What happens when you rely on domain scores (like Ahrefs’ Domain Rating) to give you the “truth” about a domain’s overall health and authority?
What happens when you only trust the data from one backlink crawler (like Moz) but ignore data from other backlink crawlers?
Then finally, what happens when Google is looking at authority and trust signals that are dramatically different than what your preferred backlink crawler is using?
Join us on our metaphorical existential crises where we review the pro’s and con’s behind all backlink crawlers (specifically Ahrefs, Majestic, Moz, and SEMrush). We want to challenge what you think Google is considering to be authoritative, and finish by introducing our most valuable metric thus far, MFR (Multifuse Rating).
It’s important to understand how authority scores work
All backlink crawlers crawl the web to create a database of links that either point from your domain to other pages on your domain (internal links) or from your domain to other external domains (outbound links). Backlinks are simply the links from other domains that point to your own. With that data from billions of domains, backlink crawlers can answer many questions about the internet, including correlations links have with Google rankings and specifically your domain’s overall authority in relation to other domains.
As digital marketers, we use this data to understand how links influence a domain’s ability to rank and it allows us to create strategies around building effective links to improve keyword rankings in Google.
Each backlink crawler has their own version of a domain-level authority score. Moz (aka Open Site Explorer) has “Domain Authority” (DA), Ahrefs has “Domain Rating” (DR), and Majestic has “Citation Flow” (CF). These popular “domain scores” are based on a domain’s backlinks, outgoing links, nofollow status, and some crawlers sprinkle in other proprietary metrics relating to a domain’s trustworthiness (like MozTrust). It’s worth noting that Majestic has Trust Flow, but it’s not formulated into their Citation Flow metric from our research.
Once a backlink crawler has link data for billions of domains, they can score every domain in their database (based on their own proprietary formulas), and logarithmically assign a domain score by comparing it against domains with the least link equity/juice (0), to domains with the most link equity/juice (100).
The problem is, domain scores don’t give the full picture
In theory, every link crawler’s data correlates with Google rankings because backlinks are an essential ranking signal. The problem is domain scores (or page-level scores for that matter) from the major link crawlers do not consider many other signals that Google is likely looking at when formulating their proprietary scores. And, since the primary reason to use data from a backlink crawler is for link building reasons, you’d think their flagship domain score would cater more to link building activities.
Google looks at raw link data too, but they likely also look at:
- Links from legitimate strategies that are sometimes abused (domains with “write for us” or “contributor” pages and expired domain redirection.)
- Links from non-debatable manipulation (PBNs, over-optimized anchor text, etc.)
- Links from domains with little to no editorial control (Social bookmarking, social blogging, blog commenting, forum posting, etc.)
- Links from domains with authentic traffic and reasonable CTR’s
- Links from domains or content that are contextually relevant
- Links from domains they already trust (shown through ranked keywords)
- Links from domains that show authenticity (active social accounts, https, public whois data, domain size, etc.)
I’m sure some of the above-mentioned signals are more important than others, but it’s safe to assume Google is looking at more than raw link data and link equity/juice when determining the value of a link. This unique viewpoint on how Google values a link is one we’ve had as a company since we started and directly ties in with our 30 quality metrics, we’re just now creating a domain score for it.
But, to the confusion of many, these important signals are not reflected in popular domain scores like Ahrefs’ Domain Rating, Moz’ Domain Authority, and Majestic’s Citation Flow.
Using only one backlink crawler’s data is creating missed link opportunities
We cannot ignore that there is a fair amount of logic, consistency, and ranking correlation with all backlink crawlers’ domain scores, but since no backlink crawler has a complete database of link data on the internet, it doesn’t make sense to exclusively use just one.
This comes as a harsh reality to us because we adored Ahrefs’ Domain Rating, even after their DR update that better represents how domains compare on the internet. And, although their update caused some issues for their users, their data is more accurate because of it. But even with the update, DR (as well as Moz and Majestic’s domain score) is still missing essential metrics that Google is likely looking at.
On top of that, we began to understand how many worthwhile missed link building opportunities there were that our clients could have benefited from.
For example, it’s understandable if a DR 8 domain has that score if Ahrefs has a limited view of their link profile. What if Majestic has found 30x more links than Ahrefs for that domain? What would the domain’s DR be if Ahrefs had the link data that Majestic did? A backlink crawler’s limitations can cause a significant amount of missed opportunities if you’re restricting your campaign’s link building efforts to just their data. It can give you a false sense of a domain’s superiority, or inferiority.
To formulate MFR, we wanted the most complete view of the internet’s links possible, so we decided to use data from the four major link crawlers – Ahrefs, Majestic, Moz, and SEMrush.
