How to explain domain authority to a non-SEO

Do you ever have to explain the importance of domain authority to clients or colleagues who have little or no experience with SEO? If so, this week's Whiteboard Friday host, Andy Crestodina, explains how to get your message across successfully.

How to explain domain authority to a Non-SEO, Maintenance Hosting Security and Wordpress Development

Transcript of the video

SEO is actually very difficult to explain. There are so many concepts. But it's also very important to explain it so that we can show value to our clients and employers

My name is Andy Crestodina. I am the co-founder ofOrbit Media Studios. We are a web design company here in Chicago. I've been doing SEO for 20 years and explaining it for about that long. This video is my best attempt to help you explain a really important concept in SEO, which is domain authority, to someone who doesn't know anything about SEO at all, to someone non-technical, to someone who may not even be a marketer.

Here is a framework, language, and words you can use to try to explain the concept of domain authority to people who may need to understand it but have no knowledge of it

Research ranking factors

How to explain domain authority to a Non-SEO, Maintenance Hosting Security and Wordpress Development

Okay, here we go. Somebody does a search. They type something into a search engine. They see the results of the search.

Why do they see these search results rather than others? The reason is that search ranking factors have determined that these results would be the best for that query, keyword or search phrase


There are two main factors in search rankings, the two reasons why a web page is ranked or not for a given phrase. These two main factors are, first, the page itself, the words, the content, the keywords, the relevance.

SEOs call it relevance. So it's the most important thing. That's one of the key factors in search rankings, relevance, content, keywords and stuff on pages. I think everybody understands that. But there's a second super important ranking factor. It's something that Google has innovated that is now a very, very important factor on the web and in all searches.


It's about the links. Do these pages have links to them? Do other websites trust them? Did other websites sort of vote for them based on their content? Have they referenced them, quoted them? Have they linked to these pages and websites? That's what we call authority.

So the two main ranking factors are relevance and authority. Therefore, the two main types of SEO are on-page SEO, content creation, and off-page SEO, PR, link building and authority. Because links are essentially synonymous with trust. A web page, links to a web page, is kind of like a vote.

It is a vote of confidence. It means that this web page is probably credible, probably important. So links are credibility. Good way to think about it. Quantity counts. If a lot of pages have links to your page, that adds credibility. It's important that there are a number of sites that link to you.

Quality of the links

The quality of these links is also important. Links from sites that have many links to themselves are much more valuable. Links from authoritative sites are therefore more valuable than any other links. It is the quantity and quality of links to your website or page that largely determines your ranking when people search for a related key phrase.

If a page is not ranked, there are almost always two problems. Either it's not a great page on the topic, or it's not a page on a site that is trusted by the search engine because it hasn't gained enough authority from other sites, related sites, media sites, other sites in the industry. Originally, the name of this feature in Google was called PageRank.


Capital P, capital R, one word, PageRank. Not a web page, not a search results page, but the name of Larry Page, the man who came up with the idea, one of the co-founders of Google. PageRank was the number, from 1 to 10, that we all sort of knew. It was visible in the toolbar that we were using at the time.

They stopped reporting on it. They don't update it anymore. We don't really know our PageRank anymore, so we can't really tell. The way we understand today whether a page is credible among other websites is to use tools that emulate PageRank by scouring the Internet in a similar way, looking to see who is linked to whom and then creating their own metrics, which are essentially surrogate metrics for PageRank.

Domain Authority

How to explain domain authority to a Non-SEO, Maintenance Hosting Security and Wordpress Development

Moz has one. It's called Domain Authority. When it is written with a capital D and a capital A, it is Moz's metric. Other search tools, other SEO tools also have theirs, like SEMrush which has an authority score. Ahrefs has one called Domain Rating. Alexa, another popular tool, has one called Competitive Power. They are essentially the same thing. They indicate whether or not a site or page is trusted by other websites because of the links it contains

We now know for sure that some links are much, much more valuable than others. We can do this by reading Google's patents, conducting experiments, or simply by applying best practices, expertise, and first-hand knowledge that some links are much more valuable.

But it's not just that they're worth a little more. Links from sites with a lot of authority are worth exponentially more. It's not really a fair fight. Some sites have tons and tons and tons of authority. Most sites have very, very little. So it's a curve. It's a logarithmic scale.

How to explain domain authority to a Non-SEO, Maintenance Hosting Security and Wordpress Development

The amount of authority a site has and its ranking potential is on an exponential curve. The value of a link from another site to you is on an exponential curve. Links from some sites are worth exponentially more than links from other smaller sites, smaller blogs. These things are quantifiable using tools like Moz, tools that emulate the PageRank metric.

And what they can do is look at all the pages that are ranking for a phrase, look at the authority of all those sites and pages, and then average them out to show the likely difficulty of ranking for that key phrase. The difficulty
the difficulty would be more or less the average authority of the other pages that rank against the authority of your page and then determine if it is a page that you have a chance to rank or not.

How to explain domain authority to a Non-SEO, Maintenance Hosting Security and Wordpress Development

You could call it the difficulty of keywords. I searched for "baseball coaching" using a tool. I used Moz, and I found that the difficulty for that key phrase was about 46 out of 100. In other words, your page has to have about that much authority to have a chance of ranking for that phrase. There is a subtle difference between page authority and domain authority, but we'll set that aside for now.

"Squash coaching", wow, different sport, less popular sport, less content, less competitive phrases ranked for that key phrase. Wow, "squash coaching" much less competitive. The difficulty for that was only 18. So that helps us understand the level of authority we need to have to have a chance of ranking for that key phrase. If we don't have enough authority, no matter how great our page is, we'll never rank.

How to explain domain authority to a Non-SEO, Maintenance Hosting Security and Wordpress Development

So it's very important to understand that one of the things that domain authority tells us is our ranking potential. Are we reliable enough to be able to target that key phrase and potentially rank for it? That's the first thing that Domain Authority defines, measures and shows. The second thing it shows, which I mentioned a second ago, is the value of a link from another site to us.

So if an authoritative website links to us, a site with high domain authority, the domain authority of that site shows us the value of that link to us. A link from a site, a brand new blog, a young site, a smaller brand would have a lower domain authority, indicating that this link would be much less valuable


In conclusion, Domain Authority is a proxy for an internal Google metric, to which we no longer have access. It is created by an SEO tool, in this case Moz. When it is written with a capital D, a capital A, it is Moz's own measure. It tells us two things. Domain Authority is the ranking potential of pages in that domain. And secondly, Domain Authority measures the value of another site if it links back to your site. That's it.

I hope this was helpful to you. Feel free to pass it on to anyone you try to explain it to. Add to it. Let us know in the comments. I hope this was helpful, and it was a huge pleasure and honor to be able to do a Whiteboard Friday for Moz. Again, Andy from Orbit Media. Thanks to all of you.