Search engine optimization, or, more commonly, SEO, is the art and science that of getting your brand’s website and individual pages to rank highly on search engine results pages, or SERPs.
It’s that simple… and that complex.
SEO is a hugely powerful tool for businesses of all shapes and sizes, from all sorts of industries. In a lot of ways, ensuring that your business is elevated on search engines is one of the most important things you can do to get customers to your site. In addition to increasing your traffic rates, SEO strategies have been shown to generate more leads, at a far lower cost, than other digital marketing methods (such as PPC or display ads).
It’s that easy… and that difficult.
You see, everyone wants great SEO results in the blink of an eye. But what a lot of business owners don’t always realize is that SEO is a complex and multifaceted process, with a lot of moving parts. More to the point, it’s a marketing strategy that builds and compounds over time, so it can take a little bit of patience to really see explosive growth for your brand.
While some digital marketers out there might promise “instant” SEO results, we know that getting overnight results is nearly impossible. Any company that tells you otherwise is trying to upsell you on a fool’s errand – or is going to use questionable “blackhat” techniques that could result in a huge search spike, followed by a massive crash. And that dip in traffic will most likely bring your business’s reputation down, as well.
So, why does SEO take a little bit of time to get cooking? And what can you do to help kickstart your new website’s performance on SERPs? It all comes down to two metrics, most commonly called domain authority and page authority.
Let’s dive into domain authority and page authority – what they are, what they mean, and what they have to do with your brand’s SEO success in the short-term, and the long.
What Are Domain Authority & Page Authority?
Domain authority is a score between one and 100 that “predicts how well a website will rank on search engine result pages (SERPs),” according to Moz, an industry leader which pioneered the metric.
As the name suggests, domain authority assesses the quality of an entire domain, or an entire website. For that reason, it is similar to, but different than, page authority, a metric that predicts how well a specific page will rank, based on various factors.
While Moz is widely credited with creating domain authority, other services (such as SERPStat, SEMrush, et al) also offer similar tools, which work in similar ways. Broadly speaking, all of these third-party tools are designed to mimic Google’s own internal ranking factors, in order to make estimates about how well a given page or whole domain might perform on a SERP.
As such, domain authority and page authority are both scored using a complex array of factors, many of which are a mystery, even to SEO experts. Broadly speaking, these metrics look at many different factors – dozens and dozens of factors influence a quality score, in fact.
For one thing, the age of the domain is a prominent feature that influences how well a site performs on Google. Generally, older sites tend to outperform newer ones. Part of the reason why is that older sites have more time to develop content, add new pages, and engage in link-building efforts.
Speaking of which, one of the single biggest factors that influences domain and page authority is backlinks, part of an off-page SEO strategy. Scorers looking to evaluate domains and sites will evaluate the number of total links that direct to a site, as well as the authority of those linking sites.
A few things to keep in mind? One big thing to consider is that these scores are not always a guarantor of SEO success. As we indicated, these scores come from third parties, meaning that they are not always in lockstep with Google’s actual ranking systems (more on that in a minute). Experts also remind SEO newcomers that authority scores are a relative metric, better used for comparisons to other sites than to determine your rankings in any sort of concrete way.
But, as a learning tool? Authority is an unparalleled metric, as it’s absolutely indicative of some key, fundamental truths about SEO. Namely, that SEO is a complex and ongoing process, in need of constant evaluation and effort. What’s more, looking at authority scores reminds us that SEO is about:
- Internal and external link building
- Creating compelling, original, keyword-focused content
- Responsive, effective web design and development
- Popularity and community engagement
What Ranking Signals Does Google Look For?
One thing that’s crucial to understand about domain and page authority is that these scores are tools, used to assign value based on Google’s internal ranking processes, which are an incredibly closely guarded secret.
No single SEO practitioner knows what goes into Google’s ranking metrics, so these third-party tools are more or less guesses, designed to help brands know the unknowable.
With that in mind, it’s important to understand what Google is looking at when it evaluates a webpage. Again, we don’t - and can’t – know all of these factors for sure. We know that Google looks at more than 200 ranking factors, and that these processes are always being retooled and advanced.
In the earlier days of Google, we know that one of the main worries for SEO practitioners was PageRank. As Search Engine Land points out, PageRank was all about “looking at links to pages,” rewarding pages with a lot of links, and with links from important pages. Again, PageRank was just part of a larger evaluation system, which also looked at site performance, keywords, and other important SEO factors.
