How we improved our Domain Authority (DA) from 1 to 11 in less than 8 weeks?

How we improved our Domain Authority (DA) from 1 to 11 in less than 8 weeks?

If you are an SEO beginner, one of the first few things you would have come across is the importance of Domain Authority (DA) in SEO.

Most probably, you might have focussed your entire SEO might just to improve on this number.

If yes, hold on for a minute.

What if I tell you that you have been seeing DA with the wrong lenses all this while?

In fact, chances are that you might have been improving your DA but harming your overall SEO.

Want to know why?

Keep reading.

But first, the reason behind this blog post?

It’s not right to start any journey based on wrong assumptions.

And DA is one such wrong assumption when it comes to SEO.

As I said, most of the beginners make DA their guiding metric without understanding it in full detail.

And did I say beginners? I have even come across experienced marketers whose entire existence revolve around improving their website DA.

If you have the same mindset (irrespective of your experience level), this blog post will help you build the right approach to off-page SEO and to your website DA.

Let me clarify one thing right at the start.

This article is less about improving your DA and more about doing the right off-page SEO, especially in the early days of your business.

Improving the DA is just a byproduct.

As part of this blog post, I am also giving you 2 ready to use resources absolutely free (without any linkbait or email capture):-

#1: A curated list of General Web 2.0 directories

#2: A curated list of startup and SaaS related directories

→ Open the Google Sheet Now ←

Both these resources are sorted as per their spam score and DA.

Plus, I have personally explored , analyzed and commented against each portal listed in the document for your easy reference and action.

Let’s get started.

What is DA (and PA)?

Domain Authority (popularly known as DA) is a numerical score maintained by an internet company called Moz.

It varies between 1 to 100 on a logarithmic scale (with 1 being the least value). That means it’s relatively easy to go from 1 to 10 than from 10 to 20.

DA of a website largely indicates the relative quality and relevance of backlinks built over a period of time (though there may be more factors that go as part of DA, as explained in this blog post).

DA of your website fluctuates as the link profile of your or other websites change.

That means DA doesn’t make sense when seen as a standalone number, it should always be seen as a comparison against a peer.

Moz Page Authority score (called Moz PA) is a similar concept but at an individual page level (instead of the entire domain).

Watch the videos available on Moz to understand the concept of DA in full detail.

How to rightly interpret DA?

First the good news.

Time and again, Google has clarified that Moz DA is not a ranking factor for its search algorithm.

That means a higher DA doesn’t guarantee the first-page rank. It’s just an indication that a particular website may rank higher compared to its competitors, purely basis the off-page SEO (more specifically the backlink profile).

Similarly, a lower DA is an indication that it may get tough to beat your competitors for the first position, purely basis your weaker backlink profile.

Important to note is that these are just probabilities, that too considering the backlinks.

2 interpretations emerge from here (these are tongue twisters so I request your patience):-

#1. A higher DA website can get itself ranked on search engine with lesser SEO efforts, than required by a lower DA website within the same niche.

#2. Alternatively, a lower DA website can get itself ranked on search engine with more SEO efforts, than required by a higher DA website within the same niche.

And now the best part.

Google’s algorithm has shifted from “number of backlinks” to “the quality of content and it’s fitment to a search query”. Therefore, the SEO effort that we just talked about has more to do with your quality of content than the quality/number of backlinks to your domain.

Don’t get me wrong here. It’s not that backlinks are dead. They are still important, it’s just that the weight for quality content has increased multifold in the eyes of Google.

Coming back to the question: how to rightly interpret DA? 

Consider DA as an indication of the effort that you need to incur to outrank your competitors:-

  • If the gap in DA/PA between you and your competitors is high, focus on your content first, make it 10X better and do extensive on-page SEO. Do the stuff that’s in your control before you put in the effort on link building.
  • If the gap in DA/PA between you and your competitors is low, even slightly better content with basic on-page SEO can help you beat them. And more effort you put in, the easier it will be to capture the top spot.

As an example, here’s my DA15 personal project that ranks in the top 3 searches for a keyword, competing against websites with DA 50+. All thanks to some awesome content and extensive on-page optimization.

Ranking at top with DA 15_SERP audit_onpage champ
My personal project (with DA15) ranking against DA50+ websites. (Screenshot via SERP Audit functionality of OnPage Champ)

Should you worry about low DA?

If DA is not a ranking factor, why should you worry about it?

I can think of 2 reasons. You should be worried because:-

  • DA is a vanity metric. It looks good to be an owner of a DA40+ website than a DA20+ website.
  • Good backlinking automatically translates to a higher DA. However, a higher DA may not result in a good backlink profile.

Good backlink profile means relevant and contextual backlinks to your content, something that Google not only loves but also uses as a ranking factor.

Good backlink profile results in more first page rankings, higher referral traffic and increased conversions on your website. And it also helps you improve your DA.

Alternatively, backlinking done just to pump up your DA won’t solve any SEO purpose. In that case, DA will be reduced to a vanity metric like it is for most of us out here.

Treat DA as an effect generated because of the right cause (i.e. off-page SEO).

Finally, here’s how we at OnPage Champ approached our off-page SEO during the first 7-8 weeks 

4 Steps to take your DA from 1 to 11 in 8 weeks

Right from the very start, our philosophy behind off-page SEO is to generate relevant traffic and drive signups for our product.

