We’re a few weeks into the new Domain Authority and you can guarantee there are a lot of people cursing the day Moz decided to update it.
Why? Because the Domain Authority (DA) for their websites got hammered. And along with it their sole source of revenue.
If you’re not sure what I mean, we’re talking about online publications like news sites and blog that make their money by selling links to SEO experts, link brokers and SEO agencies who want to improve the link profile of their clients.
Selling links like this has long been an easy way for people to generate income. You have a website with some content, agencies or SEO people find you on Google, and they contact you asking if you’ll put a link (or guest post with a link) on your site in exchange for fee. If you have (or had) decent DA, then this was easy money. You didn’t need high quality content on your site. You didn’t even need to have visitors.
But true. That’s how so many online publications have worked for many years. There are tons of sites like this that consisted purely of content provided by SEO people buying links.
Needless to say, such sites are garbage.
Domain Authority Was A Loophole Exploited By Owners Of Garbage Sites
In essence, people were making money thanks to one (often woefully inaccurate) SEO ranking tool. DA, with its ranking out of 100, was designed to measure the SEO quality of a site. I.e., if you have a higher DA than your competitor, this would indicate that you’d likely rank higher in Google.
The problem is, as we’ve now seen, is that the old DA was a really bad metric.
Decent SEO professionals have known that for years.
It didn’t accurately reflect a site’s SEO power at all, and did nothing to penalize sites with poor quality content who delivered zero value to users. So you could you have a site with nothing but terrible content with a really strong DA of 40-60. Other legitimate sites with real traffic and great content would often have a much lower DA of 20-30. Of course the site with the lower DA would actually do better in Google, but would command a much smaller fee on the link building market.
The old DA also over-valued the volume of links a site had – massively. As a case in point, I have seen people with a brand-new websites buy 30,000 terrible quality links from Fiverr, and the DA almost immediately jump to 15 plus. That in itself told you the old DA wasn’t fit for purpose.
In the example of buying 30,000 trash links for some dodgy guy on Fiverr, DA may think your site was authoritative, but you can guarantee Google does not. In other words, a high DA often had zero relation to where you actually rank.
So What Does The New Domain Authority Do?
So the new DA, amongst other things, basically catches sites that on the one hand sell links without adding value to the user, and sites that buy links for the purpose of manipulating Google rankings.
Unfortunately, if you sold a whole load of links to sites that have been acquiring a load of spammy links (using automated methods, for example) then Moz now knows about you and your DA has now been hammered. And poof, just like that, your business is gone.
Does This Mean Link Buying & Selling Is Dead?
No, far from it. The new DA is punishing sites that are identified as aggressively buying links without adding value, as well as sites that sell the link to these sites. If your site falls into one of these two categories, your DA has probably plummeted.
And the people who take the time to create real content to build valuable websites are laughing at you.
But link building will continue. For link sellers, though, they’ll have to be a lot more careful about who they sell to. This will require doing research into the link profile of the sites they’re selling to. If the buying site has a large number of links on poor quality sites, this should be avoided. It will decrease your DA and hurt your Google rankings.
But Moz and Google know that websites exist to make money. One of the ways sites do this is, of course, by selling links. Google has no desire to outlaw this practice completely – just manage it sufficiently so that Google doesn’t show their users poor quality sites that have gamed the system.
Google Doesn’t Care You’re Buying Or Selling Links (In Principle)
Let me repeat, link buying and selling is fine when both sites on either side of transaction are high quality, have legitimate traffic and don’t engage in link manipulation. If site A has real audience and a real value proposition and pays to have an article on site B that also has a real audience and value proposition, Google don’t care that money exchanged hands.
In reality they’ll never know, either.
Google (nor Domain Authority) care about selling links in and of itself. They only care about stopping bad content being shown to its users.
The New Domain Authority Puts Quality Content Into Focus
This does highlight the importance of quality content that attracts a real audience. To sell links now, you need real traffic and actually rank for search terms otherwise DA will identify you as existing purely to sell backlinks. And for that you need to build a natural audience by delivering valuable content.
My own thoughts on the matter are that link building of this sort was eventually doomed. At some point DA was going to be updated and poor-quality sites that managed to make money from this outdated, massively overvalued metric were destined to disappear. The old DA was a short-term way to exploit a loophole, nothing more. Ultimately, there are no free lunches in online publishing if you want to make money from a site you need to deliver value.
Roger Montii at Search Engine Journal has a good article about the update, including details about the new DA ranking criteria. He also makes the point that DA is now good enough to screen sites – indeed, we can give it the same credence now as other metrics traditionally considered more accurate, like Ahrefs, SEMrush and Trust Flow.