Today, Google uses an even more complex ranking system, using an AI system called RankBrain, as well as reports from quality raters (contracted employees whose job it is to “review” ranking sites). Besides acknowledging that it recognizes hundreds of ranking criteria, Google is fairly mum about what goes into its search rankings.
But Paul Haahr, a senior engineer involved with search quality, did tell Search Engine Land this much:
“We have no one signal that we’ll say, ‘This is authority.’ We have a whole bunch of things that we hope together help increase the amount of authority in our results.”
Importantly, Google maintains that authority is considered on a per-page basis. As Search Engine Land puts it:
“In particular, [Google] avoids the idea of sitewide or domain authority because that can potentially lead to false assumptions about individual pages, especially those on popular sites.”
E.G., YouTube may have an incredibly high domain authority score – but that doesn’t mean that every single page on YouTube deserves to rank equally. So, what does this tell us about authority – and SEO more broadly – for your branded site?
What Can You Do To Boost Authority More Quickly?
In a lot of ways, all of this information is a reminder that great SEO is tricky, and can take time, effort, and trial-and-error to really get going.
In particular, it pays to remember that all new sites essentially start with a domain authority score of one, and the only sites that tend to have scores of 100 are behemoths like Facebook or YouTube.
What’s more, authority experts remind us all that it takes patience and strategy to elevate the authority score for a page or domain. As Moz puts it:
“Domain Authority is difficult to influence directly. It is made up of an aggregate of metrics and link data that have an impact on the authority score. This was done intentionally; this metric is meant to approximate how competitive a given site is in Google search results. Since Google takes a lot of factors into account, a metric that tries to calculate it must incorporate a lot of factors as well.”
And here’s SEO guru Neil Patel:
“DA is difficult to influence directly. You can’t change your DA score like you can change your meta tags.”
But, with all that being said, there are still a few vital ways that you can take action earning authority for your domain and pages, and bolstering your chances for continued SEO success:
1.) Improve your technical SEO
One of the big signals to Google and other search engines that you’re serious about SEO is to optimize your site for on-page SEO. This strategy is multi-faceted, but largely involves two big steps:
- Making sure that your site is easy to navigate, quick to load, responsive on mobile, and welcoming to new users. The better your site performs with human users, the more time people will want to spend time on it, and the better the signal this sends to Google.
- Optimizing your site for SEO wherever you can. This includes your URLs, meta-descriptions, sitemap, individual image tags and alt-text, and in the headlines, subheads, and body copy of your content pages.
2.) Develop an internal and external linking strategy
As we’ve alluded to already, link building is a key part of any successful SEO strategy. This may mean:
- Consistently removing bad/toxic backlinks from your site
- Sharing content on social media to develop social proof/signals
- Reaching out to other sites to develop backlinks from reputable sources
In the early going, building your authority score may come down to some old-fashioned grassroots marketing techniques! You may want to encourage your friends or colleagues to visit and share your new content, launch a contest or promotional campaign to drive users to your new site, or even use a traditional advertising tool (postcards, a commercial, etc.) to drum up interest!
3.) Create High-Quality Content
Here at Geek Chicago, we believe that the best way to elevate your chances for SEO success is to focus on crafting original, creative content, targeting keywords that your users are already searching for. This is why SEO is such an effective inbound marketing strategy. It connects your brand with searchers who are already interested in and engaged with the subjects near and dear to you!
The benefits of a content-driven SEO campaign are almost too numerous to count! Not only does creating diverse content allow you to rank for more searches and generate more traffic, but it elevates your standing within your industry, which can have invaluable benefits for your online reputation. At the same time, having a deep pool of content to draw from allows you to repurpose your favorite pieces, providing constant materials to fill out your social media profile, your email marketing campaigns, and more.
At the same time, research suggests that building the size of your site – with quality, internally and externally linkable content – helps bolster your domain authority, helping you generate more traffic, and more leads, in the long term.
Ready to Talk SEO with the Chicago Pros?
Looking for answers on all things SEO? Curious about what it takes to launch a new, SEO-focused website? Ready to start generating the type of content that will net you new clients – and reinforce your connections with your current ones? Geek Chicago can help!
Drop us a line today to talk SEO, social media, email, and all things content marketing!