Years ago, Google used to have a publicly visible score called Page Rank that ranked the authority of a website based on backlinks. All websites began with a score of zero and as they acquired valuable backlinks the score moved up to a maximum of ten. Most well trafficked sites hovered around a five or six with exceptional sites going as high as seven or eight. Scores of nine or ten were reserved for the most authoritative sites on the Internet like Whitehouse.gov, Adobe and Google itself.
(Side note: In 2009, Google Japan was participating in a scheme that could have been construed as an attempt to build backlinks. As a result they were penalized with a public page rank penalty that dropped their score from nine to five. In reality, this had no impact on their actual rankings but it was perceived as a penalty.)
Aside from being used as an indicator of how valuable a backlink from a particular site might be, the score was utterly useless. Apparently, Google realized that showing visible page rank was facilitating a link acquisition economy that they did not want to exist, so they deprecated the visible aspect of page rank. (Note: Google’s actual ranking algorithm still uses “page rank” they just don’t share a score.)
When Google stopped sharing page rank, other tools that calculated web authority stepped into the void. Moz’s Domain Authority immediately became a popular way of valuing link acquisition efforts, although there were alternatives from SEMRush and Majestic.
Today there are many options for valuing links and any tool that crawls the web will attempt to quantify the value of a website’s inbound links in a single metric. The tools calculate the scores using a methodology that is similar to how Google’s patents claim Google computes this. Each tool will value all links into a site and then compute the value of each of those and so on to get a total score.
As the explanation on each of these sites will elaborate, none of these calculations are used by Google in their rankings and there is no proven impact from the scores on actual rankings. Unlike these vanity metrics, Google computes a score (or multiple scores) in real time with information only available to Google. Google knows which sites are recently hacked and should be excluded, which sites have a pattern of link manipulation and most of all their AI is processing all of the internet at scale.
A site with an authority score (from any tool) of zero can still rank on queries if it is determined to be the most relevant, and a site with a score of one-hundred will not rank on a query where it is not relevant.
In actuality, these scores are nice to know, but are vanity metrics just like rankings. If you are in the link selling business, a higher score will help generate more sales, but otherwise the score will not do much.
Domain Authority is not a goal
Too often, I have heard of SEO teams where one of the goals for the year was to increase their score in one of these tools. This is a futile effort for many reasons, but it also takes their focus away from what is truly important. Even acquiring many valuable links may not influence the score, so there is no way to guarantee that this goal will be achieved.
However, even if the team is able to increase the score by a few notches it will not increase revenue or even organic traffic which is how the SEO team should really be measured. (Note: there have been many correlation studies which indicate a potential relationship between higher scores and more rankings, but these are not causation studies.
What should be the goal
Instead, the SEO team should focus on efforts that increase organic conversions such as creating great content, building a technically sound site and satisfying user intent. Content that is high quality, relevant and helpful will also attract links which might then lift a score. Focusing on the content as the end itself rather than content as a means to an end of a higher authority score is closer to any revenue goal.
If a team is doing this, their SEO efforts will certainly pay off in organic conversions and traffic even if their domain scores never hit some arbitrary magic number. SEO is an acquisition channel that must impact the bottom line and not just vanity metrics.