Domain Authority (DA) and Domain Rating (DR) are metrics commonly used to identify quality sites when building links.
The theory is that because sites with a high DA or DR have lots of links pointing toward them, Google’s algorithm considers them to be authoritative.
Additionally, if you land high authority backlinks, this will in turn help push your own DA score upwards.
In many cases this theory is correct. The most authoritative sites on the web do typically have high DR and DA scores.
However, Google doesn't care about the metrics we use.
The problem is, these metrics alone are flawed
Many unscrupulous SEO’s are now manipulating these metrics in order to sell links on shoddy websites.
It's extremely easy to manipulate DA. How?
You can redirect old Web 2.0's to your website, and practically overnight it'll give you a DA of 50. You can also buy expired domains and do the same thing.
However, we definitely do not recommend doing this - It's a very unnatural link signal and will probably cause an algorithmic penalty of your website.
That’s why it’s so important to stop focusing so hard on those metrics, and start looking at other factors as well.
How We Manipulated our own DR Score
In the name of SEO science, we ran an experiment to prove once and for all that DA and DR can be easily manipulated.
The Experiment 🧪
- We paid $300 to a freelancer on Fiverr who promised to achieve a DR score of 60 for our sister website, PPCGenius.io.
- 📈 Within literally 1 week, the DR increased from DR 30 to DR 60.
- The links were total 💩 - Spammy homepage links from single-page domains with a respective DR score of 0.1.
This leads me to believe that Ahrefs and Moz are placing a much greater weighting on homepage links, and having these can therefore artificially inflate your DR or DA scores.
📹 You can see exactly how we did this in the video below:
The truth is, there's a huge number of sites that rank because they have incredibly strong topical relevance, amazing content, and a smaller number of powerful, relevant links.
Conversely, there are also plenty of sites with a high DR score, which in reality are terrible, low-quality websites.
A link from one of these sites is unlikely to improve your rankings. And it could even hurt them.
This will be especially painful if you have paid a link building service for one of these high DA or DR links.
Case Study - Low DR Sites Can Rank
Having a low DR or DA is not a barrier to ranking well on Google.
Stop thinking in terms of your DR score, and start focusing on the quality and relevance of individual links.
My girlfriend owns a hen party planning business called Flock Events, which has a lowly DR score of just 4.
However, it's ranking at the top of Google for many competitive keywords such as:
- #1 Hen Party Scotland
- #1 Hen Party House Scotland
- #1 Party House Scotland
How can this be? 🧐
Because we focused on just building 6-7 high-quality, relevant links from some wedding-related UK websites.
That's all it took to get this new website ranking along with some great content.
Hopefully that reinforces the point - Your DR or DA score does not determine your ranking.
Far more significant is the quality of your content and the quality of your links.
DA and DR fluctuate wildly
Let's take at how our own website LinkBuilder.io performs according to the various 'authority scores' from the three most popular SEO tools:
- Domain Authority (Moz): 29
- Authority Score (SEMRush): 40
- Domain Rating (Ahrefs): 57
🧐 Doesn't make much sense, right?
As you can see, there's a huge discrepancy in the scoring system across all of the major SEO software platforms.
According to Moz, we have a domain authority score of just 29.
Despite this, we rank exceptionally high on Google for most keywords related to link building.
So once again - Take these metrics with a very large pinch of salt.
🧐 Looking beyond DA and DR
We go beyond DA and DR when assessing sites in our link building campaigns. Yes, we use these metrics—but we also consider traffic, content quality, anchor text ratios, and more to ensure we get an accurate picture of a site’s value.
This ensures our clients only get high-quality links from sites with real traffic.
In this article, we’ll explore why just using DA and DR to assess sites is a huge mistake. We’ll also show you signs to look out for so you can avoid bad links.
The difference between DA vs DR
DA and DR can be good predictors of a site’s quality. But sometimes bad, spammy sites will also have good domain metrics.
To understand why you must understand what DA and DR show.
What is DA?
Domain Authority (DA) is a metric invented by SEO tool Moz. When calculating the score the algorithm considers the quality of root domains that link to a site, plus the total number of links. There are a number of tools to check your DA score.
