If you’ve read anything about Search Engine Optimization (SEO), you already know that it’s essential to increase your domain authority. But how do you do that? And what, exactly, is domain authority?
It all started with PageRank, a Google measurement, or metric, dating back to 1997. PageRank is based on the number of links to a page, and the quality of the pages doing the linking. It was the thing that set Google apart from previous search engines, and for its time, it was revolutionary.
In 2000, Google introduced a toolbar for Internet Explorer that made it easier for Explorer users to search Google. The toolbar also displayed the Google PageRank for every page you visited, which was fine until spammers started using it to decide which sites were the best places to drop link spam.
It was the explosion of link spam that forced Google to remove public PageRank scores and endorse the “nofollow” tag. Using nofollow allowed website owners to negate the benefit of link spam. Apparently, though, no one sent spammers the memo, since you still see link spam in blog comments and forums.
Google’s PageRank is still a part of their overall algorithm, but it’s only one “signal” of hundreds used. It’s just not displayed publicly.
What Does All That Have to Do With Domain Authority?
The reality is, domain authority is a concept. But PageRank gave a mathematically calculated value, or score, to that concept.
When PageRank disappeared, SEO companies needed something they could point to in order to show results. They needed a score. A lot of companies created ranking tools, but Moz introduced a Domain Authority tool that has become the standard.
No one knows all the ingredients of Google’s algorithm, so domain authority tools are predictors. They make estimates based on observation (which is the basis of most SEO). But because they rank every site the same way, they are valuable comparison tools.
Before we go any further, I’d like to point out a couple of things to keep in mind.
Don’t Sweat Your Domain Authority Score
This is an article about domain authority, and you’ll learn how to find your own site’s domain authority score. But don’t put too much stock into that number.
Use it as a baseline to determine if your efforts to increase domain authority are paying off. But don’t assume a low or average domain authority score means your site will never rank highly.
Case in point: Here are the Moz Domain Authority results for one of my websites.
Look at that domain authority. It sits at 55, right around the middle. Average. Not so great, is it?
But that site—with its mid-range 55 domain authority—ranks second (behind only Wikipedia) for a search term with 19 million results. For a related keyword with 24 million results, the site ranks third.
You don’t need an unrealistically high domain authority score to get your site onto the first page of search results.
Wikipedia’s domain authority is 93, and I slid my lowly 55 in right after it. You can see a lot of similar examples out there, and you can do the same thing.
The point being, don’t focus on the number. Use it as a general gauge when you make SEO changes.
The second thing that I want you to remember may be even more important.
Don’t Optimize the Life Out of Your Website
There are a lot of moving parts to SEO and the quest for domain authority. Trying to implement every “best practice” that you read about can quickly become confusing and complicate your pages.
Sometimes, I’ll come across a site that seems to have received some questionable advice on how to build domain authority. You know the kind of website I’m talking about.
It reads as if robots or aliens wrote it.
Every sentence is five words.
Every sentence is a new paragraph.
The KEYWORDS jump off the page at you.
Because the KEYWORDS are repeated more often than KEYWORDS should be (KEYWORDS) repeated.
It’s nearly impossible to gain anything from a site like that. It’s impossible even to understand many of them. But that’s because they weren’t written for you or me, or humans, period. They were written for search engines.
You can’t blame the owners of those sites for making an effort. They are trying to do everything they can to make their website stand out. Something everyone reading this article (and the person writing it) is trying to do.
Ironically though, a page written for the sole purpose of ranking in Google is not what Google is looking for.
Google is looking for one primary thing above all else, relevance. Yes, it uses hundreds of indicators to determine relevance, and knowing what some of those things are can help you. But relevance in search results is their only goal.
Well, okay, that and selling advertising.
All right, let’s get to the realistic ways to give your website authority a boost. These are all things you can do yourself. I’m not going to lie, they’re not all easy to do, and getting a positive result can take time. But if it were easy, everyone would do it, right?
Where’s the sport in that?
1. Fine Tune Your On-Page SEO
You control what’s on your pages, so you can make any necessary changes. But what are those necessary changes?
- You want to optimize your page titles and meta descriptions. If you only have time to do one thing to your site, this should be the thing. A proper meta description can boost a page’s search ranking significantly. But nearly 30% of websites use duplicate descriptions, and 25% have pages without any meta description. If that’s a problem on your site, fix it before you do anything else.
