January 3, 2023 (Updated: August 31, 2023)
When Google first developed PageRank as an SEO ranking factor, the numerical metric for any website was available for the world to see. You could learn more about how Google saw your website in terms of how the service ranked content.
Over time, though, black-hat tactics and other shady practices led Google to stop sharing the PageRank of sites publicly. But it still used the ranking internally to inform another SEO metric: domain authority (DA). Today, we’re looking at how your domain authority history affects your ranking performance and what to do to improve it.
Historic domain authority is a list or collection of past DA scores for any website. Each listing for your historic DA appears as a number from one to 100 and gives insight into how well your site could rank for its primary topics and keywords at a point in time. The higher the score, the better your chance of ranking on Google and other search engines over time.
Historically, most DA tools update your score every month, somewhere between every three and four weeks. This range isn’t set in stone. You can’t check at 12:01 a.m. on the first of every month and see your updated DA score. Sometimes, your DA score might not even update from month to month if there’s no change. The updates also depend on the program you use and how long it takes that program to collect new information.
There has been chatter in Moz forums that its program is starting to roll out real-time updates for DA. This means that as soon as your DA changes for any reason — such as gaining a backlink or improving other SEO ranking factors — you could see a change when checking your DA through the service. The timing of your DA updates matters because they influence how much data you can collect about your past performance and when. But checking your scores monthly should provide accurate enough information to influence the goals you set and your strategy development for any project.
If your domain authority updates roughly every month, then why does it matter what it was in the past? Shouldn’t the current ranking matter more when planning a content strategy? While your current DA ranking tells you the potential your site has to rank on search engines right now, it doesn’t give you the full picture of your SEO progress. For example, if your website’s current DA score is 55, you might think that’s pretty good. Especially if your closest competitors have similar rankings.
But if you don’t track your DA history, you might not know that your score used to be 60 and your site somehow slipped in the rankings. On the flip side, maybe your past rankings were in the 30s and 40s and you’ve actually improved your DA score by a big margin over time. If you’re not tracking your domain authority history, though, then you’re missing key data. And this data can help you better understand the way your site works and how well your content resonates with your audience.
Domain authority is not a direct or official Google ranking factor. Although it’s a good predictive metric for how your site might rank on search engines, it doesn’t guarantee you will. DA scores are relative to the rankings of other sites that try to grab search engine positioning for the same topics or keywords.
Image via Search Engine Journal
Think of this example: a website with a DA score of 80 might not rank on the first page of search results if competing domains have average scores of 85 or 90. Alternatively, a site with a DA of 40 could rank in the top spot if its closest competitors have an average score of 30 or 35. However, Search Engine Journal speculates that domain history is probably a ranking factor when determining how your site performs on search engines.
But “probably” isn’t a guarantee. Google has never stated that domain history directly affects ranking in search. That said, if your domain isn’t new and it has a history attached, the actions of the previous owner could carry penalties that impact how your new site can rank. But since DA itself isn’t a Google ranking factor, your historic DA profile metrics also don’t directly affect how your content ranks on search engines. Instead, you can use these numbers as an internal barometer to determine if and how you’re making progress in improving your SEO.
When was the last time you ran an SEO and content gap analysis? Having this data is extremely valuable for identifying keyword and topical gaps that you may have in your content strategy. These gaps are topics that your content doesn’t cover and that your target audiences want to see. Use your analysis to pinpoint these same gaps between your organic competitors and apply this insight to your campaign plans to reach more audiences, connect with more customers, and prove the value of your content and SEO efforts.
Even though your DA score updates regularly, you can still track your historic domain authority in a few different ways. The easiest way to track your historic DA is by using a third-party service that specializes in recording domain authority and providing reports or listings for that data over time. We suggest some of these tools in the next section. In the interest of time and collecting the most accurate comparative data, this is likely your best option for tracking your historic DA. Though, to get the data, you often have to subscribe to a paid service.
Another option for tracking your historic domain authority is to do it manually. This would require a member of your team to check your domain’s authority regularly, such as monthly, weekly, or even daily. Then, you’d create a document, database, or spreadsheet to collect the data and save it over time. After a few checks, you’ll start to build a historic DA repository that you can refer to when checking your website and content progress.
