Authority and Trust in SEO explained
Authority is a widely misunderstood topic within search engine optimization (SEO). In this article, we’re going to explain what it is, what it’s not, how to measure it, and how to increase it.
The three levels of authority explained
Within SEO, authority exists on three levels: ¨
- Domain authority
- Page authority
- Link authority
Let’s take a look at each of them, to understand what they mean and how to put them to use.
The term domain authority became known when MOZ introduced it as a metric. This is also where the confusion starts: some people use the term ‘domain authority’ when talking about the concept of domain authority, while others mainly use it when talking about the metric. It’s important to understand that domain authority is much more than just a metric.
In this article we’ll be talking about both the domain authority concept and the domain authority metric.
One of the most well known metrics in SEO is PageRank. While it still plays a role in Google’s algorithm, it hasn’t been publicly available for a long time. It’s the first metric that people once used to indicate domain authority.
So, what is domain authority?
Domain authority is an indicator of a domain’s ability to rank, comprising of a variety of signals that indicate that a website is of high quality and that it can be trusted. An important part of those signals, is the sum of all of the pages’ authority.
Domain authority is largely based on two factors, namely:
- Age and trust
Age and trust
Domains with a good track record that have been around for years have earned their right to rank. What does it mean to have a good track record? Things such as: whether a domain has been used to game the search engine algorithms.
Unless we’re talking about a website migration where a well-aged domain is 301-redirected to a new domain, search engines aren’t just going to let new domains reach the echelon in which older domains operate. The new domains first need to earn their stripes. Partly by letting the domain age, but mostly by taking good care of it: writing good content and earning high-quality backlinks.
The most important factors determining popularity are:
- Quantity of backlinks: in general, the more backlinks the better.
- Quality of backlinks: quality backlinks pass on more authority and earn you more trust.
- Number of unique linking domains: the more domains link to you, the more people know about you, boosting your popularity.
It’s worth noting that the topical relevance of a domain plays a huge role in a domain’s ability to rank as well. The relevance of a domain draws from its on-page content and external links.
How do I check my domain authority?
In the previous section, we made the distinction between the concept of “domain authority”, and the domain authority metric as determined by SEO tooling.
We’ll make that distinction here again to answer this question properly.
If you want to get a feel for your domain authority, answer the questions below:
- Are you ranking for some high-competition search queries?
- How many backlinks do you have?
- Are those backlinks of good quality (meaning: authoritative and non-spammy)?
- How many unique linking domains do you have?
If you’d like to catch this, your domain authority, in one metric, you can look it up within the following tools by filling in your naked domain (e.g.
Ahrefs uses a metric called Domain Rating that shows the strength of a given website’s overall backlink profile on a 0-100 scale.
Majestic uses a metric called Citation Flow, which is a score between 0 and 100 that helps to measure the link equity or “power” the website or link carries.
MOZ uses a metric called Domain Authority, which predicts how well a website will rank on search engine result pages (SERPs).
How do I improve my Domain Authority?
A higher domain authority often correlates to higher rankings, so naturally we’re all looking to improve our domain authority. How do we go about this?
That’s where the two factors “age and trust” and “popularity” come in again:
- Age and trust: keep playing by the rules and take great care of your website.
- Popularity: actively work on gaining more quality links to your website from as many websites as you can. That’s easier said than done; we know. That’s why we’ve put together this link-building guide for you.
What is a good level of domain authority?
The only right answer is: whatever you need to be successful in your market. You may be able to dominate markets with little competition with a low domain authority, while you would be nowhere if you were to enter a market which requires a much higher domain authority to compete. So the market dictates what it takes for you to be successful here.
Thankfully, we’ve seen that there are tools out there that’ll tell us who links to whom. So before entering a market, it’s wise to research what the competitive landscape is like.
Of course the higher your domain authority the better, so make sure that increasing it is always on your agenda.
Page authority is an indicator of a page’s ability to rank. In the previous section, we explained the difference between the domain authority concept and domain authority metric. The same distinction should be made when it comes to page authority. As with domain authority, the higher the page authority, the better.
Page authority is based on three factors, namely:
- Age and trust
- The amount of value received from links
- The freshness of the last update
Age and trust
Pages with a good track record that have been around for years have earned their right to rank. Just like with new domains, new pages have to earn their stripes before they are allowed to rank for competitive keywords.
Let your page age, take good care of it, make sure it contains good content and receives high quality backlinks and don’t forget to link out to authoritative resources as well. It shows you’re backing up your claims, making it more authoritative on itself.
