Domain Authority vs. Relevant Links: Which Has More Value? [A Data Driven Answer]

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 matter.

Both 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.

So what is considered to be a ‘good DA’ score, you ask?

There isn’t an easy answer and ideally, you should just use Domain Authority as a comparative metric and not an absolute parameter to score the success of your link building.

This means that a “good” DA score depends on the score of competing websites or the industry average.

But since you asked, here are the average DA scores by industry:

Average industry Domain Authority to benchmark your business against Smart Insights

Let’s get into the benefits of a solid DA score.

1. 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.

2. High-authority increases your credibility

Put simply, people respect authority.

The more of it you have, the more credibility you command in your space. And we all know that credibility is good for business.

For one, it has massive competitive value.

If you have a higher DA than your competitors, you’ll be seen as the dominant and most trustworthy voice in your industry.

A high DA has a similar effect as social proof. It’s an endorsement of your site.

The result?

When marketers are seeking backlinks, you’ll be the ideal target. Sure, they may choose to go after low-hanging fruit as it makes for a more achievable target.

But ultimately, the perceived value of a link from your site will be higher.

Similarly, if they’re looking for relevant content to substantiate their own, marketers will likely choose a more authoritative site to link to.

That’s a sweet position to be in.

But to the regular website user who doesn’t know about SEO, this isn’t much of a ‘benefit’ at all since you’ll probably live out the rest of your life never hearing of the term ‘Domain Authority’ in the first place.

3. Domain authority has some weight on link value

I’ll admit – in a competitive space, it’s hard to rank without authority.

In fact, it is one of Google’s ranking factors.

The importance of Google Ranking Factors Wpopal

As we’ve seen, many factors go into the DA calculation. Some of these signals are unknown to marketers.

It means you can’t easily influence authority with just a few tweaks.

On the other hand, you can use on-page optimization to influence the relevance of a highly authoritative link.

That, coupled with the greater overall visibility of an authoritative link makes DA a reliable metric to pay attention to.

More eyes mean more referral traffic.

But if we’re talking about hyper-targeted traffic, relevant links are superior, hands down.

4. Landing a link from an authoritative domain can mean easier access to subsequent links

Authoritative sites are high-value targets for link-builders. That means it’s difficult to land such a link.

If you have a high DA score, you’re doing something right. It’s a fair indicator of the quality of content on your site.

So if someone can get a link from you, it means that their content has lept over a significant quality-control hurdle.

Securing more links would be easier from that point.

Now that you know the benefits, here’s how to check the DA score of your site as well as that of your competitors:

There are several tools to do this but the most straightforward and useful is the MozBar. It’s a free tool that displays the DA score on the search engine results page.

First, download the tool.

MozBar Moz

Then, install it as a Chrome extension.

MozBar Chrome Web Store

When you conduct a search, you’ll see the DA and some other metrics displayed on the results page.

Like this:

organic search traffic Google Search

You can take it a step further and perform a link analysis on Open Site Explorer.

Just click “Link Analysis,” and you’ll get a detailed breakdown:

Open Site Explorer Link Research Backlink Checker Moz

You’ll also see the inbound links to that particular web page.

Open Site Explorer Link Research Backlink Checker Moz 1

This is excellent for picking targets when you’re seeking links.

If a site has an affinity to content similar to yours, they’ll likely be more receptive to giving you a link.

Pretty useful, right?

Why relevant links are 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.

There are several layers of relevance:

Link to page relevance

This refers to the relevance of a link in relation to the content surrounding it.

Let’s say you’ve linked to a car insurance company, but you have no substantive on-topic content surrounding that link.

That would make no contextual sense!

It would come across as unnatural and manipulative.

Page to page relevance

The destination page should be related to the page you’re linking from.

It would be unwise both from an SEO and user experience perspective to link to a page that is unrelated to yours.

Domain to page relevance

It’s true – every single page linking to your website may not be relevant to the site as a whole.

That doesn’t make it a bad link. It can be relevant on another level.

