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Over the past decade, I have experienced and navigated dozens of Google updates and led SEO operations for many leading brands. Throughout his SEO career of mine, no ranking factor has been more debated than backlinks. The mystique surrounding backlinks has led many to believe that a high Domain Authority (DA) is all you need to be competitive on search engines.
This has led many SEOs to use DA or Domain Ranking (DR) as a primary factor in search engine ranking. Backlinks are one of the most important ranking factors for search engines, and while they are hard to come by, they are not the only factor that determines your ranking.
In this post, I’ll try to explain some common fallacies and misconceptions about domain authority and explain why ranking for a particular keyword isn’t enough.
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What is Domain Ranking/Domain Authority?
Before diving into all the intricacies, it’s important to understand what domain ranking is. Domain ranking, also known as domain authority, is a metric that indicates a site’s authority. More specifically, it’s an estimate of the site’s credibility based on the number/quality of backlinks.Backlinks are a very powerful ranking factor in search engines and a site’s domain authority helps show how much authority a site has.
According to Ahrefs, domain ranking is an indicator of the relative strength of a website’s backlink profile. According to Moz, domain authority is a search engine ranking score that indicates a site’s likelihood of ranking in her SERPs on search engine result pages. Ahrefs’ DR ranking and Moz’s DA ranking are his two most popular ways to quantify domain authority. DR and DA give sites a ranking from 0 to 100. The higher this number, the more trustworthy the site.
To give you some context, here are the DR and DA rankings of some well-known sites.
HubSpot.com (DA 93, DR 93)
Nintendo.com (DA91, DR89)
Porsche.com (DA88, DR86)
Mistake #1: High Domain Authority Ensures You Outperform Your Competitors
One of the most common misconceptions about SEO is that high domain authority can quickly outperform your competitors. As soon as you look at the SERP results, it’s pretty easy to guess that sites with high DA rank higher than sites with low DA. In most cases, correlation and causation do not match. The reason many high DR sites still outperform others is because, in addition to link building, they do all the other on-page SEO and technical work. If it’s slow, it doesn’t matter if your domain authority is high.
Here’s a great example to demonstrate this: Below are metrics for the top five sites ranked for the keyword “email marketing agency” on Ahrefs.
Site 1: Clutch.co: DR 89, UR 20
Site 2: Soapmedia.co.uk: DR 59, UR 18
Site 3: Thebrainsmakreting.co.uk: DR 47, UR 13
Site 4: Digivate.com: DR 45, UR 15
Site 5: Digitalagencynetwork.com: DR 76, UR 13
Although Clutch.co outperforms the others, we can see that the high DR site ranks higher than the low DR site. This is normal, as there are other reasons why your site ranks so high. If you look at the SERP results and click on a specific blog post, you will see that the higher ranked posts have more content and optimized his SEO on the page. Most other keywords will give similar results. This is because having a high domain authority does not necessarily mean your site will rank higher than your competitors.
Related: 3 Ways to Rank Your Content Better on Google
Fallacy #2: You Can Rank for Competing Keywords Without Topic Expertise
If you have a site with a high DA and write a single blog post for your primary keyword, your chances of ranking competitively are slim. It’s easy to rank low search volume, uncompetitive content, but you won’t notice any noticeable change in that traffic. To rank for competitive keywords, your site needs to show Google that it’s an expert on a particular topic. To do this, you need to develop a library of topic-related content. Without this, you’ll be beaten by sites with better, more content covering your niche.
A good example of this is a site like Marketwatch.com that tries to rank for keywords like “rhinoceros gestation period”. Marketwatch.com has a high DR (93), but it doesn’t rank for this keyword because it doesn’t have anything related to rhinos. Looking at the top results for this keyword, you’ll see tour sites and animal sites that have been publishing content for years.
You can apply topic relevance to difficult keywords such as ‘best VPN’ or ‘best CRM’. In general, the harder the parent keyword to rank for, the more supporting blog posts you will need to build topical relevance and ultimately rank for all keywords.
Fallacy #3: Higher DA Can Compensate for Poor Content
Another dangerous practice of some authoritative sites is skimming content. A site with a high DA may get more impressions and clicks on search engines, but readers will bounce quickly if the content is poor. A high domain authority won’t accomplish anything if your site isn’t accurately capturing searcher intent and optimizing for on-page SEO. Most content teams understand this, but few fully understand what poor content is. Understanding this is essential to prevent your site from falling into the low-quality content trap.
Examples of inappropriate content include:
thin content: Low quality content is the most common form of low quality content. There are places for thin content (such as definitions), but most of the time you want to create more detailed content. If you’re writing about key keywords (e.g. “what is content marketing?”), your content should be at least 1,000 words. A good litmus test is to view the top ranking pages for a keyword and compare word counts. If most of them are over 1,000 words, you know you need to create something similar.
Content that is regurgitating from other sources: A common criticism of SEO is that many sites on the SERPs are regurgitating the same content. Content with the same header, same format, same idea as other sites is classified as backflow content. If you take content from other sources, be sure to cite them, reconstruct them, and add your own perspective.
poorly written content: A sign of bad content is poorly written content. This includes AI-spun content, grammatically incorrect content, and hard-to-read content. If readers land on your page and the writing is hard to read and unnatural, it’s bad writing.
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Avoiding these types of content on your site will help improve the quality of your writing and increase your chances of ranking in the SERPs, regardless of your domain authority. We use sophisticated internal checklists and software to ensure your writing is up to standard. You can create and use similar processes for content manipulation.
As some of the examples above show, domain authority is not the only ranking factor in SEO. Backlinks are a very important part of her SEO, but it’s not enough with little to no effort in content and site optimization. If you’re trying to rank for a specific keyword, don’t just rely on backlinks, do the best you can. Make sure your site is fully optimized, has enough content to cover your topic, and is of high quality. By continuing to invest in all aspects of SEO, you can do your best to rank higher for your desired keywords.