Starting From the Bottom: How to Build Up Your Domain Authority from Scratch

I’ve run into the same scenario more times than I can count: I start working for a client with a brand new site, we develop an incredible content strategy, and then they ask how long it will take to rank on the first page of Google for high-volume, high-competition terms.

It’s never fun to explain that no matter how great the content and the strategy, we won’t be hitting those top spots for the top keywords for a little while. Not when the site is relatively new, has no content history, and has a limited backlink profile.

New sites naturally have lower domain authorities, which make it harder to compete with established sites that are trusted by and prioritized in search engines. In this post, we’re going to go over everything you need to know about domain authority, including how to check your current score and how you can improve your score, no matter where you stand.

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What Is Domain Authority and Why Does It Matter?

When someone enters the search term “tips to paint the exterior of my house,” there are likely thousands of relevant pages that are targeting that keyword phrase, and Google has to decide which page they want to show first.

Because the search engine giant wants to increase the likelihood that the user has a great experience, it'll look for content relevance as well as sites that have a history of producing valuable, trusted content along those lines.

This is where domain authority comes in. Your brand new mom-and-pop painting company will struggle to compete against a huge chain like Lowes for similar keywords, all else being equal.

Domain authority is not a metric that Google uses when compiling their ranking order for the SERPs, but it is a gauge of how well you can expect to perform there against your competitors. Created by Moz, this metric will give you a number from 1-100 (the higher the score, the better) that tells you how trusted your site is by Google, and therefore how likely you are to rank well.

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Even though this metric doesn’t actually affect the SERPs, domain authority still a good one to pay attention to, because it indicates your potential there. Click To Tweet

Increasing your domain authority score will often correlate with more potential to do well in the SERPs, though it will have no impact on what your competitors are doing.

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How to Check Your Current Authority Status

There are a number of tools that allow you to check your domain authority for free, but the best ones are Moz’s Explorer tool or their free MozBar Chrome extension, both of which give you the domain authority right from the source itself. Moz’s Explorer is not a free tool in general, but you can get up to 10 free queries per month.

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When you search for a specific URL, you’ll be able to see what your domain authority is, and what the page authority is for that specific URL. The page authority is basically the same thing as the domain authority, but it’s focusing on an individual URL instead of the root domain.

If your site is newer or hasn’t aggressively worked to build up site links, there’s a good chance that you’ll be hovering around a 30 or less. That’s ok! While it does take time to increase your authority, which is no fun, there are strategies that can help, and it’s much easier to go from a 30 to a 40 than a 70 to an 80; it gets more difficult the higher you go, which is good news for everyone getting started.

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5 Concrete Ways to Build Your Domain Authority

We know that domain authority, in its own indirect way, is important. I want to stress again that time is a factor that you need to take into account; older sites are more trusted and naturally have a much more extensive backlink profile, so it will be hard to catch up.

Notice, though, that I said hard and not impossible. I’ve worked with sites over a period of two years that ended up beating out major competitors for those number one spots, so with the right strategies, you can do the same.

Here are the 5 ways you can take action to start building your domain authority as quickly as possible.

1) Focus on Link Building

Link building is the first thing that you should focus on when it comes to domain authority, because this is a big quality signal that Google looks at. If plenty of other great and high-authority sites are linking to you, after all, it means that they trust you and think you have something to offer. Google notices this.

If you haven’t already, the best place to start is to run a backlink audit, which will show you your current backlink profile. It will also flag any potential harmful backlinks you’ll want to remove (which we’ll cover in the next section). I like SEMrush’s tool, but there are others that you can using, including Moz.

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While looking at your backlink profile, take note of not just how many links you have, but which sites they’re coming from. Check those sites’ domain authorities online; are any of them high enough to give you a boost? Over 50 is good, but 70+ is outstanding.

As you’re looking at your backlink profile, consider how you can expand upon it. Creating great content on your site through blogs is always a good start, because it gives people something that they can link to.

Guest posting is the best option when you want to build up your domain authority quickly, as it allows you to get backlinks from a number of high-authority sites. Click To Tweet

Look for some of the most high-authority publications when choosing your link building profile, and remember that it’s better to have links from four different sites than four links from a single root domain; Google prioritizes the former.

