[Guide] What is Domain Authority (DA), and Why Does it Matter?

Key Takeaways

  • Domain authority, or DA, is a score developed by Moz to roughly gauge how well a site will rank in Google search results pages (SERPs)
  • Domain authority is calculated using the following ranking factors: 
  • Domain authority can be negatively affected by:
  • Boost your site’s DA by 
  • Be sure to use other KPIs in addition to domain authority to ensure an accurate representation of progress

Domain Authority, or DA, is a proprietary score developed by Moz that refers to the strength of your website and its capacity to rank well in Google search results. There are many factors that contribute to domain authority, and many ways to interpret this score – as well as many limitations to using it as a high-impact KPI. We’ve created the ultimate guide to domain authority: what it is, why it matters, and how you can boost your site’s domain authority.

What is Domain Authority?

So often in SEO we see references to a site’s “domain authority,” but never take the time to find out what domain authority means.

As we said above, domain authority, or DA, is a score developed by Moz to help SEOs determine the overall strength of a website, particularly in terms of how likely it is to rank for a given search query. It is based on a scale from 0-100, with 100 being the strongest possible score.

Sites like Google or the New York Times will have a DA in the 90s, while a blog with little to no readership might only have a DA of 15. To increase a domain authority score functions on an exponential scale – it is much more difficult to go from 90-100 than 0-10 in increasing DA. 

Moz claims it calculates domain authority by looking at linking domains and backlinks, in addition to “a machine learning algorithm’s predictions about how often Google is using that domain in its search results.” While it doesn’t list every factor that contributes to the score, there is a clear emphasis on backlink profiles and linking domains to a given site.

It’s important to note that DA is not a ranking factor that Google takes into account; domain authority is instead better used to estimate how well your site will do in Google’s rankings.

Why is Domain Authority Important?

Domain authority is important because it helps SEOs determine which keywords are worth trying to rank for and which ones aren’t, in addition to DA providing a holistic sense of the overall strength of a site. 

Let’s say you’re a dog owner and you write a blog post about your adorable dachshunds. When you finish writing your post, you hit “publish” and send it into the great wide internet. Much to your dismay, when you Google “dachshunds,” your post doesn’t appear on page one of search results, or page two, or page 10 for that matter.

Instead, you find the American Kennel Club’s page about Dachshund Dog Breeds at the top of the search engine results. You might also see BuzzFeed’s article 24 Dachshunds Who’ll Make You Go ‘Aw’ on page 1. And you might find the website of Crusoe the Celebrity Dachshund on page 2 and a popular Dachshund rescue on page 10.

SERP for Dachshund

Where is your blog? Why is it impossible to find in the search engine results pages (SERPs)?

There are a host of factors that go into rankings, but one big indicator that we use to measure how easily a site will rank for a given query is domain authority.

If your dachshund blog had a higher DA it might have a fighting chance at being seen earlier in search results, but it takes time and effort to increase DA over time. But first, let’s break down how to measure domain authority.

How Do You Measure Domain Authority?

Domain Authority (DA) is measured on a logarithmic scale from 1-100. Because it’s logarithmic, there’s a ton of sites with low DA, relatively few sites with mid-range DA, and very few sites with high DA. To put that in real terms:

  • BuzzFeed has a DA of 91 (very strong)
  • Crusoe the Celebrity Dachshund has a DA of 34 (let’s be generous and call him a minor celebrity)
  • The local Dachshund Rescue is DA 17 (pretty typical for a small local business)

What is considered a good domain authority score? We created the following chart demonstrating the scale.

Chart showing Domain Authority scale

Websites like Amazon and Facebook have near-perfect DAs over 95, as do leading publications and news sources like the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. Low-trafficked blogs often find themselves in the single-digit range, while businesses, depending on size, find themselves in the mid-tier and “good” range. 

It’s important to note a key distinction between domain authority and another common term in the digital marketing world: Page Authority (PA). Whereas domain authority measures the strength of an entire domain, page authority measures the anticipated strength of an individual page to rank well in the SERPs. Because they are determined using the same methodology and ranking factors, many people may use the phrases interchangeably but they relate to two unique evaluations of page strength. 

Domain authority also becomes increasingly difficult to improve the higher it is– it’s much more difficult to go from DA 70- DA 80 than it is to go from DA 30-40. 

What are the Top Factors to Determine Domain Authority

Domain Authority factors in several elements when evaluating a website in an attempt to approximate a search engine algorithm as closely as possible. This is why Moz cites its machine learning, particularly since its implementation of Domain Authority 2.0 in 2019.

