This article defines the term “domain authority,” sheds light on its dimensions and introduces strategies on how to gain it for a website.

It discusses aspects like a website’s prestige, its quality of information and its centrality. It emphasises the importance of a website’s focus on a suitably proportioned target group and the site’s positioning in the context of other competing websites.

 What Is Domain Authority?

Let us start with an analogy. Imagine you sang and recorded the song “Oh Susannah.” Some people, such as your friends, may like it, supposing you sang it well. However, it will most probably not attract the interest of many people. However, if Katy Perry decided to sing it, it is highly probable that many, many people would listen to it. Let us now assume a slightly different scenario: You are part of a punk band with some popularity in the Parisian punk scene, which is supposedly not too competitive. It appears evident that you will be more successful for your target group, the Parisian punk fans, if you cater the song for them. You decide to sing it in French, arrange it as a punk version and keep on singing it in the Parisian clubs, inviting other Punk bands to play with you.

The analogy includes all major factors that are relevant for domain authority:

The domain authority of a website describes how important the site is for a specific targeted subject area. Search engines measure the general popularity of a website in the Internet. The results have a direct impact on a website’s page rank. When a visitor uses a search engine, the engines set the website in the context of these specific search phrases and keywords and reassess the website's relevance with respect to these seach words. In consequence, the search engine result page presents a subset of the Internet, highly focused on a specific subject or subject area.

The good news is that you can be highly visible, even if your page rank is pretty low. But you have to make sure you follow the following factors.

Decisive Factors

Domain-authority-what-it-is-how-to-build.jpgThe decisive success factors for gaining domain authority are a suitable choice of a target group corresponding to your website’s value proposition. This addressable size is correlated with the website’s prestige in a certain subject area and the level of competition in that subject area.

Also important is the quality of information that your site publishes and its interconnectedness with the domain’s community and other pages. Website traffic is also a considerable factor used by the search engines to verify whether your site is really an authority in your specific domain.

Let us look at it step by step:

Choosing the Right Target Group: Be Famous for a Few 

First of all, you need to be aware of your value proposition. It should be able to address a big enough community to attain your financial targets. Once this goal is set, you should target it properly. Be aware that you do not want to target everybody in that community. Often, your “buyer personae” can be skimmed down to the core decision maker and their influencers. Do not choose too many buyer personae. You can always extend your target group in a later state.

Having the goal of being visible in the Web, you have to find the keywords that your target group uses to search for something. A first step is to talk to your customers. Ask some of them how they would search for your value proposition. Also look in the Google Webmaster tools, under "Search Traffic/Search Analytics" and choose “Queries.” Here you can find the most often used search words by customers coming to your site.

But watch out: this is just the status quo. Perhaps you want to enlarge the scope of keywords that are attributed to your page. There are keyword tools available (like the one from Hubspot or the Google Adwords keyword tool) which help you find keywords that are achievable with your specific budget. It is always good to start with long-tail keywords and pave the road to your domain authority with many long-tail keywords, each corresponding to a specific potential search phrase of your customers-to-be.

Providing the Right Quality of Information: Be a Notable Source

The prospects coming to your site are in search of a solution to their problem. Be cautious with what you write. It is better to write less than to write unsubstantiated things. I know that this opinion is in a direct clash with many posts that suggest posting as much as possible.

The consequence will be: The prospects will not come back and the search engines will rank you down.

General design of your information:

  • Precision: What you say should be accurate and reproducible and repeatable. You do not help anybody if the reader only gets a vague idea of the solution.

  • Objectivity: Your prospects do not need your emotions or biased views. They need an answer to a specific problem. So come right to the point. If you give an opinion (e.g., when there is no real substantiation to your proposed solution), state clearly that it is an opinion, and say why you think it is the right answer.

  • Reputation: Try to build on your reputation. Try to show why you are a notable source without showing off. You can do that, e.g., by quoting examples from your own experience.

The context of your information:

  • Relevance: Make sure that the solutions you present are relevant to your specific target group. Value-added: Your information should be novel to your target group. Plagiarism will kill your reputation. If you talk about a subject that was discussed before (which is the case in most of the things discussed), clearly ask yourself: what is the value added, and brush your information of this.

  • Timelessness: Short-lived information may be interesting from time to time to sort out a burning problem, e.g., when it is connected to an event or a tradeshow. But be aware that information visibility may grow over time. So it will be your stock of long-living information plus continuously added fresh information that builds up your assets of domain authority.