Even if there’s a no-follow link or an unlinked brand mention, we still wholeheartedly participate provided we see a traffic opportunity in return.

Here’s a chart of our referral traffic since we started. Not something extraordinary, but this metric is our North Star for everything off-page.

Referral Traffic screenshot
Our referral traffic

 

Here’s how our Moz DA changed over the same period:-

How OnPage Champ improved its Domain Authority

Coming to the details, these are the exact steps we undertook:-

Step # 1: Start with social media profiles

Backlinks from social media don’t carry much weight in the DA calculation.

I reached this hypothesis after spending considerable effort towards social media but without even a single point improvement in my DA.

Irrespective of its impact on DA, social media is extremely important for your starting SEO as it signals a natural backlinking process.

Why?

Because any 3rd party website won’t just link to a newly launched business right from its day one. If that’s the case, the backlinking is not natural (in 99% of the cases). And Google hates what’s not natural.

The natural first step for a business is to set up its social media profiles, point to their homepage , post regular updates about their products/services, and so on.

These social backlinks won’t have much DA value but do have SEO value.

My Suggestion: For initial 2-3 weeks of your website, forget about your DA and work on sending the right social signals to Google.

We did the same at OnPage Champ. Our first month was focussed on maintaining an active presence on Facebook, LinkedIn and Quora; and getting traffic from those platforms.

Step # 2: Do relevant directory listing

Next, start creating your profiles on general web 2.0 business directories.

While many people would argue that directory submission is dead, I have a counter-argument here.

Spam and irrelevant directory submission is dead. Posting on directories that rank high for search keywords, drive traffic or send a positive signal to Google still makes sense.

Here’s a ready list of 39 directories that we considered as part of our off-page SEO effort.

→ Open the Google Sheet Now ←

Please note that  I am not saying that you post on all these directories. Find the ones relevant to your business and then get going.

My Suggestion

The speed at which you get backlinks matter to Google.

A sudden burst of backlinks followed by a dry spell may indicate something fishy.

Therefore, it’s important to spread out this effort. Submit no more than 5-7 listings a week and keep doing that for atleast a month or so. That’s what we did for OnPage Champ.

Step #3:  Be present on industry portals

Next on the list should be building your presence on industry specific portals.

This activity is part of directory listing, just that I focussed on SaaS and Startup focussed directories, that’s why a separate category.

These include some well-known portals like AngelList, Crunchbase, Beta Pages, etc. and some not so well known portals like Listly, BrownBook, etc.

Again, you shouldn’t list on these portals to just get a backlink (you anyways get a no-follow backlink from the majority, with some even providing a do-follow backlink).

Idea is to build a presence on portals where businesses like yours exist. Afterall, you are known by the company you keep.

The real motive to get listed is that these portals have high rankability on Google. That means an SEO boost, especially for your brand related keywords.

Additionally, platforms like BetaBound offer beta testers for free. Now that’s a jackpot.

Here’s a list of 38 such Saas and Startup portals where you can get yourself listed (obviously you need to filter this list further).

→ Open the Google Sheet Now ←

My Suggestion

This step can be interchanged or combined with Step #2. But if you have just started, let it be the 3rd step. By the time you start with SaaS based listings, you might have a beta product to show to your audience.

Just make sure you are not overdoing anything.

Maintain a fixed run rate so that your link building speed can be sustained.

Step # 4: Do guest blogging

As you all know, guest blogging is the easiest way to get a backlink.

Do guest blogging because you want referral traffic, not because you want a do-follow backlink.

More important is that you write content relevant to your industry and on a relevant website so that the value of the backlink increases many folds.

On a separate note, it took us just 5 guest posts to reach a DA of 14.

 

Here how the DA of OnPage Champ grew vs. the guest posts we published.

Our Guest Post Profile vs DA

(Just a caveat: guest posting wasn’t an isolated activity and we did directory listings side by side, so interpret the data accordingly.)

As part of my initial guest blogging outreach, I covered topics like SEO, social media and startup growth hacks.

And since I was writing in-depth content, I happen to be lucky to get a do-follow backlink from all the platforms.

But the thing that matters the most, we are still receiving highly relevant referral traffic from these websites, and it’s actually converting into beta signups.

That’s what matters to us.

My Suggestion

Guest blogging is not just about writing stuff and getting it published.

It’s about relationship building with other bloggers and convincing them to market your content.

Start the relationship exercise early on since it takes time to build.

More about my guest blogging approach in another blog post.

Closing words

If you would have read this story closely, you would agree that I haven’t done anything extraordinary or out of this world.

All the steps highlighted above are logical and easy to do.

What separates us from the majority is that we prioritized traffic building over DA. DA just improved on its own.

If you have a new website and are not sure where to start, follow my footsteps and see both your traffic and DA rise upwards.

Summarizing the entire story

At OnPage Champ, we eat, breath and live on-page SEO and we will keep doing that without worrying about our DA.

That doesn’t mean we will stop doing off-page. Our objective behind off-page SEO will always be traffic, not the backlinks.

I will publish another post highlighting the effort we put in to move our DA from 11 to 22.

Meanwhile, what’s your thought on DA? Do comment below.

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