Let’s take a look at some of the bigger factors here:

  • Links: There are two types of links: good links and bad links. Good links include editorial links to your site, provided as references from articles, attributions for content, etc. Bad links, however, lower your DA and limit your ability to rank.
  • A technically sound website: Having a technically sound website can mean SO MANY THINGS including a site that loads quickly (with compressed images and utilizing image caching), no 404s (dead pages that haven’t been redirected), and is full of rich, original, helpful content.
  • Domain age: Yes, older sites tend to rank better, and there’s not a lot you can do about that. SEO is a marathon, not a sprint.

How do I Improve My Site’s Domain Authority?

Many businesses and websites want to know how they can go about increasing domain authority and page authority.

Firstly, it’s important to point out that higher DA has no value as an end goal. It’s just an indicator. Higher DA is a fine thing to strive for, but we try to avoid having clients set DA targets as a goal because improving your DA (alone) won’t make you any money.

What a higher DA should do is increase your traffic, which should lead to more conversions, which should make you more money. But if you’re measuring DA, you’re at least four “should’s” from your real goal, of making more money. So we prefer to measure conversions and traffic, and if at all possible, revenue.

But if you are looking to improve your website domain authority, start with a backlink audit. From there you can identify what types of sites link to you, and start taking the next steps toward strengthening your DA: 

  1. Earn high-authority links
  2. Eliminate low-quality and spammy links
  3. Focus on earning links that refer traffic to your website
  4. Add helpful, user-first content
  5. Refresh existing content
  6. Distribute your content through media outreach, newsletters, etc.

Backlinks can further help boost your DA when they stem from authoritative websites, drive traffic that stays and interacts with your content, and are linking to helpful resources for your audience. 

As for your site’s content, audit all of it with an eye toward your core audience. Gone are the days where you can just stuff a page full of keywords and hope for the best. Instead, ask yourself if all the content you currently have is helpful and completely answers the query a user might have.

Providing high-quality, helpful content with priority toward user experience will help your site rank higher, which will help inform domain authority. If you don’t have content covering something having to do with your brand: make more! Or expand and improve your existing content by auditing it, finding areas that are lacking, and considering how to be most helpful for the user.

Why Does Domain Authority Matter?

While pursuing higher DA shouldn’t be a high priority end-goal, it can still be a useful metric to track. In fact, website domain authority is something that gets thrown around in the office a bit. However, the main way we use it is to identify quality outreach targets. These are high-authority sites, with high-quality content from which we’d like to earn links for our clients.

As mentioned above, links are a major factor in improving the authority of your own site. When your website’s backlink profile is full of links from higher DA sites, you’ll see a greater impact than if you just had links from lower DA sites. To measure the domain authority of a website you can use a DA checker tool like Moz Link Explorer.

Screenshot of Moz Link Explorer

In my experience, when clients are asking about their DA, they’re usually just taking a less direct route to ask a question like “how are my SEO results?” or “how long is it going to take to see these indicators turn into revenue?” If you want to dive into these questions, check out our blog – “How Long Does SEO Take?”

Should I use Domain Authority as a KPI?

The short answer is: yes and no. While we’ve established that DA is not a ranking factor and that it isn’t the only metric you should look at, it is very helpful as a contextualizing KPI.

We like to showcase the DA of backlinks we acquire for our clients, but we also show that in the context of quality and quantity of backlinks earned for each campaign. 

Domain authority is a good signal of overall site strength, but nothing should be made or broken over DA. Particularly with Google’s late 2023 Helpful Content Update, the ranking factors are adjusting on Google’s side of things, and increased priority towards well-crafted, user-first content as well as the rollout of Search Generative Experience might shake up how sites rank.

We’d rather track backlink profiles and traffic and conversion rates to gauge a site’s improvement. A DA increase should follow if other KPIs are showing improvement. 

Additionally, domain authority can make sense as a KPI IF you use it to compare your site to those of your competitors. Ultimately, your DA doesn’t need to be 100, it just needs to be higher than your competitors. Track your site’s DA in conjunction with your top competitors to see whether you’ll be seen first. If you’re already winning – great! If not, gauge how much space there is between your competitors and then work to improve your DA from there. 

Ultimately, domain authority is a great tool to have at your disposal and a way to gauge, at a glance, your site’s overall strength. It is not, however, an SEO compass, nor will it be helpful if you only consider DA. As we’ve said before – SEO is a marathon, not a sprint– but it will make you more money eventually. 

Read more from our blog…