Depending on how much data you want to collect, the manual method may be more beneficial than relying on a third-party service. We’ll discuss the pros and cons of these methods in a moment.
Plenty of websites and tools let you look back at the history of your domain authority. Moz developed the DA metric, so it’s a no-brainer that the company has a tool to check your current and past DA performance. Unfortunately, unlike checking your current DA score, you need a subscription to the service to check your history. For those with a subscription or access to a free trial, you can find the data through the “Link Research” tab in your Moz Pro dashboard. Review your DA monthly fluctuations for the past year in the “Metrics over time” graph.
Website SEO Checker is a free tool that showed you a little over 30 months of past DA data. If you also have a SEMRush subscription, the results link back to that program to provide even more information about your domain history over time.
Some programs do allow you to check your DA and your competitors’ current DA score in bulk. The benefit of running this type of check on multiple websites at once is the comparison factor. For example, the Bulk Domain Authority & Page Authority Checker from SEO Review Tools allows you to review page authority, domain authority, and backlinks for up to 10 domains. It also reveals the average scores in each category for the domains you review.
When all this information appears on a single page, it makes it easier to understand the competition and your own domain authority history at a glance. While many bulk DA checkers may only check the current metrics, you can record these results or export them to a spreadsheet file and start compiling your own bulk DA reports.
When checking your DA history, look for the year-over-year data to get more relevant and accurate conclusions about your SEO performance. Alternatively, for specific content or optimization campaigns that run for less than a year, look at data just within the campaign window. Moz actually caps its historic DA data limit at the one-year range. If you’re using its tool to track your history scores, you won’t be able to get data older than a year.
That said, if you track your own DA frequently, track scores older than one year and use them for comparative metrics. But you’ll need to save this data on your company’s or personal drive or in the cloud because it’s not available through third-party tracking tools forever. Some programs, like Website SEO Checker, provide more historical data. But depending on how old your domain is, you may not be able to track data back to your site’s inception through an outside tool.
You can check your DA history at any time, but there are some specific instances where checking your DA numbers could help you avoid issues in your SEO and content marketing strategies. Always check a website’s current and past DA history:
Check the DA history of an expired domain before you buy it. Do this if you’re just starting your business or looking to expand your reach online through a new or secondary domain. The internet has been around for a long time now. There’s a good chance that even if the domain you want to purchase is available, someone has used it before and let it expire. The chances of you coming up with something brand new that’s never been used are slim.
So even though the domain would be brand new to your team, it might come with past baggage. Think of it like buying a used car. You wouldn’t buy one of those without a thorough inspection and a test drive, right? Think of the DA history check in the same way. This review allows you to see if there are any penalties against the domain. You can then determine how easy it might be to recover from them.
If the domain you have your eye on has too many issues, you may abandon it for a less problematic choice.
Checking the historic domain authority before and after you start a new campaign helps you understand the progress of your content and overall strategy for SEO ranking and positioning. Checking your current and recent DA rankings before you start the campaign gives you a baseline. It can also help support your content strategy goals for the campaign if increasing DA metrics is on your radar.
Running a DA history report after you’ve conducted a campaign shows how and when your scores changed. Saving the information from these checks also creates a backlog of data you can refer to in the future. Use both sets of data when starting your next campaign and compare to see if your latest efforts help or hurt your ranking potential.
Yes, the history of any domain extends far beyond just its DA score. We’ve already talked about SEO penalties and what they can do to your ranking potential. But there’s another factor that can tank your website performance. It has less to do with metrics and numbers that search engines track. Your audience, the people who signal to Google whether your site is top-quality and informative, may have negative experiences with past domains. Whether it’s from an old business or a spammy site, that domain’s history follows your new site around the internet.
Think about that used car again. Let’s say you buy a car that was involved in a hit-and-run. But you didn’t know that when you bought it. The authorities arrive at your door to question you, but you can’t provide solid evidence that proves you didn’t commit the hit-and-run. You own the car, after all. The same thing can happen with older domains. Past penalties, old reviews, and spammy practices can follow an old domain attached to your new site when people look for information online.
You have to prove that your brand had nothing to do with the domain’s past drama. Or you might decide it’s better to pick a different domain altogether. Here are few ways to check if your domain has a shady history:
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