Domain Authority: Vanity metric or meaningful measure?

We look at the origin of the domain authority, its value as a performance metric and why you shouldn’t lose sleep over a fluctuating DA score.

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The SEO community has a terrible habit of obsessing over metrics that, in isolation, mean very little in the grand scheme of a digital marketing campaign. Keyword ranking reports, for example, will typically contain a bunch of keywords alongside a webpage’s current or average search position for said keywords. While it’s important to keep track of this information, it’s only really valuable when viewed alongside metrics that can add an element of ‘so what?’, to the equation; clicks/traffic, user engagement, conversions and so on.

Even organic search traffic can be a misleading metric when viewed on its own. When traffic goes up, that’s typically considered good. When traffic goes down, it’s seen as bad. But what really counts is the quality of that traffic, not necessarily the volume. I’d take fewer visits and more conversions over the alternative any day of the week, as would most business owners I’m sure, yet there’s still a tendency amongst SEOs to focus on the results that look best on paper first and foremost – the vanity metrics, if you will.

Another metric that gets used a lot in SEO is Domain Authority (DA). DA is a score devised by Moz that predicts how well a website will rank on search engine result pages. It’s scored on a 100-point logarithmic scale, meaning it is significantly easier to grow from 20 to 30 than it is to grow from 60 to 70 (for example) and is based on various multiple link-based factors including number of links and quality of linking root domains.

To be clear, DA in no way a reflection of SEO performance, it is merely a prediction. However in the absence of an official rating system from Google itself, DA is arguably the most reliable and undoubtedly the most accepted of all scores that exist online. But just like the examples outlined above, it can be misleading when viewed out of context.

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For example, people often ask what a good DA score is, which is effectively like asking ‘what’s the best website on the internet’. For those competing directly with the likes of Amazon or Ebay (good luck with that), anything less than a score in the high 90s would be underwhelming, but for most of us a good DA score depends entirely on the sites you’re directly competing with for SERP visibility. If for example your site has a DA of 40 but competing sites have an average score of 20, then 40 would be a very good DA score. Conversely, a score of 15 might mean more work is needed.

Failing to recognise this can not only skew perceptions around SEO performance, it can also lead to bad decisions when it comes to prospecting potential backlink targets. It could be assumed for example that a relatively low DA score equals a low quality site, but there’s no way of knowing this for sure without actually looking at the site in question; it might be a new domain in the process of building up its DA, it might exist within a sector that simply doesn’t have the volume of sites to generate large volumes of links, or despite having a low DA, it might be the best site in its niche for user engagement. In summary, DA is not necessarily an indication of a site’s quality, but one of just many signals to consider.

So is Domain Authority a vanity metric?

Yes and no. An increase or decrease in DA in isolation is not in itself a meaningful insight, but if it is backed up by changes to organic search visibility and traffic, it can help to explain why certain peaks or dips may have occurred. In other words, a huge increase in DA is effectively meaningless if it isn’t equating to more website visits and ultimately more conversions. Similarly, a drop in DA probably isn’t anything to worry about if everything else remains stable.

DA is just one of a number of metrics that can and should be used to assess the quality of a website or performance of a marketing campaign, but by focusing too closely on it and ignoring the things that actually matter, it can prove to be a massive red herring.

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