Amount of value received from links
Links carry link authority, as explained in detail in the next section. Both internal and external links pointing to a page pass on some link authority, which in turn heavily influences the page authority.
Freshness of the last update
Search engines like pages that are frequently updated. Make sure to periodically revisit the content of your most important pages to see if they can be updated.
It takes more than a high page authority to make a page rank. Relevance for specific keywords plays a vital role too. This relevance is earned through on-page content that includes these keywords, through internal links, and through backlinks (external links).
How do I check my page authority?
If you want to get a feel for a page’s authority, answer the questions below:
- Is the page ranking for some high-competition search queries?
- How many backlinks do you have to this page?
- Are those backlinks of good quality (meaning: authoritative and non-spammy)?
- How many unique linking domains do you have to this page?
If you want to catch this page authority in one metric, you can look it up in the same tools we used in the domain authority section: Ahrefs, Majestic, and MOZ.
In general, the page authority metric is a better indicator than the domain authority metric when you want to gauge your ability to rank, as the page authority metric is all about one page, rather than an entire domain.
How do I improve my page authority?
A higher page authority often correlates to higher rankings, so naturally we’re all trying to improve this. But how do you do so?
That’s where the three factors come in again:
- Age and trust: keep playing by the rules and take great care of your page.
- Popularity: actively work on gaining more high-quality links to your page from as many websites as you can.
- Freshness of the last update: keep your page up to date.
What is a good level of page authority?
Again here, the only right answer is: whatever you need to be successful in your market. For some low-competition search queries, you may be able to rank quickly, within weeks after publishing some new pages with low page authority. Good for you, it’s always nice to see results quickly. But maybe you’re in a competitive market where it takes a lot more to be able to rank.
Here as well you can put the link building tools to good use to get a feel for the competitive landscape, as you can look up the page authority metric for your competition.
The higher your page authority, the better.
Link authority is an indicator of the ranking power a link carries over. There isn’t a popular metric from one of the tools for this. As with the other types of authority described in this article, the higher the link authority the better.
The following factors influence the amount of link authority that a link carries:
- Nofollow attribute
- Page authority of the page linking out
- Number of links on the page linking out
- Location of the link on the page linking out
The nofollow attribute was introduced to communicate to search engines that the owner of a website is linking to a page they do not want to credit. Often, the nofollow attribute is used for backlinks that have been paid for and for links on profile pages and blog comments. These links are typically not “earned”, so they shouldn’t be credited.
Within a website, the nofollow attribute is used to tell search engines not to follow a link and not to attribute any value to it. A good example of using the nofollow attribute for internal links is on product filters. Filtered product pages aren’t interesting for search engines.
Links with the nofollow attribute pass on less link authority. Please note that this does not render nofollowed links useless. Millions of websites have nofollowed links. It’s normal and advisable to have them, because they’re part of a natural link profile.
Page authority of the page that contains the link
The page that contains the link heavily influences the amount of link authority that is passed on. The more authority a page has, the more link authority can be passed on to another page.
Amount of links on the page that contains the link
Each link on a page receives some of the page’s authority. If there are a lot of links on a page, little authority is passed on to each link. Be smart about your links, both internal and external links (“backlinks”).
The location of the link on the page that’s linking out to your page matters too. Search engines attribute more value to a link within a piece of content (so-called “contextual links”) than to a link in the footer that’s on every page. It’s lacks context, so it’s a less relevant link, hence less authority is passed on.
What other signals do links pass on?
Besides authority, links also communicate relevancy and quality.
If you want to make a page relevant for a certain topic, be sure to get links from pages that share the same topic.
Frequently asked questions about authority
- Which has more weight: page authority or domain authority?
- How do I get backlinks from high-domain-authority sites?
- Is getting rid of bad links important for my domain authority?
1. Which has more weight: page authority or domain authority?
The domain authority, but it’s the wrong question to ask. All your pages’ authority is combined in your domain authority.
If you’re looking to rank a certain page, then focus on its page authority. If you’re looking to get a feel for a domain’s ability to rank, then focus on domain authority.
2. How do I get backlinks from high-domain-authority sites?
The process of gaining links from other websites is called “link building”. We’ve written an extensive guide on this, and we recommend checking out Backlinko’s definitive guide to link building as well.
3. Is getting rid of bad links important for my domain authority?
It’s unclear how other search engines deal with this, but for Google, it’s not important to get rid (“disavow”) these bad links. Ever since Penguin 4.0 was released in fall 2016, Google’s been discounting bad backlinks rather than penalizing for bad backlinks. Since that update, bad links just contribute little to nothing; they don’t harm your SEO or domain authority.