But here’s the bottom line:

Ideally, the domain should be relevant to the page linked. That context is as much an essential part of SEO as the content itself.

Domain to domain relevance

This is exactly as it suggests. This type of relevance refers to two sites being in the same industry or niche.

Of course, relevance on this level isn’t an absolute necessity.

So are all layers of relevance created equal?

No, but you should strive for relevance across the board.

Here’s why.

1. 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. By extension, you’ve lost a potential customer.

This is also an issue of user experience.

The way that a visitor interacts with your site is critical not only for SEO but for conversions.

The destination page isn’t relevant? They leave.

The content isn’t useful? They leave.

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.

10 stats that demonstrate the ROI of UX Usability Matters

2. 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.

Comparison of Google clickthrough rates by position ChartoftheDay Smart Insights

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.

3. The DA metric is not a sure thing

Do you know the other big problem with authority?

The value is merely a prediction or an educated guess.

We can appreciate it from afar, we can find comfort in its measurability, and we can use it as a part of our prospecting strategy.

However, we can’t base everything on DA.

There are sites with a low DA score that provide a rich content experience to users.

Should you not link to such a site because they don’t have that magic number attached them?

Of course not!

But let’s look at relevance. It’s a sure thing.

Imagine you’ve got a highly authoritative link, but it isn’t at all relevant.

Can Google discount it? Absolutely.

In fact, you can bet on it.

As we’ve seen, the search engine’s job is to do right by the user. The surest way to do that is to ensure that your links are relevant.

4. 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.

5. 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.

Is relevance always the decisive winner?

Do you know what?

As much confidence as I have in relevance over authority, the choice is not always black and white.

They are some grey areas in which case you have to consider the specific situation.

Authority is a straightforward tangible metric. Relevance, on the other hand, is subjective.

This means that the content and context which surrounds the link should have weight in what you decide to pursue.

In addition to content, other factors may have a hand in which type of link is better for your specific circumstance.

Competition and existing backlink profile are some of these factors.

Let’s illustrate with a few scenarios.

Scenario #1: You’re working with editorial content.

Editorial content is content that doesn’t have a direct sales goal. It’s often in the form of news or thought leadership articles.

It means that you’re not necessarily going after conversions. In that instance, being featured in a highly-authoritative and heavily trafficked media outlet would be more impactful.

Scenario #2: You’re going up against a Goliath competitor for a top spot in organic search results.

There are no two ways about it.

Organic search is exceptionally competitive. If you’re going to focus on organic search traffic by trying to outrank giants in your space, authoritative links will give you that edge.

Scenario #3: You can get more targeted referral traffic from an authoritative link.

Hands down, relevant links are excellent for driving targeted referral traffic.

But let’s imagine that you can land a high-authority link that will also send you those ideal visitors.

Wouldn’t you jump on that opportunity? You bet.

These are just a few circumstances to give you some food for thought. There are several other instances may require an analysis on a case-by-case basis.

Recap

DA is a reliable metric.

I respect it, and it’s certainly good for a few things.

If I can build a relevant link on a site with a high DA score, I’ll choose that option in a heartbeat.

If you have the opportunity to have skin in both sides of the game, jump on it. I’ve laid out all the reasons why in this article.

But given that these instances are rare, DA shouldn’t be the focus.

I know, because the relevant links I build are the real success stories. Trust is maintained for both sites and these are the links that skyrocket rankings and fuel traffic, every single time.

Link building has also evolved to be more than just SEO-centric.

It’s about users. It’s about marketing. And most importantly, it’s about how the link serves a business goal.

When it comes to finding target sites for a link building campaign, nothing beats good, old-fashioned relevance.

That is where the most significant business impact lies.

Which type of link do you think has more value?  

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

    • 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!

  3. 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/

  4. 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.

    • 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 😉

  5. 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

    • 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!

  6. 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.

  7. 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

  8. 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

  9. 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!

  10. 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.

  11. 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!

  12. 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!

  13. 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!

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

    • 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!

  18. 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

    • 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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *