As digital marketers, we say the words “Domain Authority” more often than we say our kids’ names.
It’s more than just part of our everyday vocabulary. It’s the basis of most of what we do in the world of link building.
So, when Moz announced that the Domain Authority (DA) algorithm is changing on March 5th, they got our undivided attention.
What is DA? And Why Do We Love it?
DA scores correlate with Google rankings, meaning high DA scores should correlate with high ranking websites. Therefore, DA scores are a great way to generalize the rankings/performance/metrics. This makes them a great way to determine the value of a site.
According to Moz, “We crafted Authority scores to help site owners better gauge their ability to rank in search results. So much about search engines is shrouded in mystery.”
“These scores are an attempt to pull back the curtain and uncover how search engines view your website (with as much accuracy as we can).”
It is one of the most accurate, real-world representations of measuring the quality, the value and the popularity of a domain. It rolls all the important metrics of analyzing the site into one really easy and nice digestible 0 to 100 scale.
For example, Trust Flow is a great metric. But most sites are pretty much 0 to 20. Very few are ever 25 plus, so it’s not a great metric to use.
The Most Easily Understood and Easily Digestible Metric
DA may not be the most sophisticated metric. It doesn’t tell you some of the high-end analytic stuff that serves digital marketing people really well. But, it is very digestible and it is a great summary metric.
For this reason, it’s generally been regarded as the metric to use when analyzing sites and especially to help relay this to clients who don’t have digital marketing backgrounds.
It’s easy to convey a score of 1-100, instead of overwhelming clients with:
• Trust Flow
• Bounce rates
It’s very easy to convey and it helps to evaluate the quality of your links. If we’re building links on DA 30 or 40 sites, we can quickly ascertain its value, without having to dive too deep into the metrics.
We know that anything that is DA 60 or 70 has got some special elements, whether it’s a high authority or gets a lot of traffic. You simply can’t get a DA 60-70 site without doing the right things over a period of a few years.
One Of The Most Predictive Metrics of Google Success
There is a reason that DA data is requested over a billion times a year. It is incredibly predictive of success with Google. And if you ever doubt that, we encourage you to keep your MozBar on and look at what ranks well and what doesn’t.
We use it as our most important metric for evaluating sites and the potential quality of links. Of course, some people would say, “Traffic. It’s the only thing that matters.”
I understand why some people go after links based on traffic numbers. But, just because a site has traffic doesn’t mean that particular traffic has any value for you.
DA reflects the backlink profile of your site. Therefore, you want links from sites with good DA. It could be that simple.
What is Changing?
We love Moz and we trust Moz, but they would be the first to admit that in the past few years, Moz has not been extremely proactive with updating their product.
So, this update is huge and the biggest since their last major update in 2017.
Here are the biggest changes you can expect:
The previous algorithm was updated once a month or so. But now, Moz will be updating every day or so. This will be crucial in keeping up with Google’s constant updates.
In their words, “Rather than relying on a complex linear model, we’ve made the switch to a neural network. This offers several benefits including a much more nuanced model which can detect link manipulation.”
This is in line with the trend of AI learning being leveraged for algorithm updates that used to be done manually by a team every few months. But now, with AI software and technology, these updates are occurring much quicker.
The biggest change is the integration of Spam Score and DA. On a technical level, Moz has traditionally said that Spam Score is a separate metric from DA. Now, however, it will play a major role in DA.
Spam Score is basically the breakdown of the percentage of links that they call “spammy.” It’s a fairly simple way to analyze some of the negative sides of a site’s links.
Why is This Important?
It’s easy to look at the most successful pages and make what they’re doing your playbook to link building and SEO success. But, that’s only half of the story.
You could argue the real lessons are learned from looking at what the failed sites are doing wrong.
Looking at the best and how they succeed is great. But you can’t just show someone Tiger Woods’ golf swing and say “Ok, now go and do that.” You need to know the thousands of nuances of his swing, and you need to know what Tiger is actively avoiding in his swing.
This is sort of like the lessons they learned from fixing fighter planes in WW1. A plane would come back all shot up after a battle. They would reinforce the areas with bullet holes to make the planes stronger.
But, this was flawed thinking. They realized they should study the planes that were shot down. They could learn far more by finding out where downed aircraft was shot, because getting shot there was enough to take you down. Those are the areas of the plane that needed the most reinforcement.
