Domain Authority: When It’s Helpful for SEO (And When It’s Not)

When it comes to measuring a website’s performance and impact in search engines, there are few metrics more misunderstood than “Domain Authority.” This number, valued between 0 and 100, is a score given to websites by rankings tracking platforms, and it’s calculated from a handful of proprietary metrics specific to the company providing the score.

For the sake of this article, we’ll refer to this metric as “Domain Authority,” which is the original term created by rankings tracking platform Moz. Semrush, a competing platform, refers to its similar metric as “Authority Score,” and there are others as well.

Domain Authority vs. Authority Score: What Are They & What’s The Difference?

According to Moz, Domain Authority (DA) is a ranking score that “predicts how likely a website is to rank in search engine result pages.” a DA score is based on the total links directed at a website, the quantity and quality of linking root domains, and other factors based on crawls run by Moz. Scores can land anywhere between 0 and 100, but generally speaking, the higher the score, the better. Learn more about Moz’s Domain Authority here.

Authority Score, on the other hand, is a similar tool powered by Semrush’s AI that calculates its score on the number and quality of backlinks directed at a website, estimated organic search traffic, and potential spam factors affecting the website being scored. Much like Moz, the higher the score between 0 and 100, the better or more impactful a website is in search results. Learn more about Semrush’s Authority Score here

While Semrush and Moz highlight different metrics that feed into their respective scores, both companies dissuade users from looking at either Domain Authority or Authority Score as a definitive ranking of one’s perspective website. The reality is, unless your website is Wikipedia, Amazon, or Google, it’s unlikely you’ll ever see your DA reach 90 or higher. Instead, both Moz and Semrush strongly encourage users to compare DA scores against competitor sites that operate in the same niche.

When Is Domain Authority Helpful?

If you’re looking to compare your website against a competitor that sells similar products or creates content in the same niche, DA can serve as a quick metric to highlight how wide the divide might be between your site and your competitor’s. But you need to take this metric with a big grain of salt because the rankings tracking platforms don’t see the complete backlink and quality content picture that a major search engine like Google sees. 

If your DA score is lower than your competitor, it can be a frustrating chore to figure out why. Based on how both authority scores from Moz and Semrush are calculated, one can presume that your competitor most likely has a higher number of quality backlinks and root domains linking to them, but this understanding won’t solve your dilemma. You’ll need to thoroughly dig into the pages where your competitor has the most backlinks and analyze why those pages are receiving so many links. This could potentially highlight problems that lack ethical or easy solutions. 

When Isn’t Domain Authority Helpful?

Let’s say that your competitor has a lucratively successful backlinking program and has earned some very high-profile links from behemoth websites with high DA scores. Is it worth your time to:

a.) Cold-email bigger websites in hopes of a single backlink?


b.) Throw ethics to the wind and pay a company for a large number of (typically poor-quality) backlinks?

The answer is no for a couple of reasons. First of all, Google tells us that, while backlinks still have some importance for SEO, their importance carries increasingly less weight

Secondly, rankings tracker platforms only see a subsegment of the reality that Google or Bing know the internet to be. Google and Bing will have many times more pages indexed and backlinks discovered than Moz or Semrush, or any other platform. And none of those tools have a window into the search engines’ algorithmic secret sauce. How much are links actually valued vs. quality content? What is helpful, high-quality content, and how do you measure it? Those are things the rankings tracking platforms don’t know and can’t wrap into a single metric like DA. As such, DA and scores like it aren’t really a reliable measure of site visibility on Google or the other search engines. 

And lastly, a better backlinking program doesn’t necessarily equal better sales or conversions. Depending on the pages that are gathering the most links for your competitor, they may have nothing to do with the core goal or business that your competitor is in. If this is the case, it might mean that DA isn’t a metric worth spending much energy on.

Think about what the goal of your website is. If you’re an e-commerce site, your goal is most likely optimizing sales revenue. For free content, sign-ups and conversions to email lists or push notifications are king. It’s highly likely that backlinks have little impact on either of these goals. Instead, creating the most helpful, user-friendly content is a better use of time because it’s a better way of attracting high-value, relevant links naturally.

You’ve Had The Most Effective Tools For Measuring Success This Whole Time

Moz and Semrush are both great platforms that can assist in providing useful data to optimize your website for success. However, nothing will ever top data from Google Analytics and Google Search Console. If you wield both of these tools successfully, you can see what directs users to your site, accurate conversion metrics, and real-time audience behaviors on the most widely used search engine on the planet.

Remember, Moz and Semrush have a vast treasure trove of data, but when available, it’s always best to get your information straight from the source. In most cases for SEO, that source is Google.

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