How High-Ranking Marketers Improve Their Website Domain Authority

From publishing great content to generating quality backlinks, here are the strategies effective marketers and SEOs use to improve their website domain authority.

Avatar Dann Albright on August 23, 2018 • 12 minute read

Domain authority–it’s a metric that most marketers and SEOs think about, but one very few have a firm handle on how to influence.

Here’s Moz’s full definition: Domain Authority (DA) is a search engine ranking score developed by Moz that predicts how well a website will rank on search engine result pages (SERPs). A Domain Authority score ranges from one to 100, with higher scores corresponding to a greater ability to rank.

Domain Authority is calculated by evaluating multiple factors, including linking root domains and number of total links, into a single DA score. This score can then be used when comparing websites or tracking the “ranking strength” of a website over time.

The higher your domain authority, the more authoritative your website. And, the thinking goes, the higher your search rankings.

But how do you go about improving your domain authority? As we said earlier, it can be tricky to nail down. So we talked to marketers who have set out to improve their own DA to see what’s worked for them.

First, we wanted to see if we could identify some sort of average. Based on our research, the majority of marketers see a domain authority under 30. However, 34% of respondents report a domain authority of over 40:

To be clear, 30 isn’t necessarily “bad.” However, we wanted to dig deeper into the things that are helping 34% of respondents see a domain authority over 40. Here’s what we learned.

*Editor’s note: Many of the tools out there for measuring SEO can be expensive. Have you tried Google Search Console? It’s a free tool that provides insight into how your website is performing against many of the important search ranking factors. Grab the free template here.

Improve your link profile

If you’ve done any research on domain authority, you know that links are an important factor. Backlinks are especially important (though we’ll discuss other types of links below).

Baed on our research, almost a quarter of respondents have over 25,000 links to pointing their website:

And while over a third of our respondents have less than one thousand backlinks, that’s still a high volume of potential referral traffic.

Let’s start by looking at tactics for getting the high-quality backlinks that can increase your domain authority.

Guest blog for backlinks

“Find blogs in your niche that accept guest posts and that have a higher domain authority than your site. Write a high-quality blog post and submit it,” says Jonathan Aufray, co-founder of Growth Hackers.

Guest blogging is one of the oldest, most effective (and perhaps most abused) tactics for generating quality backlinks. In order for it to be most effective, focus on reaching out to blogs where there’s a natural fit, where you can add additional value, and where there’s overlap in audience.

“While it does take time, reaching out to other websites as often as once a day to increase backlinks to my site has been the best way for me to continue to improve my domain authority,” says Sarah Stromsdorfer of My OT Spot.

Stromsdorfer also uses Help A Reporter Out (HARO) to answer questions and earn backlinks from publications. You can use this to supplement your outreach. (Solodev director of digital marketing Wes Marsh also recommended HARO.)

PPC Protect marketing manager Sam Carr also recommended reaching out to sites to inquire about guest posting. You never know who might be looking for help with content, even if they haven’t posted a request.

Tommy Landry, founder of Return On Now, says that building backlinks eats up a lot of bandwidth, which is why they outsource this function.

“You do it, or find someone to do it,” said Landry.  “You’ll be glad you did.”

Use effective outreach practices

You’ve probably received those emails: “I wrote an awesome thing, please link to it!”

Did you take the time to look into the suggested link? Or just delete the email?

Without good outreach, your link requests come across as spammy and will end up in the trash.

ASSISTED. founder Nick Rinylo points out that getting links to your website is increasingly difficult. The marketplace is crowded, and everyone wants links. So what do you do?

“Many SEOs are now turning to traditional PR techniques to build relationships,” Rinylo says. “It’s no longer enough to just send emails out. You need to create valuable connections.”

And it’s good to remember that blog posts and web content aren’t the only things that you should be building links to. “[Y]ou have a lot of other opportunities to link build to your homepage and other offerings simply by building relationships with other companies,” says Chris Lee, founder of RankXL.

