Can You Trust the Site Authority Metric?
Vanity metrics can be really effective at either making you feel good or making you feel bad about a website’s performance. And, depending on how these metrics are calculated, they may or may not be based on meaningful factors for your website.
More than one SEO platform offers a site authority type of metric that attempts to tell you how good or bad your website is compared to others like it, or over a period of time.
Domain Authority (DA) is one such metric offered by Moz. Semrush has an Authority Score as well.
For users of platforms like these, it can be a handy metric at first glance and is certainly a well-liked feature. There is nothing wrong with these metrics, per se, and it’s clear a lot of thought has gone into creating them.
However, too many people mistakenly believe that search engines like Google value these metrics. They try and try to improve their DA or other site authority score, thinking that doing so will boost their rankings in search. If that’s you, let me save you some time: Google does not use DA or any other third-party metric in its algorithms.
As with any data point you might glean from analytics, wisdom must be applied.
And there’s always more to the story.
The Story behind a Site Authority Metric
There is a long history behind the idea of a single site authority metric. This Search Engine Journal article does a good job of chronicling it, so I can just summarize it here.
Basically, years and years ago (from 1999 on), hypotheses began to form about some overall site authority measurement that Google might use for ranking. This idea became associated with Google’s PageRank.
As Barry Schwartz pointed out in the SEJ article, the concept of a domain authority metric is useful to SEOs only “as a catch-all for all the quality signals that Google uses.” It’s based on the tool maker’s or SEO’s best understanding of what determines overall website quality. But it isn’t a Google formula, and it definitely isn’t a ranking signal.
Let me explain …
First, the SEO tools that use these metrics have developed a set of factors that they believe can impact a website’s ability to rank, based on industry knowledge and occasional folk tales.
However, there are hundreds of factors in Google’s actual algorithms, which may or may not coincide with the SEO platform’s assessment of what it takes to rank or what is considered quality. (And Google is constantly tweaking those factors.)
Some people also may not understand that the Domain Authority metric does not come from Google, nor does Google use it in any ranking algorithms. It’s simply a feature of some SEO tools out there.
Google’s John Mueller had a cheeky response to a Reddit thread in which the user asked if domain authority existed:
The Truth about Google and Site Authority
Of course, Google does have a collection of factors it uses to determine the authority and quality of a website and its webpages. But it has never been confirmed that there is a single site authority metric that Google uses.
Instead, when it comes to the authority of a website, Google outlines several factors it takes into account in its Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines:
1. The authority of the content creator
2. The authority of the content itself
3. The authority of the website as a whole
Links and mentions are very likely to be a part of this, but maybe not all.
Secondly and building on the first point, search is extremely complex. Search engines essentially apply a different algorithm to each search query, with different factors and weights based on the intent of the search.
It is far more important to understand how to compete and win (and how you are tracking) for each individual query you’re targeting than to get an arbitrary number related to how good or bad your website is as a whole.
(Related: What Is a Whole SERP SEO Strategy?)
You might wonder why I’m beating a dead horse, since Google representatives and others have repeatedly denied that the search engine uses DA or any other single metric for site authority.
The reason is that people continue to use this type of site authority score as a vanity metric for various use cases. For example, to sell links, to sell domains, or to try to pull the wool over someone’s eyes about their so-called services.
The problem is that it’s a made-up number that may or may not actually reflect the true quality of a website or its ability to rank.
So, the bottom line is: When reviewing performance reports, make sure you really understand the numbers you are looking at, what they actually mean and if they reflect true performance.
This is true for any report generated on a website from any analytics or SEO platform and especially true for a site authority metric.
Again, there is nothing wrong with SEO technology companies wanting to create metrics their users might like. It is how the users understand those metrics and take action on them that is important.
And, unfortunately, some metrics are just vanity metrics that don’t offer a true picture of performance or specific steps to take. That is where both discernment and SEO experience come into play.
Let us know how we can help you. If you’re interested in expert assistance with your website SEO, here’s where you can start the conversation.