What Is Domain Rating in SEO?

Christy Walters


January 24, 2023 (Updated: May 4, 2023)

five yellow clay stars on pink and blue background to represent domain rating

Wouldn’t it be great if SEO and search ranking potential weren’t a guessing game? You’d always know where you stand to tell if you were climbing or slipping in search rankings. Unfortunately, SEO doesn’t work that way. But there are plenty of tools to help you stay on track with your optimization efforts. These help you create the best conditions to push your website and content to the top of Google. Today, we’re looking at one of these metrics called domain rating (DR) to see what it can tell you about your website’s search engine rankings and performance:

What Is Domain Rating?

Domain rating is a marketing metric that measures the strength of a website’s backlink profile. SEO software company Ahrefs invented the DR score as a way for marketers and SEO professionals to track a website’s backlinks. This tool adds to the company’s other main products that focus on keyword research, link building, and competitor analysis. A website can have a DR score in a range from zero to 100.

The score predicts the potential authority your domain has with Google and other search engines. Though it’s just an educated guess based on your website data, it’s still a useful metric to understand how well your site could perform on search engine results pages (SERPs).

Why Does Domain Rating Matter?

Finding your domain rating score matters for two important reasons. First, collecting as much data as you can about how your site performs online is a great marketing practice. Data doesn’t lie. Your team can interpret it differently or use it in different ways. But the numbers tell the truth. You can use a score like DR as an objective, unbiased look at how you and your team are doing your jobs.

Second, you can use that information to guide your content marketing and SEO strategies. When you have a benchmark of your current performance, it’s easier to decide where you want to go next. Two of the best ways to use data like your DR score include:

  • Benchmarking your website against competitors: If your competitors have a higher DR score than your website, they likely have better potential to rank in search. This information allows you to look more closely at what your competitors are doing with their sites and adjust yours accordingly.
  • Researching link prospects: In the age-old battle of quality vs. quantity of links, we now realize both factors affect your performance on SERPs. Using a metric like DR helps you analyze your backlink profile and get a clear picture of how many sites link to yours and which ones have the most authority.

Is Domain Rating the Same as Domain Authority?

Domain rating and domain authority (DA) are two different metrics that measure similar information about your content, website, and SEO. The biggest difference between the two is the influencing factors. While DR only tracks links, DA looks at up to 40 different SEO signals when calculating a score. When choosing which metric to track for any project, consider what information you want to know about your domain. If you’re working on increasing your backlink profile, DR is a good predictor tool. If you want to factor in other information like social signals or content quality, DA provides a better reading.

Related: Domain Rating vs Domain Authority: Which Is Better?

How Do Programs Calculate Domain Rating?

DR is a link-based metric. It doesn’t account for other SEO factors when calculating the domain score. As we mentioned, DR operates on a scale of zero to 100. But the scale is also logarithmic. In math terms, that means the scale helps you see a large amount of data in a condensed way. The calculation from one number to the next isn’t equidistant from the next or the last. The closer you get to the high end of the scale (think 50 and beyond) the bigger the gap between each number.

infographic of how the logarithmic scale works for domain rating vs domain authority

That means the higher your DR score, the harder it is to climb and reach the next level. You need more backlinks to get there than you did to reach your current ranking. All that said, Ahrefs explains how it calculates DR for any site in three simple steps:

  1. The program scans all domains that link to your site that have at least one dofollow link.
  2. The program looks at how many other domains that linking domain connects to, aside from yours.
  3. The program calculates what Ahrefs calls “link juice,” or how much influence you’re going to get from that link. This happens by dividing the DR score of the linking domain by the number of unique domains it connects to.

In this process, only the first link from a domain increases your site’s DR. That means if CopyPress linked to your website 10 times, you would only get credit from the first link to increase your site’s DR. But the “link juice” CopyPres shares with your domain changes based on how many other sites we link to over time.

Do Subdomains and Root Domains Have the Same DR?

If your website has subdomains you might wonder if your DR scores stay the same across all of them. For example, if we had a subdomain called webinars.copypress.com, would it have the same DR as our root domain? Root domains and subdomains won’t always have the same DR score. But if your company and web team control all subdomains that lead from the root, they’ll likely have the same, if not very similar DR scores.

The exceptions to this rule are web hosting sites like wordpress.com, Tumblr.com, and squarespace.com. Anybody can create their own website on these sites. And those domains aren’t directly affiliated with the host company. The root domain shouldn’t pass any “DR juice” to those subdomains. If your company uses subdomains, such as for a blog or a help center on your site, all the information relates back to the same parent company. In these cases, your subdomains do pull “DR juice” from the root because all properties fall under your brand’s control.

What Is a Good Domain Rating Score?

While most people would like a magic number DR score to aim for so they know their website has a good backlink profile, it doesn’t exist. Your domain rating is relative to other domains in your industry or niche that compete for the same traffic. They want to rank number one for the same keywords you do, or they appeal to the same audience segments. It’s more important to understand what a good domain rating score is in your niche, rather than with every website on the internet.

For example, a website with a DA score of 15 or 27 could rank on page one of SERPs for a popular keyword or topic. This would be most likely to happen in small niches with few competitors. In most cases, a DR score of zero means you’ve just purchased a brand-new, never-before-used domain. A low score could also mean your website needs a lot of work to get competitive with others operating in the same niche.

It’s difficult to receive a perfect score of 100 for DR. That is most often reserved for big-name domains like Facebook or Google. Most companies find their DR score falls between 20 and 80 on the scale. Spend additional time doing SEO research in your industry to find out what qualifies as a “good” score. If yours is in the same range or it’s higher than your competitors, your website is doing just fine.

Is Domain Rating a Direct Google Ranking Factor?