The most important data came from looking at the failures.
What Will This Update Mean for Your Sites?
It sounds like the average DA for most sites is probably going to go down.
I personally think some of the sites from resellers that use “aggressive” link (cough-spammy-cough) building tactics might end up notably lower than what they once were.
This update is more than likely going to punish a lot of site owners who are doing the wrong things. If you’re doing the right things, you should be less affected.
Moz doesn’t want to make link building harder to do. They want to make cheating at link building harder to do. Or they at least want to make it easier to detect.
Whether you think this is the most important metric or not, I think we can all agree that this update is a big-ass-deal.
All marketers are going to be looking at their keywords, at their link building reports, and at their reseller prices a little differently after March 5th.
Will There Be Any Potential Hiccups?
It’s happened in the past: A major player will say, “Hey, big update to our metric coming soon!” They do an algorithm update and all of a sudden the numbers are so skewed that nobody wants to use it. Sometimes they even roll the algorithm back to the previous version and create a proper mess.
We really hope that’s not the case, but it has happened before.
Again, we use Moz every day. If all of a sudden the new DA means none of our sites are DA 40, that’s very bad for us. You’re basically left with two options: change everything, or stop using DA as a metric… and we don’t want to do that.
Odds are good that this will not happen, but it’s something we prepare for.
Who Will This Affect the Most?
Nobody pays an SEO company to improve their DA. They’re paying us to improve their SEO rankings. So, DA is kind of irrelevant to business owners.
It matters a lot more to site owners, or people who want their site to appeal to media buying companies, or people (like us) who evaluate those websites.
In SEO, we evaluate sites based on DA and traffic. In the social media world, they do it all through engagement. But those are the metrics that drive most of what link builders do. We want backlinks from quality sites with good DA.
This Likely Affects Link Sellers More Than Buyers
As we said, this is big for site owners who want their domain to be as attractive as possible to would-be link buyers.
This will particularly affect you if you have been using spammy or shortcut-based tactics to boost your DA and the price of your links. The jig is up on March 5th, and your DA is likely going to drop.
This is less likely to affect you if you’ve been doing all the right things to build links or your site’s authority. If you’re building organic links to quality and relevant content, you’re fine.
Like most Google algorithm updates, this will hurt the bad sites way more than it will help the good sites. But the good sites could see even more separation between them and the spammers.
What if I See a Drop?
So, what if DA 2.0 arrives and you see a considerable drop in your sites’ DA scores?
First of all, most people will see some sort of fluctuation in their DA, because this new algorithm is based on completely different factors. But, you really shouldn’t measure/ compare your DA to what it was a year ago. You should be measuring the difference between you and your competitors. But, more on that later.
That said, if your DA takes a significant hit, or you lose ground to your competition, it will definitely grab your attention.
Not to sound overly optimistic, but a drop in DA is really a learning opportunity and not a crisis. It’s an opportunity to ask, “What have we been doing wrong?”
Maybe you haven’t updated your website in two years. Maybe you haven’t updated your title tags. Or maybe you haven’t built any backlinks or you haven’t been blogging. And maybe your competition has stayed on top of all these things. Now is the time to find out and improve.
But, here’s the good news: The algorithm updates faster than ever, so the good work you do now and from here forward will pay off quicker.
How to Succeed in a DA 2.0 World
With all of these changes in mind, here is what you will need to succeed on March 5th and beyond.
Don’t Go Chasing Algorithms
There are certain companies out there that say:
“We live and die by the Google rules. That’s how we are going to help your company succeed. Google says you can never buy links. So we should never buy links and we wanna do everything Google says.”
Personally, I’m of a mind that I don’t listen to what Google says about their algorithm updates. I test and see what works. Because sometimes, what the guidelines tell you is not even close to the reality of what’s actually happening.
Testing will often give you data that points to the opposite of what the published guidelines say we should be doing.
I believe that if you want to go chasing the algorithm and you want to structure your work according to the algorithm, give it four months. And then you’re done.
Be Organic. Don’t Be Perfect
Is a site with a DA of 10 a total waste of your time? No, in fact, you need links to them to prove to Moz that you’re doing things organically.
If your footprint is nothing but sites with a DA of 70, that’s a red flag to Moz. They have stated that this could be seen as link manipulation, instead of organic link building.
The reality is most pages on the internet have a score of 10 or less. And to prove your sites’ legitimacy, you need links from low DA sites.