- Use the correct headings (h1, h2, etc.) in your articles.
- Optimize your images and other media.
- Research keywords for your site and use them naturally in your articles.
- Look for opportunities to create internal links to your content. You may have never considered linking your site to itself, but it’s an effective way to improve domain authority.
- Format your articles in a way that improves your chances of appearing in Google’s featured snippets.
- Keep your site content fresh. Post new content on a regular schedule, and update older articles.
2. Do Everything You Can to Improve Your Off-Page SEO
You don’t control what’s on the pages that link to your site, so making changes is a bit more challenging. But the quality of the websites that link to you affect your domain authority, so it’s worth the effort.
It’s called your link profile, and there are some ways to improve it.
A good link profile results from incoming links from authoritative websites, preferably sites that cover subjects similar to your site. Your link profile will also benefit if the links come from many unique domains. Good links help, low-quality links hurt.
You can identify low-quality links using tools like Semrush. Most SEO experts will tell you to talk to the owners of the sites the bad links are coming from to try to get them removed or tagged with “nofollow.”
In most cases, though, trying to reason with a spam site owner will be a frustrating waste of your time. When I find links from really spammy or low-quality sites, I go straight to the nuclear option—otherwise known as the Google disavow tool.
The tool removes bad links from your link profile, and that can improve your search results ranking. The disavow tool is part of Webmaster Tools, so you’ll have to be logged in there to use it.
Another way to improve your off-page SEO is to get links from high-quality sites in your particular niche. You can wait for them to find your website, or you can reach out to them.
Of course, I’m not going to advise you to wait. Reach out to high profile sites in your niche and let them know that you have quality articles. Be friendly, do your research, and politely suggest that they might link to your article(s).
Make sure you’re approaching sites that are related to what you do. And make sure you’re suggesting articles from your site that are relevant to them. That’s the “research” part. It takes time, but a handful of links from high-quality sites can do wonders for your authority.
3. Address Technical SEO Issues
Technical SEO tasks are basic configuration things that should be done when a website is launched. We don’t always check all the basics off our lists, though, so it’s good to review them from time to time.
- Register your site with Google Search Console. To cover all the bases, you might also want to register with Bing Webmaster tools.
- Make sure you generate an XML sitemap (and submit it to Google). I use a PHP script from XML-Sitemaps, but there are free sitemap generators that will work fine for smaller sites. If your website runs on WordPress, you have a lot of sitemap plugin options.
- Check your robots.txt file. It’s easy to overlook this one. It’s common to block Google from crawling your domain during website development. Double-check robots.txt to make sure that’s not happening.
- Make sure your website uses HTTPS. This used to be optional, but now it should be mandatory. Most sites can use a free SSL certificate from Let’s Encrypt, so there’s no excuse not to use HTTPS.
- Add structured data (schema) information wherever possible. I’m a big fan of using structured data. But if you’ve built a site from scratch, it can require a good deal of research to learn how to do it properly. If your site uses WordPress, though, you can implement structured data easily with a plugin.
4. Make Your Website Mobile-Friendly
Websites have come full circle. We started on small computer screens, and gradually moved to larger and larger monitors. Now we have to accommodate even smaller screens than we started with – mobile devices.
The odds are mobile devices are at least half of your traffic, so a mobile-friendly website is more important than ever.
If you lack a responsive or mobile-friendly version of your site, Google will notice, and your domain authority will suffer. It’s not the most effortless domain authority adjustment to make, but it’s now among the most important.
5. Improve Your Page Load Speed
This is probably the method that will take the most time to work on, but the payoff can be huge. One of the factors in the Google algorithm is page loading speed.
Website pages can be slowed down by a million different things, some obvious, some not. The best way to analyze your site is with one of Google’s tools. Lighthouse or PageSpeed Insights.
They’re separate tools, but PageSpeed Insights uses parts of Lighthouse, so it just comes down to which you prefer. Get to know one of them, and take advantage of their reports to improve your site performance. Like having a mobile-friendly site, page speed has become a significant factor in your domain authority.
6. Check Your Site for Relevance
Your site began its life with a purpose. It was built around a topic you’re interested in or (even better) have some expertise. But after a site has been around for a while, it can start to stray from its mission. Think about the niche your website exists in and evaluate your content to make sure you’re still on track.
