I am officially old these days.
Not only does this entitle me to be cynical (miserable?) about all sorts of things, it means that I have been I have been involved in SEO for many, many moons. I have seen all sorts of strategies, opinions and metrics come and go and often find myself chuckling at the degree to which the SEO community can get its knickers in a twist over something that really doesn’t matter.
I found myself having one such chortle when I stumbled across a fairly comprehensive slating of domain authority recently. Jeff doesn’t pull any punches and is incredibly damning of Moz’s domain authority (DA) and essentially suggests that anyone who still using DA belongs in the dark ages.
I will hold my hand up here and admit that I do still look at DA and we do typically include DA as one of a number of metrics in monthly reports. Perhaps I am therefore a little more sensitive to Jeff’s article, as it implies that I should be put out to pasture, but I think that he is slightly missing the point with DA and, indeed, any 3rd party SEO metric.
What is domain authority (DA)?
Moz’s Domain Authority (DA) was first released in 2006. In its first iteration, DA was a score from 0 (bad) to 100 (amazing) that was generated by assessing a variety of factors including link metrics, the age of the domain and the quality of content.
As the name suggests, it is a domain metric rather than a score for a single page. It was intended to analyse a domain in order to predict likely performance in organic search, although it is important to remember that the SERPs present pages rather than domains, so I think that expecting direct correlation between DA and individual page performance is always going to be a stretch.
DA 2.0 arrived on the scene in 2019 and declared itself to be a ‘neural network model’ that used several metrics, once again, but was heavily focused on link analysis using Moz’s own Link Explorer data. In my little brain, I have always thought of DA as a measure of off-site SEO rather than a comprehensive assessment of all SEO ranking factors. In other words, it is a way of measuring how good a domain’s link profile is. It doesn’t really claim to be anything more than that.
Why do people hate DA?
As you will see if you read Jeff’s post, domain authority really does seem to rankle some people. Stating that DA is “lying to people” is not sitting on the fence…
Most of the hatred stems from the fact that it has nothing to do with Google at all. It is a third party metric that was developed by Moz. This is undeniable fact and Google has repeatedly made it clear that they do not use DA in any way, so many dismiss it immediately. Their argument is that Google performance is the only thing that matters. I get that, but nobody from Moz ever claimed that Google’s algorithms use their domain authority metric?
Another familiar criticism is that there is an extremely weak correlation with Google rankings. That is less black and white in my humble opinion. I am sure that there are many examples of weak correlation, but I am equally sure (primarily due to the fact that I have seen it myself on numerous occasions) that there are as many examples of a very strong correlation.
Why do I defend DA?
As per my opening statement, I am an old git who is cynical about pretty much everything. I therefore absolutely understand why domain authority can be questioned as a metric. I would never suggest that it should be your primary focus, but I think it is short sighted to simply cast it aside as the devil’s work.
As an aside, I would apply the same thinking to ‘rankings’, which feels more archaic to me given how personalised the SERPs are. I am somewhat surprised that it is often the same people who stick the knife into DA who bang on relentlessly about rankings. Yes, we do use ranking data in our SEO reporting and they are a helpful measure of progress but ranking data needs heavy caveats and, like domain authority, should be seen as a barometer rather than a thermometer.
What do I mean by that?
A thermometer gives you a reading of something (the temperature) that can be objectively measured at a given point in time. A barometer measures atmospheric pressure, but is really used to predict the weather based on trends. Actual atmospheric pressure readings will be influenced by factors such as the altitude, so it feels less scientific than a thermometer (18C is 18C wherever you are) but a barometer is arguably more useful than a thermometer if you want to know how the weather is likely to change in the near future.
I think that the DA detractors are expecting too much and missing the point, trying to force it to be more scientific than it was ever planned to be. If you step back and apply the ‘barometer’ approach, domain authority starts to make more sense. It is more about patterns and predictions than it is about precise measurements. I also believe that any analysis of a domain’s link profile should be welcome as there is no secret that links play a crucial part in SEO. Why would you not want to use as many data points as possible when trying to make sense of the link profile of a domain? It may not be perfect, but DA gives you another fairly robust overview of how a domain is doing in terms off off-site SEO.
Absolute DA numbers are, I will concede, largely irrelevant and there is often a weak correlation with performance in SERPs as it will depend on how competitive a field is. Relative numbers become interesting when measuring yourself against the competition and trends in DA are, in my experience, often reflected in organic search performance. There is almost always a lag, but I have seen too many examples of a growing domain authority being followed by increased organic search visibility to discount DA as a helpful indicator of change.
To ignore domain authority just because it is not written by Google is like discrediting the likes of Ahref or SEMrush and claiming that only Google Search Console data should be used for link analysis. Each to their own, but I believe that the more data you have, the better and I certainly do not believe that Google data is perfect.
Whilst Jeff Ferguson feels that domain authority is “carnage” and a massive con, I would humbly suggest that he is overthinking it. It is not an exact science, but one of a number of tools in the digital tool box that can help you chart the success, or otherwise, of your digital PR campaigns. I cannot see myself giving up on it any time soon.