Why Domain Authority doesn’t work for link acquisition

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  • October 28, 2014
Stephen Kenwright

Stephen Kenwright

Director of Search

The idea that links from websites with higher domain authority being significantly more valuable is fundamentally flawed. To understand why we think that, let’s take a look at Moz’s explanation of Domain Authority:

‘Domain Authority represents Moz’s best prediction for how a website will perform in search engine rankings. Use Domain Authority when comparing one site to another or tracking the “strength” of your website over time. We calculate this metric by combining all of our other link metrics—linking root domains, number of total links, MozRank, MozTrust, etc.—into a single score.’

Why this doesn’t work for link acquisition

  1. It’s a numerical representation of Moz’s prediction. It’s Moz’s best guess at how a site will perform in search results. As a test, take the URL of a blog you’d quite like a link from and enter it into Searchmetrics. What does it rank for?
  2. It’s how the site will perform in search engine rankings. It’s not meant as a gauge of how much influence on your search rankings a link from that site will have. Nowhere does Moz suggest that they even speculate about how PageRank transfers. Not even Google do that anymore.

  3. Domain Authority is calculated solely on link metrics but Moz is unable to detect whether links have been added into your disavow file or not…so toxic links that you wouldn’t want pointing to your site are contributing to this score. However, it probably is fair to say that not many bloggers upload disavow files, but it’s also fair to say that not many bloggers care how well they rank in Google. As long as they’ve got the metrics they can still sell links.
  4. …because Domain Authority only takes link metrics into account, it’s not even a good guess how sites will perform in search anymore. Onsite factors are becoming much more important in how a site performs in Google, and user metrics are probably the single most significant factor. Because of this, you’re much better trying to acquire a link that will drive traffic to your website than a link located in the depths of a high Domain Authority site.

Our Head of PR and Social Laura Crimmons recently explained what Branded3 classes as a good link. According to Moz, links are a measure of popularity and relevancy – but these factors are decided on much more than link metrics (for instance, Matt Cutts recently uploaded a video detailing how Google decides which sites are popular in verticals where nobody links, such as porn).

It also incentivises link acquisition in completely the wrong way. As a digital agency it is our job to not only increase the amount of non-brand search that our clients are able to acquire, but also to increase the number of people searching for our clients’ brands. As such we aren’t going to turn down coverage on the Daily Mail just because we know they won’t link. It’s called co-citation and it’s probably a ranking signal anyway.

It’s worth noting that sites with much lower Domain Authority can outrank those with higher metrics for keywords that matter to the business. Most websites in the finance niche, for example, will never achieve a higher Domain Authority metric than MoneySupermarket.com (DA 77), but it doesn’t rank 1st for car insurance anymore (GoCompare does, DA 59), and they can absolutely be beaten on some products by much smaller, more specialised businesses.

If Moz metrics have to be a KPI we can work to that, but we prefer to use search performance metrics such as rankings and traffic share, organic traffic and conversions, and we just don’t see a strong correlation between these and what the Moz Toolbar says.

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