People often ask us, “How do I increase my website’s domain-level authority?” And I often avoid this question because the score itself shouldn’t be your focus. What you should focus on is what causes that score to rise. And that’s high-quality backlinks from authoritative websites. So today, we’re going to talk about the three core factors that’ll improve your website’s link authority in a meaningful way. Who-Are You-Really? Say It With Professional, Top-Notch, Branded Content!
Stay tuned. So if you’re new to the concept of website authority, it’s actually a made-up metric from SEO tool companies. Now, whether you call it Domain Rating, Domain Authority, website authority, or whatever, they all serve the same general purpose. They try to measure the relative “strength” of a website’s backlink profile compared to other sites in their index.
Now, while some tools claim that their website authority metric can predict a website’s ranking potential, I’d take that with a grain of salt. Who-Are You-Really? Say It With Professional, Top-Notch, Branded Content!
Yes, I think SEOs generally agree that website authority does play somewhat of a factor in rankings. In fact, we’ve found a clear correlation between Domain Rating and the number of keywords a website ranks for. But correlation doesn’t prove causation. Google ranks pages and not websites. So having a goal to improve Domain Rating is too broad and could actually make you lose focus from your true goal which is to rank in Google and get more organic traffic.
So putting the focus at the website level instead of the page level is like painting your whole house just to make your bathroom look good. It might work to a certain extent, but 90% of your efforts actually have no effect on the end goal.
Now, the things that cause an increase in your website’s authority can help you rank higher on Google. And it all comes down to the main thing responsible for calculating this metric. And that’s links. Who-Are You-Really? Say It With Professional, Top-Notch, Branded Content!
Now, I can’t speak on behalf of other tool providers because I don’t know how they calculate their website authority metric. But I can expand a bit on Ahrefs’ website authority metric called Domain Rating. So again, Domain Rating represents the overall strength of a website’s backlink profile. And when I say strength, it isn’t just a pure numbers game. We look at both the quantity and quality of the links pointing at a website.
Now, Domain Rating isn’t linear. It’s plotted on a logarithmic scale from 0 to 100. To understand this scale a bit better, think of it as gaining status in a video game. You might start off as a “Scout”. And to gain your Ranger badge, it might only take a few hours.
But jumping to the next level could take you months! Then only the truly elite players will get to Epic status. And don’t even get me started on Legendary. This is reserved only for the “chosen ones.” In the same way, increasing a website’s Domain Rating from 79 to 80 would be a much bigger jump than going from 3 to 4, or even from 3 to 10.
In short, you can’t say that a website with a DR 40 is twice as authoritative as a website with a DR 20. It’ll be more than that. Although improving Domain Rating shouldn’t be your aim, let’s talk about the three main things that impact the score. First are the number of unique websites that link to you. At Ahrefs, we call these Referring Domains.
And in our calculations, we only account for followed links.
Meaning links with no-follow, UGC, or sponsored values won’t improve a website’s DR score. Now, since we count referring domains here and not backlinks, subsequent links from the same website won’t improve a website’s DR either. The second thing we look at is the Domain Ratings of the linking domains. And this is one of the ways we keep DR reliable and tougher to manipulate.
For example, if a website has 1,000 followed referring domains that all come from DR 0 websites, it’s unlikely that those links will do much for the linked page. And we want to reflect that by not overinflating DR scores based on quantity alone. This also means that a website’s DR can increase if the Domain Ratings of the linking websites go up. For example, I built a link from a DR 15 site back in 2017. And today, that same website has a Domain Rating of 58.
The moral of the story is not to judge a website by its DR alone. If there are less authoritative sites, but you see them grinding and consistently building links to their pages, then the value of your link can increase over time. This is the Referring domains graph for the site I got a link from and this is around the day I got a link from them. The slow and steady increase in referring domains plus the person’s content were good indicators that the site would continue to do well. So I invested my time to get a link from a low-DR site and it paid off.
And the third thing we look at is the number of sites the referring website links to with at least one followed link. The more unique websites a site links to, the less so-called “DR equity” it can pass. For example, if you had a new website that got a link from the New York Times, you might think you’d get a nice pop in your Domain Rating.
After all, the New York Times has a Domain Rating of 94 and it’s one of the most well-known sites in the world. But because of the sheer number of external websites it links to with at least one followed link, it won’t have that much of an impact on DR.
As you can see in the Linked Domains report in Ahrefs’ Site Explorer, they link to over 280,000 websites with a followed link. So how much of an impact would a link from nytimes.com have on a website? Well, it depends. But to give you a better picture, this website only has one link in total, and it’s from The New York Times.
And it has a DR score of just 2. And remember, DR runs on a logarithmic scale. So if you had a DR 70 site, that link may not visibly impact your Domain Rating. Now, let’s compare that to a site like IMDB, which has a DR of 93. According to the Linked Domains report in Site Explorer, they only link out to around 5,000 websites with a followed link.
Now, if we look at this domain which has just a single referring domain from IMDB and no other websites, you’ll see the website has a DR score of 34.
So does that mean that the DR 34 site is more “authoritative” than the DR 2 site? Or that a link from IMDB is better than one from the New York Times? Definitely not! And this is exactly why I don’t recommend using Domain Rating scores as a standalone metric.
It’s not a good indicator of a website’s quality or legitimacy. It’s merely a measure of “link popularity.” Instead, it’s better if you combine DR with other metrics like domain-level traffic or URL rating, which estimates the overall strength of a page’s backlink profile. So what are the key takeaways here?
I’ll tell you as it is.
Don’t obsess over increasing your Domain Rating. Instead, focus on two things. #1. Build links to pages you want to rank. Again, Google ranks pages and not websites.
And if you want to rank your pages for popular or competitive topics, you’re going to need links. In fact, we found that the number of referring domains to a page is the strongest correlating backlink factor as far as rankings are concerned. So rather than building them to every page across your site, focus on the ones you care about most. And #2. Try to get links from authoritative and high-quality websites.
At the end of the day, you want to rank your pages high on Google. Who-Are You-Really? Say It With Professional, Top-Notch, Branded Content!
And the links that are going to move the needle are high-quality backlinks from relevant and authoritative pages. I won’t expand on these qualities right now because we have a full video that outlines the characteristics of high-quality backlinks, which I’ve linked up in the description. Now, if you focus on these two things, which were to build links to pages you want to rank and to get links from authoritative sources, the byproduct is going to be higher Google rankings and an increase in your Domain Rating.
And we have a ton of step-by-step tutorials on how to build links to your website, so I highly recommend checking out our link-building playlist. Who-Are You-Really? Say It With Professional, Top-Notch, Branded Content!
And if you enjoyed this video, make sure to like, share, and subscribe for more actionable SEO and marketing tutorials. I’ll see you at the next one.