We’ve noticed a number of changes in Domain Authority as of late (specifically in November and late January), so we decided to investigate with a short case study. Domain Authority is something we have talked about a number of times on this blog, in a Jacksonville dentist case study, our giant guide to local SEO and Google 3 packs, and all three parts of our Recreating Google results, which we will reference here. You can check your own DA with Moz’s free tool Open Site Explorer.
In the previous Recreating Google results series, we looked at 32 different construction companies that I gathered data for. One of those pieces of data was the Domain Authority of each site. Moz, the creator of Domain Authority, is going through a bit of a transitionary period. They have a new beta version of a tool called Link Explorer that is going to replace an older tool called Open Site Explorer. I will go into a more in-depth comparison of other data from these two tools in a later post, but for now, we are just going to look at the potential changes in Domain Authority, how it might affect your website, and what to do if it does.
Why Does This Matter for Your Website?
The reason why this metric is so important is that the metric is designed by the people over at Moz to mimic your ability to rank in Google. They describe it like this:
Domain Authority (DA) is a search engine ranking score developed by Moz that predicts how well a website will rank on search engine result pages (SERPs). – Moz DA definition
While they don’t say it here, they mean Google. It would require a different metric entirely to try and mimic another search engine, and in Bing’s case, a worse one. Sorry Bing, but there’s still work to do!
I think they know that though.
Moz’s Domain Authority: A Metric like No Other?
While Moz’s own Page Authority attempts to do this same thing for individual pages instead of entire domains, I am not aware of another metric that tries to do this all-encompassing feat in one number. As of the last official statistics, I heard they were about 70% accurate in representing the likelihood to rank in Google results, but we are about to get a new updated version of DA that will hopefully be even more accurate.
Needless to say this is a very big task, so not many places have taken it on. I am not aware of any other metrics that try and do what DA does.
One very important note:
Just because your Domain Authority changed, even drastically, does not necessarily mean that you will see a big change in your search results. Often changes can be attributed to Moz making updates like the one we’re talking about that makes their algorithm more accurate. It also takes time for DA to scan, so results always have a lag time. The potential reasons for a big change up or down in your DA are:
- Algorithm changes might have specifically targeted something relevant to your site
- Other good or bad things have changed on your site or with your backlinks (more likely) between scans
- A combination of 1 and 2
No one will ever know the full story, as these things are complicated and forever moving targets.
Now let’s see how different things look.
Domain Authority Comparisons
I have included 4 charts to showcase the differences in Domain Authority between the original data from the Google recreation study (OG), the Open Site Explorer data (OSE) and the new Link Explorer data (LE).
Chart 1: Original data vs. Current Open Site Explorer Data
Chart 2: Original Data vs. New Link Explorer Data
Chart 3: Open Site Explorer Data vs. New Link Explorer Data
Chart 4: All Together Now!
Conclusions from the Data
Overall the trendlines stayed pretty similar, but as you can see, there are some pretty big changes for individual companies. This means that there is likely some fluctuation between you and your competition in these last few months. Remember when evaluating any changes that it is necessary to know both the changes of your own site and your competition and to use DA as a relative metric. It is quite possible and quite common that a number of sites in the same industry will all fluctuate up and down somewhat due to larger scale changes, so just looking at your own increases or decreases can be deceptive.
Here are some answers to some common questions about these changes.
Domain Authority Changes FAQ
Is My Domain Authority Going to Change? Or has it Already?
While this is on a case by case basis, there is a pretty good chance that your DA will have changed in one direction or the other due to these algorithm changes. In many cases, it may have changed in both!
We track the Domain Authority and other metrics for both our clients and their competition, and when we see that there is fluctuation with our clients and all of our client’s competition it is a pretty good sign that an algorithm update has happened. It looks like both November and late January had some sort of algorithm update, as things have been getting shaken up more than normal.
If your DA changed it could mean a lot of things, but generally speaking, you’re never going to know for sure. Most of the time it is going to have to do with reevaluating the quality of your backlink profile. Backlinks (people linking to your site from another site) and what quality of backlinks you have is still the single most important ranking factor for your site, but what makes a backlink a ‘quality’ backlink is a moving target.
As Google works to refine its algorithm to better understand and value backlinks of all types, Moz is right behind them trying to do the same thing. While Domain Authority can often appear to be relatively stable, there are actually multiple parts that make it unstable:
- The sites like Google with a DA of 100 set the bar for the top of the scale
- Their link profile and other information constantly changes and with it the standards for the top of the scale change with it
- Algorithm changes; if the DA algorithm always stayed the same it would be outdated and irrelevant very quickly
What can I do to Fix my DA if it Changed?
If your DA hasn’t changed that much, then you should probably just keep moving forward with your SEO strategy. Whatever that strategy is, it should focus on generating high-quality content and making sure that you can build quality backlinks to that content. If you have a highly optimized site (if you’re not sure if you do, I can assure you that you don’t, but use our free SEO Audit tool for a second opinion) and have only done white hat (legal in the eyes of Google) backlinking strategies then continuing with your strategy is all you need to do.
What if I did Grey Hat or Black Hat SEO or Backlink Strategies in the Past?
If you are not sure if you have ever partaken in grey hat or black hat strategies for backlinks, then it might be time to investigate your backlinks to see if anything raises red flags. Most backlink tools will tell you if a site’s links to your site are alarming in any way, but it is important to have someone with experience evaluate this for you.
The only case that you do not need someone with experience to evaluate a backlink profile is when everything turns out perfect and none of the links are even slightly alarming. If your site has been around for awhile and gets any sort of traffic (1,000+ site sessions a month) chances are you are going to have some questionable backlinks in there. It is important to know the difference between a backlink that is potentially harmful or ones that just don’t look very good, and this is something that is developed with time, experience, research, and getting familiar with your toolset.
What Should I do if I Find Bad Backlinks?
If you find bad backlinks you should have someone familiar with technical SEO look them over. Preferably someone who works at a marketing agency who manages multiple campaigns for different clients, as that means they will have experience with multiple clients (and likely tracking their competitors) over the same time frame. This means they will have a lot more knowledge about when something happens that likely affects the general SEO world and when it is something more specific to one of their sites. This is a very important distinction that is much harder to draw when you only have one company that you are managing, even if you are looking at some of their competitors’ metrics. Without access to their analytics, a lot of key data is missing!
Just like everything else in SEO, both Google rankings and Domain Authority are forever moving targets. Focus your efforts on a well planned out content marketing strategy based on sound white hat principles and make sure your site is well optimized for SEO and you’ll have a great foundation to start from!
DA is just one metric to help you see where your progress along your way, but it should not be considered the end all. Your actual rankings are always more important, DA is just one clue among many about the status of your site’s content, your backlink quality and quantity, and your overall web presence.