“Simple tasks like partnering up with other businesses, offering a testimonial, or adding an integration can get you homepage links on websites of other companies,” adds Lee.

Don’t forget outbound and internal links

Backlinks are important for your domain authority. Possibly the most important factor of all. But your link profile contains more than just inbound links.

“One of the best things you can do to improve domain authority is link to other high-ranking sites,” says Lauren Petermeyer, manager of digital planning and strategy at 301 Digital Media.

Internal links matter too, according to G2 Crowd content specialist Alan Santillan. “Creating content that references other resources or articles on your website creates a strong internal link network that helps crawlers understand your site structure.”

Santillan also mentioned that understanding and using dofollow and nofollow links can help your domain authority.

Don’t go the easy route

A few marketers mentioned strategies that could work quickly but will either fail in the long run or simply backfire.

For example, there are disreputable services that will get you thousands of backlinks for a few bucks. “[A]t best the sites linking to you are irrelevant,” says Virtual Solutions founder Dawn Gribble. “[A]t worst you’ll pick up penalties for being linked to low-quality spammy sites.”

And Emil Shour, director of demand generation at Chili Piper, cautions marketers not to focus their link-building efforts in one place. “Get links from as many unique sites as possible,” Shour says. Link diversity is a domain authority factor that’s easily underestimated.

“I was able to take my last company’s site from a DA of 0 to over 50 by always having someone on my team in-house doing content promotion and outreach,” added Shour. “It’s hard, grind it out, monotonous work, but it’s the single most important way to build up your site’s domain authority.”

Disavow bad backlinks

It’s possible that in your efforts to generate backlinks, you’ll get links from spam sites, irrelevant sites, and other “bad” links.

Those bad links can hurt your link profile.

So how can you avoid this? McCall Robison, content strategist at Best Company, lays out the steps:

  • Use a tool like Ahrefs or SEMrush to get a link report
  • Find links that are “toxic” (from low-quality or spam sites)
  • Contact the owner of the sites and request a link removal
  • If you don’t hear from them in a week or so, use Google’s disavow tool

Robison recommends going through this process every few months.

What counts as a bad link? Cardswitcher founder Stephen Hart looks for “link exchanges, bought links, low-quality directories, footer links, forum comments with optimized links, and so on.”

Ashish Goswami, SEO executive at Zestard Technologies, also recommends eliminating any links from your site to low-quality sites. (Fix broken links while you’re at it, too.)

“You also need to eliminate any links posted through your site that lead to poor websites or are broken because these can have a negative effect on your DA,” added Goswami. “Don’t wait until a penalty strikes to clean up your link profile. Do it today and continue to perform it on a monthly or bi-monthly basis.”

Publish great content

If you want backlinks, create great content. Period. This was something a lot of marketers mentioned.

Engage your users

The best sites out there call on their users to help them source and create phenomenal content.

(Author’s note: this is obviously something we love here at Databox. It’s worked for us, too.)

DePalma Studios VP of marketing Jordan Schneider recommends running surveys on “interesting, brand-related topics and publishing the empirical results via blog post.” Once you’ve distilled insights and published the post, share it with press contacts or use social media to alert publications.

This type of content, says Schneider, is likely to generate links and mentions. He also suggests tools like Google Surveys and SurveyMonkey to ease the process.

“You do run the risk of nobody being interested in the results of your study,” Schneider says. “[B]ut this strategy worked more often than not for us, and had a very high ceiling for return. We’ve had single studies produce dozens of links from other reputable sites.”

Cristian Rennella, co-founder of oMelhorTrato, recommends sharing surveys with newspapers as well.

“We try to improve our backlink profile by having a monthly webinar that features a complementary business,” says Advice Media marketing communications coordinator Joe Sloan. These businesses then link back to the Advice Media page to promote the webinars.