If you’re building an organic campaign, it’s not organic to only have links from DA 70 sites. It’s not organic to have only DA 40 sites either. You need a range. There is definitely value in sites with a DA 20. It’s kind of funny that way.
It’s sort of like having some wrong answers on a test to show that you’re not cheating.
Don’t Mistake DA for Google PageRank
This is one of the biggest myths out there when it comes to DA. It’s important to know DA is a proprietary metric developed by Moz, and not the same thing as Google PageRank.
Moz has even called this myth out directly by saying:
“While DA is a helpful guess at how a site will perform in search, it is not a direct replacement for PageRank, as it is not a ranking signal and is not used by Google in their ranking calculations.”
DA is reacting to what Google wants, not the other way around.
Don’t Compare Yourself to… Yourself
Moz has stressed that comparing your DA score before and after March 5th isn’t going to tell you much of anything. They actually highly recommend against it.
It’s true. It may just frustrate you more than anything. DA is a relative metric, which means it’s only meaningful relative to someone else’s score.
The true measure of how you’re doing is (and always has been) how your DA compares to your competitors.
Try to think of it this way:
|The Situation||The Verdict|
|Your DA is lower than it was prior to March 5th||No cause of concern whatsoever|
|Your DA is higher than your competitors before March 5th
and even higher after
|This is a big win. Celebrate and keep up the good work|
|Your DA is a few points higher than your competitors before March 5th, but lower after||You’ve lost ground. Either they’re doing things better, or you need to do things better|
Don’t Use DA by Itself
Don’t let the score out of 100 fool you. This is not a pass-or-fail metric. A DA of 90 is not an A and a 30 is not an F.
Looking at your site’s DA by itself doesn’t tell you anything. “Our site only has a DA of 40. That’s bad. That’s way below 50 and not even a pass, right?” No, it’s far more complex than that.
Like we said, this is a relative metric that is only useful when you compare it to other sites—more specifically, sites that you’re competing against.
Let’s take that DA 40 number. If you’re trying to sell burgers on a national level, that score is low compared to McDonald’s DA of 82, or Wendy’s DA 70.
But, if you’re a local record shop selling vinyl records, that’s likely a great DA. You’re probably much higher than your competition.
Don’t Use DA as Your Only Link-Building Metric
As we’ve said, we love Moz and DA. But it is not the only thing we look at when assessing the value of a backlink we want. And it shouldn’t be all you use either.
DA predicts how likely a domain is to rank with Google, but it will not predict how much a link from that domain can help you. That’s not what it’s designed to do. Determining how much a domain can help you requires more thought and research.
You also need to avoid using DA as your only metric because, as mentioned earlier, this creates a very obvious footprint and tells Google and Moz this is all you’re chasing. This points to link manipulation instead of organic link building practices.
Do Good Work
This ties in with what we said earlier about chasing algorithms.
We frequently tell people that if you’re doing all the right things for SEO and link-building, you should be excited about the next Google update. Or in this case, Moz update.
But, if you’re doing shady or spammy things, you need to take a deep breath before you check your laptop after a big update. Because, the chances are really good that you just lost a ton of traction. Google is on to you and caught you cheating.
Whenever there is a major update, it’s typically done for two reasons:
• Give searchers on the internet the best possible experience, and give them what they want right away
• Weed out people who are looking to cheat or hack the system. Because their work ruins the internet for everyone else
Algorithm updates are almost always one step forward for people who are doing the right things. And one giant leap backward for the cheaters and the scammers.
This is why it just simply pays to keep doing the right things and doing them well. You’re future-proofing your SEO and your link building efforts. A big update isn’t going to pull the rug on everything you have built.
But, if you’re jumping onto whatever “hack” is hot, you’re playing a dangerous game. You’re basing all your work on things that may or may not even be true. And an update can push the “Undo” button on all your work.
Good content coupled with natural and organic link building is never going out of style, so to speak. In fact, it’s more important than it’s ever been.
There is still a lot of speculation as to what exactly this update will do. Moz has said you can expect to see fluctuations and likely a slight drop in some cases. But there are a lot of variables in play.
We want to make sure you have all the best and most up-to-date information. So, expect us to give you a full breakdown of what actually happened to DA scores after the algorithm update.
Check back with us in a few days to see the early results and reflections of the new day and a new DA.