What is DR?
As you can see, the two metrics are nothing more than an analysis of a site’s backlink profile, and you can increase your domain authority score by building backlinks.
Manipulating DR and DA
They don’t show whether a site has good content, whether it gets any traffic, or whether Google considers it to be an authority.
There are many reasons why a low-quality site may have a good backlink profile, with SEOs now often using a number of tactics.
Below, we explain each in more detail.
When a website shuts down, the links built up over time still point to the domain. SEOs can buy these expired domains and create new sites on them.
When they do this, the brand-new site will appear to have strong domain metrics even though the links are unrelated to the content. Not all sites built on expired domains are bad; it depends on what the new owner does with it.
Sometimes a site owner will build a site then move their focus elsewhere. The site may still have a lot of links pointing to it and thus keep its authority. But it may have long stopped being relevant.
Often when a high DR site owner stops focusing on a site, they know they can still make money by selling backlinks. Thus they start accepting low-quality guest posts that offer little value to the reader.
Black Hat Link Building
A new site owner may employ black hat link building techniques to increase the authority of the domain rapidly. This works until Google notices what the site is doing and gives it a penalty, or ignores the links.
Even if Google does punish the site for weak links, that site will still maintain a high DR or DA score - Which causes a problem when you're trying to gauge a website's value.
What Else Should You Use to Assess a Site’s Quality?
If we aren’t just going to use DA and DR, what else should you look at? There are plenty of signs you can use to tell if a site is good or bad.
Aesthetics and content is the number one thing you should look at. It’s also typically easiest to assess—you don’t need any fancy SEO tools, just your eyes and intuition.
Guest post farms and PBNs will often use a basic blog template without any custom design. It will likely only use stock images. While some PBN owners are putting more effort into making their site look good, many aren’t.
Here's some example cover images from link farm blogs;
Good sites usually look like the owner has put some effort into the design. Look for custom elements, quality logos, and unique images.
Low-quality content is a tell-tale sign of a bad site. If the majority of the recent articles are thin and poorly-written articles, it probably means:
- They are low-quality guest posts used to build backlinks.
- The owner is trying to hide the fact their site is a PBN by uploading original content at the lowest possible price.
Good sites will have original, well-written content. It will usually tie into the overall theme of the website.
Sites that are only used for link building will have unnatural outgoing links. These links will add little value to the content and will generally look like they don’t belong in the article.
Here's an example of a link to a casino website, which just appears very unnaturally 'stuffed' into the article:
Good sites often link out to other websites. But when they do, the link adds value to the content. It may point the reader to a helpful resource, back up a point the author is making, or reference a statistic or report.
Topics and Categories
PBNs and backlink farms often publish basic content on tons random categories e.g;
Unless you're CNN or the BBC, you have no business covering this number of diverse, unrelated topics!
If there doesn’t appear to be any content creation strategy—for example, to rank on Google or please an existing readership—the content may have been written for backlinks.
Good sites will usually write articles on a particular theme or topic. Each piece will have a readership in mind and be written to appeal to this audience.
PBN owners don’t typically want people to know who is running the site. A lack of an About Us or Contact page, or pages that contain vague information, is a big red flag.
Here's an about us page which is clearly fake;
Owners of good sites will typically make it easy for people to get in touch with them. They will have About Us and Contact pages and maybe even links to active social accounts.
On guest post farms, the majority of recent content will often be marked as “Guest Author,” “Contributed by,” or something similar. The people behind the site will not usually create much original content. And they certainly won’t want to put their name to it.
Many quality sites accept guest posts too, but the articles they publish bring value to readers. These sites will also publish a lot of original, unique content. Look for posts written by real people with actual author profiles.
SEO metrics do play a part in assessing a site’s quality. If these metrics are strong and the content is high quality, you have a good candidate for a link building campaign.
DR should not be used on its own to assess a site’s quality. But it can help paint a good picture of a domain’s authority. A link from a non-spammy, high DR site will often have the biggest impact on your site’s ranking.
