevancy matters.

  • Vidya Goswami

    The value of Domain authority has always been controversial and thanks for clarifying this issue so clearly. Cheers!

  • Yohan

    Good article indeed. Lots of information for newbie and expert marketers. Thank you David.

  • wendy

    i have been ding seo for my website for the past two months and building and its DA and PA was always 1.. your article was a nice piece of information and timely one for me thanks for sharing

  • sana

    This article was super helpful and on point, thank you so much.
    I’m reading all the other articles as well, you’re very insightful and encouraging. Thanks!!!

  • Juno Mama

    To be serious David, I have been ignorant all along about the importance of a site`s domain authority in SEO though I am a professional. But thank you very much for bringing out truth to us and from now on i will make sure that i focus on sites with high domain authorities in a need to be successful in my SEO. please keep it up.

  • Dr Fina

    Hey David,

    Your article is helpful and I hope to get better links now that I am focusing on relevace. Keep it up!

  • Avi Singer

    Great article and really appreciate the effort and work you put into this. Goooo relevance!

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