Dive Deeper: How – And Why – To Build A Backlink Portfolio

2) Eliminate any Harmful Backlinks

Sometimes it’s easy to get a little overeager with the backlink building, especially if your business took part in any of the “not punished then but now not approved” backlink practices. Private blogging networks, for example, will typically hurt you more than they’ll help you, and spamming your link online is a fast way to get a Google penalty and a knock down on your domain authority score.

Check that backlink audit, and look over it closely. SEMrush will flag all the toxic links that you have, showing you the individual backlink, along with your overall ratio of positive-to-toxic links. They’ll also show you the number of referring domains you’re getting backlinks from, which is helpful to see.

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Create a list of backlinks you need to start working on. If you can remove them manually, go back and do so. For example, remove links to your site in the comments sections or forums. If, however, you no longer have access to the sites where your links are placed, which may be the case for something like a private blogging network, you should look at doing a link disavow through Google.

A link disavow should only be done if you believe that you have links that are knocking you down and if you haven’t been able to remove them manually. The process is pretty straightforward, and you can learn more about it here.

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3) Create Great Content

Content marketing is going to be a huge asset while you’re trying to build up your domain authority. It allows you to keep the main pages on your site in order while still creating new opportunities for you to write fresh content (which Google loves) that can attract your target audience, provide a valuable avenue for new backlinks, and allow you to rank for more keywords.

When using content marketing as a core part of your backlink strategy, keep the following in mind:

  • If you want to get more eyes on your content, which will get you more shares and more backlinks, you need to have a strong distribution plan in place. If your domain authority isn’t strong yet, you can’t rely on SEO alone; have social campaigns set up to share your posts, and consider reaching out to your network and ask for a few shares at the beginning. You can also use PPC campaigns like Facebook Ads to promote important posts and hopefully gain traction early on. Be agile here.
  • Offer unique, original content. If you want those links and a lot of attention on your post, you have to create something that no one else has done yet. Otherwise, people can easily steal the ideas covered in a post, if they’re even interested enough to read it. Instead, opt for original thoughts and, if possible, even consider creating resources like infographics or case studies that contain statistics from your own research. People will have to link back to you for this.

Dive Deeper: The Skyscraper Technique: How to Build High-Quality Backlinks to Your Content

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4) Look for  Crawlability Issues

If Google can’t crawl your site, there’s a good chance that they’re missing out on the great content you have to offer, and it will hurt you in the SERPs. There’s also a good chance that Moz will have the same issues, and it will cause your domain authority score to take a hit.

Crawlability issues are something you want to avoid, because that means not getting all the SEO points you should be getting even if you have all the right elements in place. Use a site audit tool to regularly monitor your site for any issues that could be causing problems, such as confusing redirects, broken links, and even duplicate content. SEMrush is still my go-to here, but again, Moz is another great option.

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These tools will show you the specific errors that could be hurting your SEO potential, and they’ll often have suggestions for how to fix it. In many cases, the errors are relatively easy to fix, especially considering the huge payoff that you could get in return.

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5) Boost Your Social Presence

Google and Moz both look at social signals like retweets, likes, and shares of your content when evaluating domain and page authority. This ranking factor does not weigh as heavily as other things like backlink profiles or crawlability perfection, but it can make an impact, so if you want to change your domain authority score as quickly as possible, take some time to get this right.

Find ways to increase social proof on your content, as this will get more traffic to your site and boost your authority score at the same time, both of which will only benefit your business.

Social is a huge driver of online traffic, and if your domain authority is struggling but you’ve started to gain a social following, you can use the latter to help you get more traction with the former. Click To Tweet

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Make sure that you’re sharing blog posts, infographics, and lead magnets with interesting descriptions explaining why users should click to read, instead of just posting the title and hoping that will be enough. Make the value clear up front and include a CTA like “The ebook is free– download it now!” to increase clicks on the post and further actions.

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Conclusion

Domain authority can frustrate a lot of new sites trying to make a name for themselves (and increase site traffic and lead generation) through content marketing, but it’s something that everyone has experienced. Be patient, because a combination of time and some dedication to your link-building strategies will help your site authority, and it will be easier for you to rank well.

Consistency is important, so keep at these strategies even if it feels like you’re spending too much time waiting on editors to respond to your guest posting inquiries. In the meantime, you can always target some lower-competition long-tail keywords so that you can still rank and start getting some of those clicks to your site.

If you’re still looking for a little help with giving your domain authority a boost and improving your overall SEO traffic, we can help. Learn more here.

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