On March 5th, Moz launched a new version of their oft-used (including by the BrightLocal tool) Domain Authority (DA) score, and it already has some search marketers tearing their hair out. The truth is that they needn’t, as I’ll explain below.
Dubbing it ‘Domain Authority 2.0’ in their launch materials, Moz stated that the new DA would incorporate “a number of new factors into its algorithm to gauge the strength of a site better than ever before”.
Naturally, as with any algorithm change, there are going to be ‘winners’ and ‘losers’. There are going to be websites that have benefited significantly and those that have lost out, and it can feel unfair.
But if you were putting so much stock in DA, wouldn’t you welcome a more accurate metric? Wouldn’t you rather know you had work to do to improve a website’s chance to rank than to hold the mistaken belief that you’re already doing well?
This is why you can’t look at DA in a vacuum, as I’ll come back to in a little bit. While, sure, some people use DA to decide which websites to approach for links (when doing press or building citations, for example), you’re more likely interested in bottom-line stuff: rankings, traffic, and sales, and DA doesn’t directly impact these at all.
DA can potentially give you an idea of how you’ll rank compared to your competitors, but that’s all. If your DA has dropped but your traffic is on the up and up, for example, I would recommend focusing on the positive side, as that has tangible, immediate, real-world benefits.
How not to use Domain Authority
It’s probably easier to get this out of the way before highlighting how DA can be used. DA is a proprietary metric devised by Moz that indicates a website’s likelihood of ranking in organic search, based on how it links to and from other websites, and how popular those websites are.
Firstly, and most importantly, Domain Authority is not a Google ranking factor. No-one ever said it was, and Google has never used it as such. There is no guaranteed correlation between DA and rankings and just because your DA has just dropped 10 points it doesn’t necessarily mean that your rankings will suddenly take a nosedive.
Russ Jones, the poor Moz data scientist who keeps having to bang this particular drum, not only has the following tweet pinned, but he has “Google doesnt [sic] use DA.” as the first sentence in his Twitter bio (oh, and it’s also in his cover photo)!
Google Doesnt Use Moz’s Domain Authority as a Ranking Factor
— Russ Jones (@rjonesx) March 6, 2019
Bear in mind, too, that Moz’s algorithm also only looks at one aspect of SEO: links. It doesn’t look at site speed, or technical SEO, or on-site optimizations, or metadata, or schema markup, or Google My Business, or social follows, or reviews. It just looks at links, so it’s not the be-all and end-all of site performance and therefore shouldn’t be used as an overall site quality metric.
However, as the Moz 2018 Local Search Ranking Factors survey shows (and as local SEO experts agreed in a BrightLocal survey released last week), link signals are plenty important to local search, so by no means should DA be ignored.
But there is a wrong and a right way to use DA, as you’ll see…
How to use Domain Authority
As Moz themselves have been at pains to point out, a website’s DA should never be looked at on its own. It’s a relative scale which is completely dependent on the full dataset (i.e. all the websites), so if, for example, all websites with DAs 90-100 suddenly disappeared, all other websites would have their DAs adjusted so that the remaining leaders ended up in the 90-100 range. This means that one website’s position in the middle of all of this means nothing. Zip. Nada.
Instead, to get any true value from DA, you need to compare yours with that of your competitors. Let’s say you’re in the pet services industry, and let’s say that websites for these businesses traditionally have quite low DA, in the 20-30 region (I’m not basing this on truth, by the way).
If your pet services website has a DA of 29 and most of your competitors are around 25, you’re doing well to stay ahead of the competition. By overall DA standards, no, your DA of 29 out of 100 means that you won’t be competing with the likes of Huffington Post any time soon, but that’s clearly an unrealistic goal.
To provide another example, I performed an internal review of our DA and our competitors’ DAs just before the DA 2.0 launch and after it, leaving a little while for it to roll out fully. I found that, while one or two competitors had significantly benefited or lost out in the reshuffle, the average shift in DA across all competitors was just -2.
BrightLocal’s DA, meanwhile, barely shifted, going from 63 to 62. If I’d looked at this change in a vacuum (i.e. without comparing our DA to our competitors) I might have flung my hands up in the air, bemoaning the drop in DA and hollering at poor Russ Jones on Twitter.
However, comparing this shift of -1 to an industry average shift of -2, I think we actually came out of it fairly well.
Ultimately, as Moz state in their Authority Scoring Guide, “If your scores are lower than they were previously, but still better than your competitors, you’re still in a good place.”
What does all this mean for local business websites?
Honestly? Not much.
As far as we’re aware, local business websites haven’t been specifically affected or targeted. It seems like the playing field has been more or less equally adjusted.
So many other factors impact local search that a high DA probably shouldn’t be highest on your list of priorities anyway. You’ll be wanting to get more and better links than your competitors, and DA is a decent way of measuring that, but you’ll also want focus on getting reviews, managing Google My Business, building citations, and all the other usual local marketing disciplines with more tangible impacts.
Again, the key thing is to take a look at where your website stands in amongst your competitors. If you’re leading the pack in terms of DA, then keep on keeping on. If you’re not, and you want to increase your likelihood to rank in organic search, then by all means invest in a content and outreach strategy with link building at its heart, but be sure to look beyond DA when measuring it.