Organic traffic is a sign that Google’s algorithm likes the site and considers it to be an authority in its space. PBNs and link farms rarely have much organic traffic. Also, look for traffic that is trending downwards as a sign that Google has penalized a site.
The easiest method of checking this is via Ahrefs, but you can use any other reputable tool such as SEM Rush.
Occasionally a poor-quality site will get traffic from non-competitive keywords. Look for keywords related to adult content, movies, piracy, coupons, torrents etc. —topics legitimate businesses wouldn’t value.
Below - a tech site which appears to have decent traffic volume, but all the keywords are complete junk.
If a site is ranking for difficult keywords, it’s a good sign that Google’s algorithm trusts it.
For example, at Linkbuilder.io, Ahrefs is saying that we only receive 1,000 organic visitors per month (the real number is more). However, the quality of our traffic is incredibly high, and we rank for some highly valuable keywords.
We want links from sites that rank well, regardless of their DR score!
This is another way to see the value of the keywords a site is ranking for. A high traffic value suggests the site is hitting good, competitive terms.
If the traffic value is >$5,000, that's pretty solid. But again, it's very important to check what types of keywords the site is ranking for.
When people link to a page organically, they do it in various ways relevant to the article in question. This could be:
- Branded anchor text: Nike, Ahrefs, Linkbuilder.
- Natural anchor text: Click here, check out these ideas, in this article.
- Exact keywords: Link building agency, best sweaters, seo tool.
- Naked URL: https://linkbuilder.io
Check our detailed guide to anchor text for more information on this topic.
Inbound Links vs. Outbound Links
A high volume of recent outgoing links but few incoming ones is a strong sign that a site is being used to provide backlinks.
Outgoing Links & Anchors
Good websites typically link out to easy-to-find quality content that adds value to articles.
If a site is mostly linking to random pages on low DR websites, you have to consider why this may be the case. Hint: it’s probably for backlinks.
PBNs and link farms will typically show many keyword-based anchors on their outbound links, because this is what people buying links usually ask for.
The links may also be dropped randomly into the middle of a sentence without providing much value.
Examples of Bad Sites
Now, it's time to show you some real-world examples of bad sites.
We keep seeing time and time again people paying for cheap links on terrible websites.
Remember, there's no such thing as a free lunch when it comes to link building, and any cheap offers are cheap for a reason. Check out our article on link building costs for a better idea on how much you should expect to pay for good links.
These are low-quality sites with good domain metrics (DR score) on the surface.
You should always avoid links from sites like these.
Indyposted.com is a DR 38 site with almost 2,000 referring domains, including two high-value .gov and .edu sites. It’s been around since at least 2014.
But this is where the positives end.
The biggest red flag is that despite the relatively high DR, the site gets almost no traffic. Just 53 visits a month according to Ahrefs.
Things get even worse when you look at the website. It has a seemingly random selection of poorly-written articles covering topics like slot games, health, sales tax, and finding online steroids.
This is especially strange considering the About Us page suggests the site will cover topics like music, film, finance, and business. The only value of these posts is for link-building.
And while it’s good that the site has an About page, it doesn’t provide any contact information or real details about who owns it.
The site also has social buttons, but these don’t lead anywhere—a clear sign that the owner has thrown a theme up without much thought about how it affects user experience.
Ultimately, it’s quite clear that someone has taken over an expired domain and repurposed it for link building.
You definitely do not want a link from this website or one like it.
Unique News Online
At first glance of metrics, Uniquenewsonline.com seems like a good link outreach proposition. But this just shows the importance of checking multiple factors before placing a link.
The site has a DR of 42 and over 50,000 organic hits every month according to Ahrefs. While this is down from the 100,000+ it was getting earlier this year, it’s still a good sign—it’s more traffic than any of the good sites in our examples below.
But all isn’t as it seems.
The first warning sign is the suspicious traffic pattern. The site was only registered in May yet went from zero organic traffic to over 100,000 visitors in September. It then crashed back down to 57,000 in December.
The high traffic stats are likely artificially inflated because the site has a photo that shows up in the SERP image stack for the query “Good Morning” and “Good Morning Image.” These queries get over one million searches per month.
