What Is Domain Authority, Really?


Key Takeaways

  • Domain authority is a metric used to determine how much ‘authority’ a website has. It is a numerical score between 0 and 100.
  • Different tracking sites, like SEMrush, Moz, and Ahrefs, use their own metrics to create domain authority.
  • It’s important that brands not confuse website authority for how search engines actually interpret a site in search results

In the world of SEO, understanding domain authority is important for discerning a website’s authority in search results. But what exactly is domain authority, and why do all SEOs and link builders focus on it? 

In this article, we’ll dive deeper into the history of domain authority and its evolution from Google’s PageRank. Moreover, we’ll explore the nuances between Domain Authority and Page Authority and how each SEO tool calculates authority score. So, let’s unravel the mystery behind website authority!

What is domain authority?

Domain authority is a calculated metric frequently used in the SEO community to determine a website’s ” authority ” in search engines’ eyes. Domain authority is usually visualized as a score, much like a test grade, based on a scale of 0-100. 

Each search engine marketing tool like Semrush, Moz, or Ahrefs has its own interpretation and formula for calculating the score. For example, some tools may solely look at referring domains and backlinks, while others factor in other data important to SEO, like keyword rankings or organic search traffic. 

Domain authority scores can also determine a website’s likelihood of ranking within search results. Therefore, the higher domain authority your website has, the higher the likelihood your website has of ranking within search results. Alternatively, the lower your authority score, the less likely you are to receive favorable rankings within search results. 

Domain authority vs. page authority

The domain authority metric is used to interpret the authority of an entire domain. On the other hand, page authority is used to analyze a specific page’s authority. Like domain authority, these scores are based on a scale of 0 to 100 and indicate the organic search value of a page within a domain.  

How domain authority became a thing 

Domain authority was created in 2006 by the search engine marketing tool Moz. According to this Search Engine Land article, the metric was initially designed to provide SEO professionals a more accurate and reliable metric than Google’s PageRank metric. 

What’s Google PageRank, you might ask? Let’s take a step back into the year 2000. When Google launched the Google Toolbar, it allowed users to see the PageRank metric for each website, making it a public-facing metric.Crazy right?! Google gave SEOs a crystal-clear look into how they value and rank pages on the web!

PageRank was a Google algorithm that measured the organic search value of web pages based on the quantity and quality of backlinks that were pointing to them. PageRank scores were based on a logarithmic scale of 0-10. 0 means you had a low-quality site, while a 10 means you had the highest-quality site possible.

Fast-forward to 2016. Google discontinued the Google Toolbar, and along with it went PageRank. However, Google didn’t discontinue the PageRank metric along with the Google Toolbar; it was just no longer a public-facing metric. According to a tweet from John Muller in 2020, Google is thought to still use the metric internally. This Semrush article shows a screenshot of that tweet, but if you do a quick advanced search on X, you’ll find that this exact tweet has been deleted. 

So, after Google hid the PageRank metric from the public view, the popularity of domain authority metrics from third-party SEO tools commenced.

How different tools refer to them

As previously mentioned, each search engine marketing tool has its own version of domain authority. Ultimately, they all exist to create a more reliable (yet public-facing) metric for measuring the organic search value of a domain. Here are the names for each tool’s website authority metric:

  • Semrush: Authority Score (AS) and Page Authority Score
  • Ahrefs: Domain Rating (DR) and URL Rating (UR)
  • Moz: Domain Authority (DA) and Page Authority (PA)

How each tool calculates authority

While each search engine marketing tool might have its own version of domain authority to serve the same purpose, they don’t all calculate the authority the same way. In fact, each software thinks its formula for domain authority is better than the others! Here’s a look into how each tool calculates domain authority.


Semrush’s Authority Score (AS) metric utilizes AI and machine learning to gauge a domain’s authority. Of all of the SEO tools, Semrush is one of the only ones that analyzes a myriad of data points to calculate its score. The formula is based on important areas within search. Here’s what the score factors in:

  • Link power: The quantity and quality of backlinks pointing to your site
  • Organic traffic: The estimated monthly organic traffic
  • Spam Factors: The degree of a spammy link profile

Each analyzed area in Semrush’s authority score formula holds different weights. Link power holds the most weight, Organic traffic holds the second highest weight, and Spam Factors hold the least.


Ahrefs’ Domain Rating (DR) tries to closely mimic the PageRank metric that Google released in the wild back in 2006. Unlike Semrush’s formula, Ahref’s Domain Rating is purely link-based and does not account for spam factors or organic traffic in their scores. This could be seen as a negative because Google surely takes into account much more than just links when they determine your “website authority” in search results. Its website authority metric is measured on a logarithmic scale between 0 to 100. Logarithmic scales simply mean that the higher the score, the harder it is to move the score.

