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Domain Authority vs. SERP Fit: Where to Focus for Organic Growth

Published: April 21, 2016

Author: Tim Clarke

Much has been made of the search optimization metric created by Moz.com called Domain Authority (DA).
It’s been pitted against Google’s own PageRank (PR) – and succeeded. It’s simply much more detailed, transparent, malleable, and updated. Google’s core PR receives a couple of minor updates a year, at most.
Domain Authority has also been made a fundamental metric – many SEO experts use DA as one of their general measurements of overall “health” of SEO, and that is indeed what it represents in layman’s terms.
Unfortunately, because of its influence and general use, it can be mistaken as an ideal indicator of organic growth. In this post, we’ll explain why it should always take a back seat to SERP fit – and what that means for your optimization efforts.

Too Vague, Too General

The very premise that makes DA a decent metric for SEO health makes it a poor indicator for organic growth: it reflects the state of the overall optimization of your domain. It shows you how well your SEO efforts are going, not how far your SEO efforts have grown your brand in terms of organic search.
The difference is subtle, yet significant.
DA is a collection of hardware and software metrics such as server uptime and code errors, content and traffic metrics and distribution, domain age and registry info, quantity, quality, and diversity of incoming and outgoing links, and PR. Put all of these together and you get a number between 1 and 100 that SEO Consultants agree reflects the standing of your SEO efforts. But just because your crack SEO team is working doesn’t mean you’re getting where you need to be.
While search engines look at all the same factors included in DA (and then some), what you really need to ascertain is whether your efforts are placing the right webpages in the right search engine results pages (SERPs).
Consider a practical example:
This is a search conducted by an SEO expert and used as an example for an article where he argues that DA is a “barometer metric.” The keyword used for the search was “22″ wheel spacers.”
Right beneath Amazon and a YouTube video, the third result is a website with a DA of 18. There are several nuanced reasons that justify this SERP result, but in a nutshell, DA is a poor indicator of SERP performance because of user intent. Based on DA alone, the top third result shouldn’t even be in the list, yet Google thought it was relevant enough to show the user.

Purposeful Organic Growth

User intent is a big deal here. Intent – purpose – defines how you should gauge your growth. Your DA is 10 points higher this month? Great. Where are you in the relevant SERPs?
SERP fit is a very specific, very purposeful metric for organic growth. Since what you’re after is more targeted organic traffic via search, you should stop worrying too much about DA and start looking at your relevant SERPs. Are the webpages you want to have ranking actually showing up as results in the right searches? Are your ranks actually improving? Are you showing up on all the right keywords?
If you look at it from this perspective, it’s plain to see why DA is not an ideal yardstick with which to measure organic growth. The Page Authority (PA) of the webpages you want to rank in SERPs is much better, but even then you’re still relying on vague, general consensus data.
Use DA – and use PA – but only as staple, general indicators of the health of your optimization efforts. How much you’ve grown organically in search should be left to more meaningful and specific metrics such as SERP fit.

Make Sure It Fits

The best vendors of SEO services understand where DA is relevant and where it isn’t. Tracking your organic growth means keeping tabs on SERP performance, and on this front, DA takes the backseat.
SERP fit is the practical, specific measure of organic growth. Figuring out if the right webpages are showing up in the right searches sounds like a straightforward task, but it’s much more intricate than having an algorithm calculate DA. SERP fit is approached via many different aspects that all either contribute towards organic growth performance or relate to other relevant areas:

  • Keyword fit – Are the webpages you’re trying to increase in rank showing up on the right user queries? Are you, for some reason, ranking for a keyword you’re not targeting?
  • Ranking increase – Where are your webpages in their relevant SERPs now compared to a week ago? A month ago? What changes influenced your ranking and what should you do to increase it?
  • SERP competitor listings – If your webpages are showing up amongst competitors, you’re on the right track. If you’re 10 pages behind, you’re still on the right track, but you need to step up your game.
  • Paid ads that show alongside organic results – Your organic and paid search efforts are related, if not intertwined. Better yet, so are your competitors, whose paid ads and organic results you can also observe and analyze through SERP fit analysis.

Finally, once you’re sure you’re winning in terms of SERP fit, it’s time to zero in on user intent. You can use rich snippets and Schema Markups to make your SERP listing more user-friendly and aligned with user intent. You can even do the same with your AdWords listings through extensions.
But first, let go of DA and start using SERP fit.

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