But people click on the image stack far less than they do for actual website results, meaning the site probably doesn’t see the traffic Ahrefs suggests it does.
The website also ranks for keywords related to sites that let users stream and download pirated movies. These terms are low value and a clear sign of spam.
There are other negative signals.
The site’s backlink profile contains a lot of spammy links with unnatural, random anchors.
Backlink growth also happened rapidly and in a way that appears unnatural. This is a clear sign of a shady link building campaign.
These SEO and domain signals suggest that the site is of poor quality. Heading to the homepage confirms this suspicion.
The site publishes content on a huge variety of topics at a rapid pace. There are also plenty of posts that are clearly for backlink purposes.
The site’s tagline is “Worth Your Time.” If you’re a link builder, it’s anything but.
Cupertinotimes.com has a name that seems authoritative. It also has a DR of 42, a long history, and around 3,000 organic visits per month, according to Ahrefs.
But the homepage has a clear red flag—it uses a very basic WordPress theme. The site also publishes articles on many different topics.
There’s tech, movie streaming, health, business, and more. These are very competitive niches for such a low-key blog. Of course, clicking on any of these posts reveals plenty of suspiciously placed links.
What’s more, there are a lot of guest posts written by an account called “Guest author.”
The good news is there is both a Contact and an About page.
The bad news is the Contact page is entirely blank. The About page contains little useful information apart from a link to their sponsored post and guest post guidelines section.
So if the site’s content is so low, why does it get 3,000 visits a month?
Exploring its keywords in Ahrefs shows that most of the keywords are low quality and low competition.
The majority of the traffic comes from a small selection of pages, which is a bad sign considering the site publishes multiple articles every day.
It seems that if you throw enough content at a website, even a bad one, eventually something will stick.
Newszii.com is a DR 53 site that doesn’t look too bad at first but shows plenty of red flags when you dive a little deeper.
First up are the posts themselves, which seem to fall into two categories.
The first is super-thin SEO content. These pages are mostly images and headings with a short introduction. The posts provide almost no value at all, other than hiding the second category of post.
The second category is made up of poorly written articles with suspicious links.
Perhaps the biggest red flag is the “Write for us” button that is clearly highlighted at the top of the homepage. On this page, the website clearly states that it offers dofollow links on sponsored posts.
This is a clear violation of Google policy which states sponsored posts should be nofollow. Essentially it’s advertising that it will give dofollow links to those who pay.
The site also publishes posts on many topics which, as we mentioned earlier, is a huge red flag.
Looking at search traffic in Ahrefs shows some mixed signs. The positive is that the site is getting around 3,000 organic views in Google. The negative is that it mainly ranks for questionable adult terms—the type of content most businesses don’t want to be associated with.
The final red flag is one that comes from our unique position as a link building agency: people contact us multiple times every week trying to sell us links to this site.
Avoid it like the plague!
FloridaIndependent.com is a DR 62 site with backlinks from The New York Times and The Guardian. It has growing traffic and ranks for some good terms.
A backlink from this site must be worthwhile, right?
The site seems to be a classic case of an SEO building a spammy site on a previously authoritative domain.
First, take a look at the links from The New York Times and The Guardian. As you can see in the image below, they are from 2010 and 2011.
They also point to pages that no longer exist. If you click on the link, you get redirected to the site’s homepage. This is a warning sign that the site has been built on an expired domain.
The site was probably once an authoritative news site that top-tier publications were happy to reference. But it’s now nothing more than a backlink farm.
Just take a look at the most recent content.
It has all the red flags we typically look out for:
- Posts on a variety of topics.
- No author names.
- Posts on controversial subjects.
- Posts with keyword match backlinks.
The site has both an “About Us” page and a “Contact” page, but neither gives any real information about who owns the site. The primary use of these pages seems to be to provide a way to contact the site about “becoming a contributor.”
It’s evident the main reason the site exists is to sell backlinks.
Our final example of a bad site is Oceanup.com. It seems like the site used to be a fairly well-respected celebrity gossip site. It has good organic traffic and a DR of 47.
