Domain authority is an SEO score that predicts how likely it is that your website appears on a search engine results page (SERP). Strategy experts use this metric to determine if your brand is getting the kind of organic reach it wants, or if you can improve company visibility and trust online. Backlinks are one of the biggest SEO influencers in terms of determining which sites have the most authority and which ones Google should recommend in search. Today, we’re looking at exactly how backlinks affect domain authority and what the relationship means for your SEO and strategy efforts:
Image via Backlinko
Backlinks, also called inbound links, are hyperlink connections between your website and a different domain online. When another website links to your content or a page hosted on your site, your domain receives a backlink. The collection of all your backlinks is called your domain’s backlink profile. You can use your backlink profile to better understand the state of your website’s SEO. Google uses your backlink profile as one factor to determine which sites should rank highest in search results.
Related: Types of Authoritative Backlinks
Backlinks matter for your SEO because Google and other search engines view backlinks to your content as votes for its accuracy and authority. That’s because you only link to other sites you find interesting, educational, or helpful. The more backlinks your domain or content receives, the more relevant and authoritative Google and other search engines think your site is. In the first days of SEO, the number of backlinks was all that mattered for search rankings. If you had more backlinks than the next site, yours ranked higher in search results for any given keyword.
Eventually, Google saw how that strategy became problematic. Black hat link-building schemes popped up where people could buy more backlinks to rank better on search instead of doing work to get there organically. Google came up with backlink guidelines to thwart these kinds of practices and expanded its ranking signals to include other factors beyond a domain’s number of links. These new strategies paved the way for domain authority as a metric. It uses up to 40 SEO signals to calculate your score and ranking potential. Aside from the number of backlinks, it looks at:
While backlinks matter for your domain authority, they are just one factor that affects your score and credibility. They’re not the only things you should be concerned with when trying to improve your SEO.
Since a domain authority score uses multiple signals to calculate your ranking potential on search engines, backlinks are only one piece of the puzzle you need to consider when trying to analyze or boost your DA score. High-quality relevant backlinks are going to affect your DA score for the better. Low-quality, spammy, and irrelevant backlinks will affect your backlink score for the worse.
Again, remember that your DA score is just a predictive SEO metric. You don’t need a perfect score of 100 to rank on a search engine results page. It’s important to review your competitors’ DA scores to find out what a good score is in your niche. Reviewing competitors’ scores may also give you insight into their backlink profiles. Analyzing your competitors’ backlink profiles can tell you how many quality backlinks you need to earn to pull ahead, raise your DA score, and potentially rank higher in search.
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Because it’s not 1999 anymore, all backlinks aren’t created equal. Engaging in shady backlink practices can earn you penalties from Google. These penalties hurt your SEO. They also decrease your domain authority and your ranking potential. When assessing your backlink profile and working to get the right links to your content, here are the criteria that help your authority:
The positioning of a link on the page actually affects its value to Google. Search engines consider the first external link on any page the most valuable. They get more “backlink powers” in Google’s eyes than the rest of the external links on a page. Though you can’t tell other sites how or where to link your content, you can work with your guest posting partners or other content connections to ensure that the right links appear in the right places within the content on their domains.
Besides link location, the number of links on a page also affects a backlink’s strength. The more links on a page, the fewer “backlink powers” each one has. If your domain is the only one linked on a page, you’re going to get more SEO benefits than if it appears on a page with 20 other links. This is something to consider when developing content and what kinds of sites you want to link to yours.
For example, if you’re selling a product, you likely don’t want yours to be number 20 on a recommended list of similar products. You won’t get much SEO value from that link. But if you can work with a guest posting partner to feature your product in its own blog post? You’ll get more SEO benefits from an article that only links to your site and content.
Inbound links enter your site in two forms: dofollow and nofollow. Dofollow links are general backlinks, just as we’ve described above. Nofollow links have a special tag in the HTML that tells Google and other search engines not to give your site SEO credit for this link. Developers often use nofollow links when sharing competitor content or linking out to potentially spammy websites. Nofollow links aren’t a complete waste of your SEO time, but dofollow links are better. They’re the ones that help increase your brand visibility online and generate website traffic from organic searches.
Related: Nofollow Links: The Complete Guide
Though domain authority and page authority as ranking factors don’t actually affect your search engine positioning, they can influence the quality of your backlinks. When a site that has a higher domain or page authority links to your website, Google and other search engines assume your site is more trustworthy or authoritative too.
It’s a bit like when the team captain in gym class picks people for the kickball team. They pick the best players first. The captain is the authority and their vote of confidence in that person increases their status in gym class. The last kid picked gains nothing.
Related: Domain Rating vs Domain Authority
The domain authority of the linking website isn’t the only quality metric you need to consider. The quality of every other backlink on the referring domain also affects your SEO potential. It might not sound fair, but you already know the links you choose and the connections you make online influence your authority. If sites that give you backlinks associate their content with spammy sites, that affects the entire link chain. Therefore, it’s important to review your backlink profile regularly to make sure you don’t need to disavow links from sites with slipping authority.
Link relevancy also affects your backlinks and domain authority. Backlinks relevant to your content are more helpful and of better quality than links that have nothing to do with your topic. This is another factor in the link quality-versus-quantity debate. You’re not looking to amass a huge backlink profile if the links leading to your site don’t help the audience on the other site.
For example, if you write an article about how to replace a laptop battery, it wouldn’t make sense for a fashion blog to link to your content. Google wouldn’t consider this a relevant backlink, so it would bring your site less value. If a tech repair company linked to your blog post though, Google would find that backlink relevant and it may help your SEO.
Anchor text is the highlighted, clickable words that appear over a link in the content. The anchor text other sites use when linking to yours also affects your SEO. We’ve already discussed the relevancy of links and their effect on domain authority. The anchor text is another layer to that. When the anchor text applies to the topic, it tells readers more about where they’ll go if they click the link.
Descriptive anchor text makes it easier for readers to trust a link, which increases the likelihood that they’ll click on it and move from one domain to another, or to another internal page. Good anchor text also helps search engine bots and crawlers better understand the context of a link and the information on the other side.
If you’re looking for ways to increase your domain authority within any niche, developing a solid backlink strategy can help. Here are three ways you can earn more quality backlinks to increase your search engine ranking potential:
High-quality content is going to get more links than low-quality content every time. When you develop content people want to read and explore, you get more traffic. More traffic means more sharing opportunities. More sharing opportunities lead to a larger, better-curated backlink profile.
Though social media performance isn’t a direct Google ranking factor, circulating content on those platforms can help your domain authority. Encouraging your audience to share content on social media helps get more eyes on your pieces and your brand. The more places your content shows up, the better chance you have of others finding it and linking to it on reputable websites.
Sometimes other companies, bloggers, or audience members may mention your brand in content without linking to it. Through social listening, you can find these mentions online. Then you can assess if the mentions appear on high-quality websites with good domain authority. If they do, you can contact the site owners and ask them to add a backlink to your mention.
Most programs that allow you to check your domain authority online also have components that let you check your backlinks or referring domains, too. The Moz Domain Authority Checker gives both your DA score and the number of linking root domains associated with your site.
The advantage of the Ahrefs program is that you can see a sampling of your backlink profile for free. Each listing shows you the:
As with any tool, though, paid programs can tell you more about domain authority and your backlink profile than free ones.
The more authority your website and content have in a niche, the more trust your audience puts in your brand. The best way to entice other quality organizations to link to your site is through content marketing. When you share helpful, fact-checked information, other organizations take notice. Brand recognition is one of the first steps to thought leadership and niche authority. Take advantage of it by planning a sound content strategy and watch the new traffic pour in.
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