  • Completeness: Nothing is worse than a story that is only half-told. Proportion your sets of information so that they are complete. Web pages, blog posts, and videos are decontextualised building blocks that should be autonomous on their own but able to tell a bigger story when connected into a sequence of information. Such elements become “sharable content objects,” which other authors or sites might want to include into their bigger stories and thus enhance your domain authority.

  • Quantity: The right quantity depends on the sections of your website. A good product description should be short and concise. The most important information should be above the fold. The data sheet can be very detailed and should not leave any question unanswered. 
Blog articles can be short, when there is not much to tell. But the best rank in Google get blogs posts that have around 2,500 words on average

The representation of your information:

  • Format: Choose the right format for the right information. A media mix is important and awarded by your prospects and the search engines in the same time. Be aware that you gain domain authority for your whole website. Hence, like a conductor, you should orchestrate your website as a whole in pursuit of domain authority.

  • Interpretability: Make sure that your website has the right meta-data and meta-tags so that search engines can read and interpret it. Make sure that you use a content management system which has comfortable meta-data editors. Annotation is not just a yes/no thing. Semantic annotation is a growing art and the search engines are the first to implement the corresponding interpreters to be ahead of their competition with the right interpretation of a site or a page.

  • Coherence and stringency: Your information should be logical, interconnected and consistent. This is especially required when a whole team of authors provide content to the same site. It is certainly a catastrophe when a gap between information coming from marketing, product management and development is even visible in the website.

    Make sure the information is able to create a consistent overall picture that is stringent in conveying an overall message able to create a deserved domain authority. Make sure that the egos of all contributors are able and willing to blend into this coherent picture.

The accessibility of your information:

  • General accessibility: Make sure that the right information is accessible to your target audience and visible to the search engines. This holds a dilemma, as a major pillar of content marketing is to trade information against contact information. Find the right compromise, e.g., make enough content of your white papers visible to the search engines to be find, but still keep the major part of it behind a form to motivate your prospects to sign up to access the information.

  • Access security: If people get to your site, make sure that they are safe. Safety means that they are protected from malicious intrusion into their IT-systems (viruses, trojans) but also that their data is kept thoughtfully.

Gaining Quality Inbound Links: Be Prestigious in Your Community

Gaining prestigious links means winning notable sites in your industry of content area and getting sites of general prestige to interlink with you. This is a time-consuming and rocky road. 

Here is a non-exhaustive set of possibilities, starting with the low-hanging fruits:

  • Be active in social media. Twitter is normally a pretty reactive medium helping to point at you (although Twitter is not treated like links from more static websites).

  • Interlink with your partners and distributors. This will help weaving a domain oriented Web, visible for your prospects and the search engines alike.

  • Ally with universities. Universities are traditionally seen as notable “nodes” in the Web. Offer participation of graduate or PhD projects. Students and researchers are in search of “real life data” to validate their research. And they will speak about it and about you in their publications and on the university website.

  • Quote other websites or authors. It is likely that they will point on your website to inform their community, as you are also contributing to their authority.

Embedding Your Information into a Network of Ingoing and Outgoing Links: Be Central

In addition to the inbound hyperlinks, you should try create hyperlinks from your site to prestigious other webpages. Search engines reward quality of outgoing links, but not in a spammy way. They should fit into the context (be contextual), and be relevant, meaning they add value and help creating a domain-specific Web.

Generate a Sufficient Amount of Traffic for the Specific Subject Area:  Be Attractive

It is always difficult to generate much traffic, especially if you are a startup or if you have a website which is lacking visibility. However, domain authority can be created page by page. With targeted publications around long-tail keywords, traffic can be driven page by page and thus contribute to the website’s overall increased traffic.

The more targeted the subject area is, the lower the critical mass of traffic needs to be in order to be positioned predominantly in the search result pages of the search engines. In other words, if you are the only one writing about a long-tail keyword, you will be automatically on page one. 


Domain authority has many parameters to play with. Factors such as targeted audience and size of target group, quality of information, website prestige and centrality give scope for manoeuvring for all company sizes and budgets.

The one common characteristic that is required for content editors of all types in websites is this: Be enduring, because creating domain authority is a medium to long-term process. And be persistent. The path to domain authority is full of iterations, refocusing and optimisation. But in times, where the Web has become the pre-dominant source of information, it is the only way to go.

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 References and Further Reading

For interested readers and scholars, we suggest furher reading in our academic publications:

Credits: Photo by Michael Coghlan, Flickr