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Domain Authority 2.0 Chaos and Controversy

7 min read

It’s hard to believe nearly ten years have passed since Moz introduced their link-based domain authority metric (DA). Recently, the organization made a major update to their calculation, causing some concern, anxiety and debate in the world of SEO. In this post we look at some issues of which you should be aware.

The Evolution of Search Over The Last Decade

Search has changed dramatically over the last decade. We’ve seen numerous updates to Google’s search algorithm, including famous ones like Panda, Penguin and RankBrain, and there’s no sign of them slowing down. In fact, they typically update their algorithm each and every day.

As Google explains, “Each day, Google usually releases one or more changes designed to improve our results. Some are focused around specific improvements. Some are broad changes. Last week, we released a broad core algorithm update. We do these routinely several times per year….”

Google aims to provide results that are most relevant for a given query. It doesn’t aim to provide search results that have the most links.

Here are some takeaways from this Google Hangout with John Mueller, Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google.

  • John confirms that Google looks at “a lot of different signals” and that pages can have trouble ranking due to content.
  • User intent and the context of the search are other factors that receive consideration when determining rank.
  • The weighting of links varies from one search term to the next. According to John “they’re definitely not the only thing that you really need to be focusing on, even if you’re in a fairly competitive area.”

Hmm… so it’s not just about links anymore, is it?

Google Search Advocate John Mueller states that some people “focus too much on links, imo — I’m glad that we use 100s of factors in our crawling, indexing, and ranking algorithms.”

In 2018, Simon Kahn, Chief Marketing Officer, Google Asia Pacific wrote a piece reflecting on Google’s 20-year-evolution. In the article he talks about advances in machine learning that enable the search engine to “access high-quality content with greater accuracy.” He also explains how “brands that leverage intent signals have seen greater success at capturing attention.”

There is not one single mention about links. Maybe that’s because links aren’t as important as they used to be.

The Chaos Surrounding The Domain Authority Update

Although Google’s search algorithm has evolved significantly, the same can’t be said for the SEO industry as a whole. Years ago when Google stopped publishing Page Rank, Moz stepped in to fill a perceived void in the search engine optimization industry.

Granted, Moz has put together a pretty complex calculation using a number of factors including root domains, number of inbound links and other (which they do not disclose). Using a logarithmic scale may help increase the correlation between their model and the SERPs.

But the underlying fault remains. It’s focused solely on links.

As a side note, Google stopped publishing PageRank because they didn’t want SEOs to focus on any link-based metrics. That ought to tell you something!

So, Moz created their Domain Authority score (DA) as a tool to predict how well a website can rank in the search engine results pages (SERPs). For a moment, let’s set aside any questions of its validity and the difference between correlation and causation.

But let’s be clear.

Google doesn’t use Moz’s Domain Authority as a ranking signal. Full stop.

Last year John Mueller, Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google, held an “Ask Me Anything” on Reddit. When asked if domain authority existed, here was his response.

I think the evidence is clear.

Yet, there are unscrupulous operators in the SEO sphere that would have the unsuspecting believe otherwise. Unsavoury link builders have been busy email-spamming businesses in the wake of Moz’s DA update.

Despite the lack of connection between Google and this Moz metric, these SEO hacks are attempting to sow seeds of doubt. They’re urging people to use their link building services to recover from their drop in domain score and increase domain authority.

Yet that drop has not been accompanied by a corresponding change in search engine ranking!

The Controversy With Relying Solely on Domain Metrics

The validity of Moz’s DA metric is a debate that is sure to continue for the foreseeable future. Of equal concern is whether one should rely on one-dimensional analysis using a metric like Moz DA. Barry Schwartz recently asked the SEO community what they thought about DA.

There are a number of issues in the way many SEOs approach DA. They often focus on trying to increase their DA score – in fact there’s an entire SEO sector devoted to selling high-DA links.

Remember that DA is only a prediction based on a belief that the correlation of DA and ranking in the SERPs is also its cause.

It’s like the skirt length theory in investing. If short skirts are growing in popularity, the markets are headed higher. If skirts are getting longer, the markets are moving down.

That’s seems kind of silly, doesn’t it?

So does trying to predict SERP position based on DA. That one-dimensional approach is too simplistic. Google uses hundreds of ranking factors. Having a high DA doesn’t improve your chance of ranking well.

These types of linear analyses don’t cut it anymore. The interesting thing is, SEOs already bake in topical analysis overlaid with these DA metrics because they have to do this if they want to be successful. But this is manual work and it’s not completely accurate. The minute you finish work on deciphering the topical components, the environment changes.

Why MarketMuse Content Score and Opportunity Score Are Invaluable

Moz scores don’t account for the customer’s content – only link dynamics and site structure. Our authority metric is better because it accounts for that, plus it predicts momentum. A site about dog food with a DA of 60 still can’t rank on ‘wine bars in Boston’ more than a DA 40 site about wine bars.

Just like all of our scores, relative to competition is key. Take for example MarketMuse Opportunity Score, given to new content opportunities. Unlike the one-dimensionality of Moz Domain Authority, this composite metric takes hundreds of factors into account, including:

  • Content Quality
  • Content Comprehensiveness
  • Search Volume
  • Topical Authority
  • Site Authority
  • Competition
  • Variants
  • Relevance
  • Current Coverage

Opportunity Score measure the urgency and likelihood of success for new and optimized content. For large sites, there no shortage of content possibilities – whether that means creating new content or optimizing existing pages.

The problem is that the potential usually outstrips the available resources. This metric allows content strategists to prioritize these opportunities based on likelihood of success. It’s a great way to reliably increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of your plan.

Stephen leads the content strategy blog for MarketMuse, an AI-powered Content Intelligence and Strategy Platform. You can connect with him on social or his personal blog.