More traditional types of content focusing on your users can also be quite valuable. Stuart Dixon, founder of Provance Media, suggests using case studies and interviews of professionals in your niche.

Create content pillars

There are many ways you can organize your content. One of the most popular ways to do is the “pillar” or “hub-and-spoke” model. In this model, you create a large piece of evergreen content and link several smaller, related pieces back to it.

Robert Donnell, partner at P5 Marketing, defines it this way:

“Have a small number of main topic pages (4–5) that are content heavy (900+ words). Then have 4–5 blog pages that link back to each cornerstone page and to each related blog post.”

This method leaves no ambiguity: it “makes it clear to the search engines, and your readers, what your site is all about.”

Ceralytics chief strategist Brandon Andersen outlined a similar strategy. This method, however, combines the pillar organization with link building.

“Each major content piece should be part of a larger campaign that includes smaller brick content that is hosted on other domains—usually as guest posts. Those posts then link back to the main cornerstone content piece.”

Unlike regular link building, says Andersen, this is an ongoing practice. Andersen used this strategy at Cision, where “[t]hey went from a DA of 29 to 80, with over 13.7 million backlinks in 8 years.”

Promote your content

While publishing great content will get you lots of links, it’s not enough. You need to promote it to get it in front of the right people.

Michael Pozdnev of I Wanna Be a Blogger recommends making connections long before you need to promote content. Look for people who leave comments and share useful articles on social media, he says, and find authors of popular blog posts.

Reach out to them and offer something of value. Buy their products, leave testimonials, and send thank-you emails (or even letters). And make sure to stay in regular contact.

Then, says Pozdnev, when you have a great piece of content to promote, you can send it to your list of contacts without seeming spammy.

Have a great domain and markup

Great content earns backlinks. That’s the basis of increasing domain authority. But there’s more to it.

For example, SEO Hacker‘s Sean Si says that “[h]aving good domain authority begins with establishing a good domain name.”

What makes a good domain name? “Catchy single-word domains tend to be successful as people can remember them much easier. A domain name that contains a keyword also works well, as it helps increase your search ranking as well.”

Alisha Shibli, content marketing specialist at Radix, agrees. Keyword-rich domain names, she says, are great for getting “on-topic” backlinks. She also suggests creating redirects from related and highly relevant domains. New extensions like “.fun, .tech, .store, .club, [and] .online” can be useful for this.

“[F]ew steps are as important as incorporating structured data code into your website,” says Nate Masterson, founder of Maple Holistics. “These simple coding tricks essentially clarify your data to search engines and enable them to create rich results.”

(Author’s note: for more information, check out Google’s introduction to structured data.)

Focus on creating a great experience

Interestingly, we also had a couple marketers tell us that you shouldn’t worry about domain authority.

“[T]he key point is that you should focus on search performance, not domain authority,” says Tabby Farrar, outreach specialist at Further Digital Marketing. “Moz DA is not an accurate indicator of how well your site will rank.”

Farrar continues, “People need to stop thinking ‘I need links from sites with DA above X’ and think more along the lines of ‘I need to build links from relevant sites in my niche, where my target audience is spending their time.'”

Blue Steele Solutions marketing writer Adam Fout agrees. “[D]omain authority is a mostly meaningless vanity metric that you should completely ignore. Page authority has limited value, but is still a vanity metric.”

“[F]ocus instead on optimizing content, creating conversion opportunities, and making the most out of the traffic and leads you’re getting,” adds Fout. “If you do that, your DA will rise on its own. Or it won’t, and you won’t give a damn because you’ll be swimming in cash.”

Have you taken steps to increase your Domain Authority? What did you do? And did it work? Or do you think DA is an over-hyped vanity metric? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

About the author
Dann Albright Dann is a freelance writer who helps B2B companies reach their audiences more effectively. With an emphasis on organic traffic and conversion, he takes big ideas and turns them into highly practical content that keeps readers hooked.
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