Here’s what Ahref’s score factors in:

  • The number of referring domains pointing to your website
  • The “authority” of those websites linking to your website
  • The number of unique domains those websites link to
    • For example, if I link to you, Ahrefs factors in how many domains link to me… within your score! Additionally, they’ll factor in how many sites I link to!

After looking at these data points, Ahrefs credits some amount of  “DR juice” to your website from each domain linking to your website. Ahrefs states that the amount of “DR juice” is determined “by dividing the DR of the linking domain [person linking to you] by the number of unique domains that it links to.” So, the more domains they link to, the less “DR juice” they pass along to sites they link to. Because of this, it might even decrease the authority of each site they link to.


Moz’s Domain Authority (DA) is the first search engine marketing tool to release a metric similar to Google’s PageRank. From content available on the internet, it’s a little more challenging to discern what exact metrics are factored into Moz’s Domain Authority score, but here’s what we were able to gather: 

  • Moz analyzes their proprietary Spam Score for a domain. You can find out how Moz’s Spam Score is calculated here.
  • Link quality patterns
  • Total number of linking root domains and total number of links

This data is then fed into a machine learning algorithm that tries to predict how often Google is showing that domain within search results. The interesting thing with Moz’s formula is that larger sites like Facebook, for example, receive more backlinks and get a bump in Domain Authority; this can lower your website’s Domain Authority relative to Facebook’s.

How can I check it?

Checking your website’s authority is relatively easy! In fact, many of the tools mentioned above allow you to check your authority for free. 

Moz: https://moz.com/domain-analysis

Semrush: https://www.semrush.com/analytics/overview/

Ahrefs: https://ahrefs.com/website-authority-checker

The do’s & don’ts of authority

As you begin to use the website authority metrics to track the performance of your domain, there are a few things you should remember. So, we’ve broken down some of the do’s and don’ts of website authority metrics. 


  • Use it as a benchmark and comparative metric amongst your direct competitors.
  • Use it to see how your website authority has trended with competitors.
  • Anticipate fluctuations in your website authority over time as the entire web and your link portfolio change.
  • Leverage it to determine the potential SEO value of link prospects


  • Mistake website authority for how Google actually interprets your website in search results
  • Analyze website authority in isolation without accounting for other significant changes in search.
  • Strive to get the highest score on the 0 to 100 scale; instead, strive to be the highest in your immediate niche or industry.

How to increase domain authority

Okay, so you checked your domain authority and noticed it’s extremely low, so you want to know how to increase it! Well, you’ve come to the right place, so let’s examine how to boost your domain authority. 

It’s important to understand that not every search engine marketing tool calculates website authority in the same way as we’ve discussed above. Therefore, fully understand how the website authority metric you are analyzing for your domain is calculated. Furthermore, it’s essential to understand that increasing your domain authority doesn’t necessarily mean that it will improve your rankings. Remember, website authority and how Google interprets your authority in organic search are entirely different. 

With that said, let’s jump into some ways you can increase your authority:

Increase your referring domains

Referring domains are the unique domains linking to your website. Increasing this number can dramatically improve your domain authority as well as improve your rankings within search. 

Gain more organic traffic

Some tools like Semrush factor organic traffic into their Authority Score calculation, which can help increase your domain authority. However, tools like Moz and Ahrefs don’t necessarily take a look at this metric. Increasing your organic traffic can also help lead to more organic backlinks as writers come across your content in search results and link to it.

Clean up your link spam

To clean up your link spam, you could focus on cleaning up any toxic domains linking to you, achieve a natural dofollow-nofollow link ratio, or ensure your domain isn’t part of a link network or private blog network (PBN).


Domain authority is an important metric when it comes to analyzing the organic search value of a website. With Google moving the PageRank metric behind the curtain, it’s the only comprehensive metric SEO and link builders to sum up the strength of a domain in organic search. While many SEO  tools have their own interpretation, one isn’t necessarily better. So, if you’re deciding which to put your faith in, choose one that aligns with your values as an SEO or link-building expert. 

The most important thing to remember is that domain authority shouldn’t be analyzed in isolation. Instead, it should be examined with other metrics related to your website and niche. If you need help determining your website’s authority or how to increase your domain authority, be sure to contact the experts at Redefine!

Author avatar
Jason Martinez
Jason is a Cal Poly Pomona Alum, extreme fan of marketing, and social media advocate. As a Brand Marketing Manager at Redefine Marketing Group, he is responsible for the development and execution of strategy for reputation management, link building, and social media marketing for both the agency and its clients.
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