A Flawed Metric

Why 'Domain Authority' is meaningless

I was recently browsing PR requests on Twitter, and I kept seeing lots of posts saying "DA must be xx." (The xx being a certain number, usually 20 and above.) I also kept seeing replies which said a little about the respondent. The replies all had one thing in common - they all ended with DAxx. This left me wondering what the hell they were all talking about! A quick Google later, I learned all about a metric known as 'Domain Authority'. Shortly after that I came to the conclusion that it is, if you'll indulge me for a moment, complete and utter crap. But why?

What is DA?

As you now know, DA stands for 'Domain Authority'. It is a metric invented by Moz, Inc., to predict how well a page will rank on a search engine - specifically Google. The higher a sites DA, the higher it is likely to rank. It looks at how many inbound links (that is, links pointing to the target site) a given site has. It also uses various other tools (owned by Moz, Inc.) to check the quality of the links, among other things. You can find full details on their website.

What is it used for?

As far as blogging goes (from what I can work out anyway...), it is used by companies that are looking for bloggers to test their products or services. The idea being that the higher your DA, the more likely people will see your review about their offering.

Why is it rubbish?

It only gives a rough idea of where a site might appear in Google's search engine results. Obviously the glaring issue with that is that Google isn't always brilliant at ranking pages, nor understanding the content within. The DA of thewaxpicture.com (for those who are interested) is currently 8.53 - which, I'm told, is about right for the size and age of my blog. This means that The Wax Picture should appear fairly (read: very) low in search results. But that depends upon what you search for. For example:

A google.co.uk search for the wax picture gives the Twitter account as the top hit:

The Facebook page is listed on the fourth page of Google's results. On the fifteenth page, there is a result for Foreign Policy Magazine - which has nothing to do with wax. For that result, Google highlights the word 'photo' as part of the search results...

As you can see, that particular result isn't exactly relevant. You may have also noticed that Google can't make up its mind about exactly how many results there are. On page one there are over 67 million, but on page 15 over 26 million results have gone missing.... Between the first and twentieth page (yes, I actually went that far!) there are results for The Gospel Coalition; a DIY guide on how to make your own face cream; and a reddit post about 'funny' dog pictures. There's also something about a scar that Carrie Underwood (?) has. I didn't go any further as I really couldn't be bothered to trawl through goodness knows how many pages to find my site!

Add the word blog to the end of the search, and things change:

Yes - numero uno! Oddly, this search also moves The Gospel Coalition up from the bottom of the eighteenth page, to the bottom of the first page... So you can see how the results vary wildly.

Another issue is that a lot of blogger's own understanding of it is limited. There are a lot of bloggers, both new and long-standing, who have no idea about how this metric is returned when they check for their site. It only applies to a primary domain. There are plenty of bloggers out there quoting their DA, when they technically do not have one. To demonstrate what I mean, here is a screenshot:

Notice the difference? In the image above the only relevant DA is the first one, for thewaxpicture.com. As you can see, the second two are actually the DA numbers for blogspot.com and blogspot.co.uk respectively. I frequently see many bloggers quoting a DA for their ???.blogspot.com subdomain. The subdomain is not ranked in anyway for DA purposes, so they're actually giving the blogspot DA! The only way to actually have a quotable DA is to have your own domain.

This creates a further problem when you encounter PR requests from people only interested in the DA - most of them do not understand it either. So you end up with a situation where you have two competing blogs with different DAs and, because they do not realise the subdomain situation, they pick the blogspot.com one, as it appears to have the highest number.

The biggest problem is that people sending out PR requests and asking for a DA are (perhaps unknowingly) supporting an organisation that has a vested financial interest in keeping this proprietary system alive as a metric. Now, one can understand the commercial perspective of this. A site owner sees their DA score and is not happy with it, and contacts Moz asking for SEO help to try to improve their score.

I'm confident I've demonstrated how flawed a metric it is, and why it should not be considered as the only metric used. In fact, my opinion is that it should be rather low down the list of metrics when finding a blogger to represent a brand.

What are the alternatives?

I advocate an holistic approach. Take other metrics, such as Google Analytics and Twitter Analytics, into account. Look at how a blog is engaging with it's target audience, at how frequently the writer publishes, the quality of the content, and plenty of other aspects.

As a brief example, based on the DA for this blog you'd (quite understandably) get the impression that nobody knows it exists. However, if you add Twitter Analytics into the mix, it tells a different story. The Wax Picture is currently averaging over 37,000 impressions a month since the start of this year. That paints a very different picture doesn't it...?

If anyone has an opinion of DA as a metric, or this post, feel free to comment below.

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