There are a few examples of great sites that started as one thing and then morphed into something else. Did you know that Twitter was originally a podcast discovery app? Or that Instagram began its life as a check-in app?
But examples like those are few and far between. Take a close look at your site’s original purpose and make sure you haven’t veered too far off course.
Google likes relevance; I may have mentioned that (and I may mention it again). An article about an awesome slow cooker recipe on your gaming site lacks relevance in the gaming niche.
7. Amp Up Your Social Signals
Social signals are social media interactions. Someone Tweeting your URL or sharing one of your social media posts. Google has said that social signals are not a factor in their algorithm. Yet the top ranking sites in Google seem to have no shortage of shares, likes, Tweets, etc.
Those things could be, as Google suggests, unrelated. But it’s clear that the top-ranked sites in Google search have strong social signals.
And even if upping your social game doesn’t boost domain authority, it will certainly help draw people to your site. If you don’t have accounts for your website on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, start them now. And add social sharing buttons to your articles.
8. The Moz Domain Authority Tool
We’ve talked about how to increase domain ranking, now let’s see how we can measure the effectiveness of our work. We’re going to use the Moz Domain Authority tool. There’s a quick, free tool on their site that will show your domain authority score.
But their Link Explorer will give you more details. You’ll be asked to create a Moz account to use it, but it’s free for ten lookups a month. If you find yourself using it more often, a paid “Pro” plan is available. It’s a pricey service, but it does a lot more than what we’re talking about here.
When you open a Moz account, you can also use the Moz toolbar Chrome browser extension. That will display the Moz Domain Authority score for every site that you visit. (Those scores don’t count against your ten Link Explorer lookups per month.)
When you look up your site using the Link Explorer, you’ll get a lot of valuable information. We’re going to focus on the numbers at the top, Domain Authority, Linking Domains, Inbound Links, and Ranking Keywords.
Remember that this domain score is an estimate of a site’s expected performance in Google search results. The more you can increase it, the greater your expected performance should be. It’s good to use it as a baseline to measure the effectiveness of your domain authority efforts.
Note that the Domain Authority score changes from time to time, even when you’re not trying to make it change. It’s also a logarithmic scale. So it’s easier to raise the score from 10 to 20 than it is to raise it from 80 to 90. The higher the Domain Authority, the more difficult it is to change.
This is the number of other domains that have pages that link to your site. We talked about ways to increase the number of linking domains, and here’s where you can see those results.
This is the number of pages that link to your site. Multiple links from a single page are counted as one Inbound Link. One Linking Domain can contain numerous pages that link to your site. That’s why this number is usually much larger than the Linking Domains number.
This is the number of keywords on your site that rank in the top 50 positions on Google. That’s the first five pages of search results. It’s a great list to consult to strengthen your keyword game.
Ranking for a keyword in the first 50 results is a good thing. It means you have a better chance of getting to the coveted first page of results for that particular keyword.
Using the Moz Domain Authority tool doesn’t increase your domain authority. But without some way to gauge your SEO effort results, you won’t know how well any of it works. That makes it an essential part of your domain authority strategy.
The late Tom Petty sang, “the waiting is the hardest part,” and that’s a universally true statement of fact. But patience is an especially important ingredient in your attempts to boost your domain authority.
Some SEO improvements you can make could conceivably increase domain authority in a matter of weeks. Others—most, if we’re honest with ourselves—take longer. Waiting to see results is no fun, but if we don’t, we risk undoing something that might have worked.
And there’s really no way to determine whether what we do is effective if we’re constantly changing and rearranging. “Did that thing I just change cause this jump or was it the thing before that (or the thing before that)?”
So make your improvements and be patient.
I wish I could tell you exactly how long to wait for various changes to bear fruit, but I can’t. It once took months to recover the traffic I lost when I made a mistake while changing the theme for a WordPress site. It was a minor oversight, quickly caught and fixed, but it took a long time to get that traffic back.
The Bottom Line
All of the methods we’ve discussed are valid and realistic ways to increase domain authority. A site that doesn’t take any SEO steps is rarely going to get noticed. So, of course, you should implement as many SEO tactics as you can.
I’ve written on more than one occasion about various ways to grow a successful blog. And a lot of those articles repeat the same advice. That is to create something of value.
To build a site that benefits a group of people.
If you can do that with sincere, but SEO-smart, content, domain authority will follow. Because that, more than anything, is what Google—and every other search engine—values.