Ask a roomful of marketers what domain authority is, and they’re likely to mention domain authority scores from companies like Moz or SEMrush. While these third-party domain scores can be helpful indicators of a site’s authority, it’s a common mistake to conflate them with the authority signals Google uses to rank content.
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Domain authority (DA) is wrongly interpreted as a Google metric so often that it’s high time we do some serious myth-busting about what DA is. I want to set the record straight about what Google says about authority and talk about how search engines evaluate it.
Let’s get started.
What Is Domain Authority?
Domain authority, or website authority, is a catchall term for the quality signals Google uses in its core algorithm. Rather than being a metric, it’s shorthand for a collection of signals that Google interprets as being common to authoritative websites.
Many third-party platforms attempt to calculate DA and simplify it into a single metric or “score” that users can use to quickly assess how Google interprets their site’s authority or the authority of a site that’s linking to theirs. (Questions about authority often come up when we talk about backlinking).
Domain Authority is not a Google ranking factor and has no impact on a website’s performance in search. Third-party domain authority scores are comparative metrics rather than absolute metrics. That means they’re designed to compare the authority of one site against another as measured by a particular algorithm, which is a backward engineered, theoretical estimation of the Google Search algorithm.
The fact of the matter is that authority is a concept that can’t easily be measured.
There is no single metric that can represent the quality of a website. That’s why it’s best to use various indicators and metrics to determine a website’s potential to rank well in SERPs.
Domain Authority: A Trailing or Predictive Metric?
Another common misconception about the domain authority scores is that they predict how well a site will perform in search results. In reality, third parties compile DA scores based on trailing metrics (also known as lagging indicators), which are past performance indicators. By comparison, predictive metrics (leading indicators) indicate future performance.
Because companies like Moz, Ahrefs, and SEMrush don’t have the massive infrastructure and resources that Google has, they have no choice but to base their domain authority scores on trailing metrics. So, regardless of the way they frame it, their authority scores can’t predict a website’s future success — it’s more like a best guess based on a limited data sample of past performance indicators.
How Are Domain Authority Scores Calculated?
Here are some examples of how different platforms calculate scores related to website or domain authority.
Domain Authority & Page Authority from Moz
Moz’s tool allows businesses to check Domain Authority to “predict how likely a website is to rank on search engine result pages (SERPs).” Moz uses different factors to calculate this score based on a sample of links to a website or page. They also explicitly state that DA isn’t a metric Google uses to rank websites.
Moz has also developed a Page Authority scoring system to “predict” how well specific pages will rank on search engines. This tool generates scores using machine learning to identify algorithms correlated with rankings across thousands of SERPs.
Citation Flow & Trust Flow from Majestic
Majestic’s Flow Metric score is a domain score that incorporates their Citation Flow and Trust Flow algorithms. Trust flow measures how many degrees of separation there are between any given website and a site that Majestic has designated as a “trusted seed site.” Citation Flow tries to predict how influential a URL is based on how many other sites link to it.
Domain Rating from Ahrefs
Ahrefs’ Domain Rating score calculates the strength of a given domain, based on the quality and quantity of backlinks a website has, as well as the quality of those links.
Authority Score from SEMrush
SEMrush’s Authority Score uses machine learning to calculate a site’s quality, popularity, and backlink signals based on organic search data, traffic metrics, and backlink gains or losses.
What Does Google Say About Domain Authority?
John Mueller has addressed this topic directly in the past, stating that Google doesn’t have a website authority score or anything like it.
In general, Google doesn’t evaluate a site’s authority. It’s not something where we would give you a score on authority and say this is the general score for authority on your website.”
However, Mueller said that Google uses sitewide signals to look at a website’s overall quality to rank new pages. Rather than using an official scoring system, Google looks at individual ranking signals based on a website’s current state rather than past performance or quality.
Time Out for Real Talk:
At Victorious, we don’t take everything that John Mueller, Gary Ilyes, or any other “SEO guru” says as gospel. Instead, we put their statements into the context of our own experiences and data. Sometimes our data is consistent with what they say, and sometimes it’s not. This isn’t to say that they’re deliberately misleading the public, but sometimes they’re answering a particular question that the general public conflates with a more general truth.
In this case, our experiences align with John Mueller’s statements about domain authority.
I can’t stress enough how important it is not to mistake third-party domain authority scores for the actual signals Google examines to determine a website’s overall quality.
You can use domain authority scores to compare your website to your competitors or even track changes in your own website over time, but keep in mind that every domain authority score is a relative measuring stick with no direct bearing on search performance or how Google evaluates sites and pages.
So, how does Google evaluate the quality of websites? Let’s dive into some of the specific signals Google uses to measure domain authority.
How Does Google Evaluate Authority?
Google assesses authority on a page-by-page basis rather than considering the authority of an entire website. Google’s ranking systems sort through billions of web pages using hundreds of factors to provide the most valuable and relevant results for searchers instantly.
A series of algorithms make up these ranking systems, and each algorithm considers various factors (or signals).
Three categories of ranking signals include:
- Relevance: Analyzing webpage content to assess whether it contains information relevant to the query at hand.
- Links: For external citation authority.
- User satisfaction/experience: As might be indicated by some engagement signals and Core Web Vitals.
These algorithms analyze signals that indicate whether users can view the site as attended in different browsers and devices, and whether the page load time is fast enough for users with slow internet connections.
A Brief Overview of How Ranking Works
First, Google indexes a page to determine its central topic, structure, and user experience. Next, it uses external signals (like backlinks) to validate and gauge the page’s level of authority for any given topic.
Why are backlinks an authority indicator?
- Links from third-party sources act as endorsements.
- The more links (endorsements) a website has, the more authoritative and trustworthy it’s considered.
- The authority of referring websites matters, with links from higher quality sources carrying more weight.
Reviews are also important in evaluating authoritativeness. Online reviews can build or break a business’s reputation. They may also help you rank higher in organic search results by sending signals to Google that your site is reputable, trustworthy, and high quality.
Why Does Website/Domain Authority Matter?
In the broadest sense of the word, authority indicates a level of expertise and quality that matters to Google because it wants to provide the best possible user experience for its users by returning solutions from trusted sources.
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