DR is not a direct Google ranking factor. It’s merely a number to help you predict the possibility of how your domain links appear in a SERP. The higher your score, the better chance your domain has of ranking closer to the top of your desired SERP. But it’s not a guarantee. Even though Google denies DR and domain authority as ranking factors, Ahrefs conducted a study to find if better DR scores correlated with the average number of keyword rankings for domains. They did.

graph showing domain rating vs. keyword ranking correlation

Image via Ahrefs

Websites with Dr scores between 50 and 90+ ranked for more keywords than those at the lower end of the scale. While this study showed correlations between the two data sets, you can’t prove the cause. We don’t know exactly why higher DR scores also have more keyword rankings in SERPs.

Remember, your score is relative to others in your niche competition for SERP positioning in the same industry or the same keywords. Because positioning fluctuates, even slightly, with every Google update, running a regular competitor analysis along with checking your DR score may help you better understand and predict how your site will rank compared to your rivals.

“CopyPress gives us the ability to work with more dealership groups. We are able to provide unique and fresh content for an ever growing customer base. We know that when we need an influx of content to keep our clients ahead of the game in the automotive landscape, CopyPress can handle these requests with ease.”

Kevin Doory

Director of SEO at Auto Revo

How Can you Check Your DR Score?

Ahrefs offers a free Website “Authority” Checker to help you find the DR of your domain. The company puts “Authority” in quotations because even though its program tracks domain ranking, most people still consider this metric “domain authority.” To use the program, copy and paste your website’s URL into the search box and click the button to receive your data. Free programs often have limitations for users. For example, it might limit you to so many searches per day. If you want access to more in-depth features and unlimited checks, you can subscribe to the Ahrefs premium service.

While we recommend using the Ahrefs tool since the company pioneered the DR metric, other companies also provide checking tools such as SmallSEOTools, which allows you to check domains in bulk. Dupli Checker is another semi-bulk review program that allows you to look at the DR of up to five URLs at a time. Each program likely uses a slightly different algorithm to calculate your score. Don’t be surprised if you find variations by using multiple tools to check your score.

5 Ways To Increase Your Domain Rating Score

Even though your DR score is not a direct ranking factor, improving your score shows that you’re doing the right work to gain better positioning in your industry or niche online. When you see an improvement in your score, you can assume that your SEO and ranking potential are getting better. Here are a few ways you can increase your score and your chances of ranking better in search:

1. Work on Your Backlink Strategy

Since DR is a link-based metric, the best way to increase your score is to increase your backlinks. Doing this the right way comes from developing a strong, white-hat link-building and content marketing strategy. Find ways to increase your dofollow links from top-quality sites that have high domain authority. Engaging in content promotion like guest posting, sponsoring content, and doing diligent keyword research are all ways to make good connections and increase organic traffic to your domain. These practices increase your chance of getting more backlinks to your site.

You should also try your best to prioritize dofollow links over nofollow links when you can. Nofollows aren’t as helpful for your DR score. Disavowing shady or spammy backlinks also helps the health of your profile.

Related: Types of Authoritative Backlinks

2. Get More Backlinks From Different Sources

Remember how we said you only get link credit toward your DR score for the first dofollow backlink from an outside source? That means you could get hundreds of backlinks from your site to another and not see your DR (or your search ranking potential) increase at all. Why? Because the referring domains matter more than almost any other linking factor.

bar graph showing how domain rating matches up to referring domain metrics

Image via Ahrefs

Diversity is key to increasing your DR score. You don’t just want a heap of backlinks to your site. You want a bunch, but you want them to come from different referring domains. While you should prioritize dofollow links because they give you more “link juice,” the number of referring domains period—both nofollow and dofollow—has a bigger impact on your score.

One of the more interesting things about your DR score is the quality of the link isn’t as important as it is with other metrics. Domain rating doesn’t account for low-quality backlinks or spam. Bad backlinks can actually raise your DR score, not lower it. Any good SEO specialist knows that link quality matters to both Google and your audience. While you’re out there looking for your best like diversity potential, make sure to keep it on the up and up. Don’t try to snag more backlinks from random sources if they’re going to hurt other areas of your SEO.

3. Perfect Your SEO

Although DR calculates solely based on links, your backlink profile doesn’t exist in a vacuum. If your SEO stinks, your linking potential suffers. Beyond securing quality backlinks, you also need to focus on other areas of SEO like search intent, internal linking, keyword usage, and user experience. Make sure that your site is mobile-friendly. Use social sharing buttons to make it easier for users to link to your content on their feeds. Learn what your audience is looking for online and develop content to answer their questions or meet their needs.

Related: Enterprise SEO: How Does It Differ From Traditional SEO?

4. Watch the Competition

Remember, DR is a relative metric. Your ranking competitors (which may not always be your direct competitors) are a factor in determining your DR score. You should regularly audit your competitors’ SEO through backlink checks, keyword analysis, and other competitive research tools to understand where the landscape is at any time.

Related: 25 Competitor Criteria To Cover in Your Analysis

5. Create Better Content

When you develop high-quality content, people want to link to it. Plain and simple. If you put your time and effort into keyword research, uncovering search intent, and drafting easy-to-read or watch pieces that give your audience what they need, you’re going to get more backlinks. Developing content that makes your brand stand out from the competition and become a trusted source in your industry takes care of most of the extra SEO work all on its own.

Related: What Does “Quality Content” Mean?

With any content marketing metric, it’s important to remember that quantifiable data doesn’t always tell the full story behind your campaigns. DR, like other SEO metrics, is just a predictor of how your website and content perform on search engines. It can’t account for human behavior or even other SEO factors that affect your real search engine positioning. Use these metrics as a guide, but don’t worship them. Your marketer’s intuition is just as valuable as the numbers on the page.

Author Image - Christy Walters
Christy Walters

CopyPress writer

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