Specifically, MFR formula uses:
- Domain Scores
- Domain Rating (DR) from Ahrefs
- Citation Flow (CF) from Majestic
- Domain Authority (DA) from Moz
- Trust Scores:
- Trust Flow (TF) from Majestic
- MozTrust (MT) from Moz
- Backlink Data:
- Max reported backlinks (selecting highest count total between Ahrefs, Majestic, and Moz)
- Max reported referring domains (selecting highest count total between Ahrefs, Majestic, and Moz)
- Organic Traffic & Keyword Data:
- Max reported organic keywords (selecting highest count total between Ahrefs and SEMrush)
- Max reported estimated organic traffic (selecting highest count total between Ahrefs and SEMrush)
- Crawl Data:
- Max reported indexed pages (selecting highest count total between Ahrefs and Majestic)
- Max reported age of domain (from Whois)
- Count of social profiles found (looking for Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Youtube, and Instagram)
- Existence of a “write for us” page or similar
- Differentiation between a domain that’s used as an industry blog or as a corporate website.
I’m sure there are many more metrics we could have looked at, but we found the test results correlated extremely well with the domains we manually approved as being beneficial linking domains BEFORE we even created our formula.
How we’re weighting the data points
Assigning all 14 data points equal weight to influence MFR is something I’m sure we all agree is a bad idea. It’s worth noting that our MFR scores are NOT built on a logarithmic scale (0-100) like you’re used to seeing from backlink crawlers.
As a side note:
The problem with 0-100 logarithmic scales is it makes it difficult to see the true difference between domains. It also means you have to score a domain against the highest scoring domain available (which cannot go higher than 100). If that best domain happens to be massive like Facebook or Google, then most websites you come across are going to have a score of 1 or 2 because the massive domains dwarf them. As the massive domains keep getting bigger, it widens the gap between your domain and theirs, which ultimately means your domain score lowers (since theirs cannot go higher than 100).
This is exactly what happened to Ahrefs’ DR and is what’s causing them problems with users, even though their new DR scale better represents the disparity of domains on the internet. Despite good intentions of improving their product, it has ultimately made it harder to research and compare 99% of domains on the internet because they fall within DR 0-5. Sure, you have the alternative of using Moz or Majestic, but their database size is significantly smaller than Ahrefs, and because you need the most data to give the most accurate domain score, it still begs the question as to how many missed link opportunities you’ll have by solely using one backlink crawler. Hence, the reason for MFR.
But, I digress.
Our ultimate goal is to be able to pick out the obviously beneficial domains for our clients’ link building campaigns, so we don’t care how high their MFR gets as long as it’s using the same point system as other domains too. This keeps all of the domains we use as publishers (whether current or future) on the same playing field and relative to one another.
To get an understanding of how example domains score using our MFR metric, see this spreadsheet or see our snapshot below. These are the top results for “SEO agency” and “Utah SEO” according to SEMrush. None of them are publishers we use for client link building.
As you can see, based on the data we’ve gathered in column S through AZ, the associated points start to tally in columns D through Q and ultimately sum up in the orange MFR column. One caveat is we threw out the lowest score before adding up their MFR, unless that lowest score happens to be referring domains (which we feel is one of the most important, objective metrics). This allows us to eliminate certain domains from the possibility that their other metrics and their points can result in still obtaining a good MFR, despite having zero referring domains. That just wouldn’t make sense for link building purposes.
Suppose your link building strategy had a hypothetical hard rule to not use anything below DA 20 (which is a common threshold I’ve noticed). Using the data from the above-mentioned spreadsheet, you can see that you’d miss 34 pretty solid link opportunities from domains with a reasonable number of referring domains, ranked organic keywords, and measurable organic traffic. All because you’re trusting in a single metric, in this case, Moz. Moz is arguably the most popular crawler, but it actually has the smallest database and therefore, the most outdated data, generally speaking.
This is exactly the problem that our MFR is designed to solve. One of the biggest reasons for MFR is to get a clearer picture of the potential benefit that a domain can provide. Even if a given publisher has a domain a DA of 1, for example, that might not be an accurate measurement of that domain’s link equity. If the domain has a modest DR and CF score, shows a considerable number of referring domains, and has been found to rank for a good number of keywords, those data points demonstrate conclusively that there is still significant power in a link from that domain, despite its deceptively low DA. And this hypothetical scenario happens a lot, robbing our clients of awesome link opportunities.
Our updated product tiers
MFR is primarily used internally for the purpose of grading the value of a domain for our link building clients. Before, we used DR levels to differentiate between product tiers:
- DR 30-40
- DR 40-50
- DR 50+
To replace the outdated product tiers, the updated tiers will now be:
- MFR 15-30
- MFR 30-45
- MFR 45+
The move from DR to MFR will provide our clients with more accurate insight into the value of the links that we’re providing. MFR will also enable us to provide greater transparency to clients into how their links are being priced and why. We’re confident that this is going to be a positive addition to our link building service.
See you in the comments!
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