The current owners have even put some effort into creating gossip-related content. The first posts displayed as widgets on the homepage consist of celebrity news stories.
Beyond this, most of the content seems to be guest posts for backlink purposes. Pretty much every post we could find contains a suspiciously placed link.
Our favorite by far is the post in the image below:
That’s right. An article about “digital marketing mistakes you should avoid” on a backlink farm—at least they didn’t discuss the effects of bad links!
Unfortunately, the site’s high DR means many people are probably still happy to buy links from the site.
But do so at your peril. Links from a spammy site like this are unlikely to stand the test of time.
Examples of Good Sites
We all know the major publications and blogs that we’d love to get links from, but there's not much value in saying "go get a link from Forbes magazine, it's a great site."
Therefore, we've focused on the some of the lesser-known sites that are still super valuable, which should ultimately make up the bulk of your link profile.
The design of Analyticsinsights.net isn't anything special. But there are plenty of reasons why it’s clear that this is a good site.
From the moment you land on the homepage, you can see that all the content is all on a clearly defined topic. The articles are newly published, well-researched, and written by subject matter experts.
There is also plenty of information about the people behind the site. There is an About page, a Contact page, a Media page, a Careers page, and more. The reader is in no doubt about who is behind the website.
The site also has an offline presence via its magazine. It has a podcast, a Twitter account with thousands of followers, and a LinkedIn company page.
The site’s SEO metrics are also excellent.
It has a DR of 80, almost 1 million monthly organic users, and it ranks for competitive keywords like “cloud technology” and “data mining tools.”
Google clearly loves this site, and we think you should too.
Industrytoday.com is a website and virtual magazine about manufacturing and industry news in the US. It publishes fresh, in-depth content on these topics with clear editorial oversight.
While there is some SEO-focused content, it’s all high-quality and would provide value to people who visit the site from search engines.
The site gets around 10,000 organic visitors per month according to Ahrefs and has a DR of 71. It also hits high-quality search terms. In fact, Ahrefs rates the traffic value as $16,000.
The site is also trending upwards year on year.
It wouldn’t surprise us if the site also gets a lot of direct traffic from industry and manufacturing professionals who want to stay up to date on trends.
The site’s footer has clear contact details, including an address, a phone number, a contact form, and an email address. It also has active Twitter and Facebook accounts.
If you get the chance to get a link from a site like this, jump at it.
Estate Agent Today
Estateagenttoday.co.uk is a UK-based real estate industry site. It doesn’t have the most modern design, but don’t let that fool you: this is a great site.
When you land on the homepage, you can see that all the articles are clearly about real estate.
Click on one and you’ll find well-written articles about the latest industry news or interviews with those in the industry. None of the posts we clicked on linked out to other sites, which is another clear sign a site isn’t being used as a backlink farm.
The site provides access to a phone number, contact form, and social media profiles. Another nice touch is that each of the articles says who wrote it. Click on the name and you’ll see some information about the person.
This is a great sign that the website has nothing to hide.
Another positive signal is the banner at the top of the page that shows the site has won awards. It’s true that it wouldn’t be hard for a backlink farm owner to add a similar button to their site. But when combined with all the other positive signals it builds a trustworthy picture.
On to the SEO metrics.
Ahrefs agrees that the site is a good one. It has a DR of 71, over 20,000 organic visits a month, and a traffic value of $51,000 per month.
When visiting this site, it seems like one a niche audience would get a lot of value from. If you can get a backlink from a site like this, we think you should take it.
Always Consider the Long-Term Impact of a Link
Link building is a long-term process. If you keep building high-quality links, over time your site will grow in strength and authority.
That’s why it’s crucial to avoid sites like the ones early on in this article.
Even if a site has a high DR and still gets traffic from Google, the owners are going to keep selling links and squeezing out every last drop of value. This will only end when it is eventually killed at the hands of either the Google algorithm or the owner.
The most important question you should ask is: if I get a link on this site, is it still going to be valuable a year into the future?
If the answer is “no,” think carefully about whether it is worth getting a link.