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March 24, 2014

How Do You Measure Website Authority?

Measure website authority with Moz's SEO Toolbar

There is a lot of emphasis now placed on the authority of a website domain and its pages. Search engines tell us that authoritative sites are those that will typically enjoy the best placement, while SEOs and marketers inform us that links and citations from authorities within our industry are those that will garner the best results. Marketing guides contain page after page regarding how to become an authority and the benefits of being an online thought leader, so how can you measure your authority, or the authority of other websites to help with your branding, exposure, and marketing efforts?

By Eye

It isn’t always possible to tell which sites carry the greatest authority but, generally speaking, if a site has a lot of reader engagement then it is likely to be considered authoritative. Posts with multiple user comments, share buttons that show multiple retweets and +1s, and numerous pingbacks are just some of the ways that you can manually determine the authority of a website.

Determining the level of authority a site has, simply by looking at it, however, is a bit manual and relies entirely on your judgement. There are websites and site owners that are happy to use multiple accounts in order to give the impression of an involved discussion, and there are certainly those that buy low quality retweets and other social indicators.

A more reliable and less time-consuming approach is definitely preferred.

Google PageRank

Despite Google PageRank being virtually useless to the marketing world, there are those Webmasters and site owners that continue to insist on its use. It is meant as a numerical measure of the number and quality of links that a page has, but the PageRank system is inherently flawed.

Google only updates its toolbar PageRank display every three months, and PageRank doesn’t take engagement or, albeit to a lesser extent, social ranking factors into consideration.

PageRank gives an extremely limited and often very outdated view.

Alexa Ranking

Another method that was once considered popular as a means of measuring a site’s popularity was its Alexa rankings. Alexa essentially measures the popularity of a site by determining the number of unique visitors it receives and then compares this to other sites. Obviously, the Yahoo owned subsidiary cannot measure every visit by every web user to every site, and it is only able to measure visits made by web users that have the Alexa toolbar installed.

The Alexa toolbar is typically only used by people that care about things like website visitor numbers and rankings. The average user has no interest and will, therefore, not have installed the toolbar. What’s more, if you install the toolbar yourself and visit your own site a few times a day, and encourage colleagues to do the same, you can game the numbers to your advantage. If you can do it, then so can others.

In 2005, Alexa was considered a useful tool, but it is too easy to game, has no bearing on search results, and should be considered a relic best left in the past.

Moz Domain Authority

Moz Domain Authority has proven to be a useful tool for measuring, tracking, and comparing website authority. What’s more, it even has the word authority in its title, so it must be relevant. Moz employs machine learning algorithms that attempt to determine which sites will perform well in Google rankings, and a measure of this is represented by the Domain Authority for a website. Essentially, this means that it measures link metrics.

Domain Authority has been the “go to” measure of authority for many people for some time. It has certainly proven more reliable than PageRank and the Moz toolbar is simple and convenient to use. However, sites that have a lot of links from so-called bad neighbourhoods still enjoy a decent Domain Authority and this means that a degree of manual checking is still required.

Moz Domain Authority is infinitely more effective and more convenient than PageRank and Alexa, but it is still not perfect and requires some manual checking.

Majestic SEO Trust Flow

Majestic SEO actually offers a number of measurements for a website and its pages. Citation Flow is similar, in a lot of respects, to Google’s PageRank. It measures the number and quality of links a page has, but it updates more frequently. However, of greater interest is Trust Flow.

A group of SEO experts were tasked with ranking a large database of websites according to their authority. Links from these sites to other sites were then used as a measure of trust, and this essentially gives a more manual and accurate measure of the authority that a website has. If you receive a link directly from a high trust site you will get a good Trust Flow rank, and if you are further down the chain, your rank will be lower.

Trust Flow is an accurate and reliable measure of a site’s authority, based on manually generated metrics. It still doesn’t really take social ranking factors into account.

Klout Score

Klout is a relatively new social measurement tool, although it has recently added a few new features and apparently plans to become a place where you can also add and distribute content. For now, though, it offers a ranking of how authoritative your social profile is.

Klout does not measure links or link value, but it doesn’t profess to. It measures mentions, tweets, retweets, and likes that you and your content receive on social sites. It predominantly uses Facebook and Twitter, although has recently added sites like Google+ to its roster.

Klout is a useful tool for measuring your social ranking performance, but it is limited in its use to those that are particularly interested in social media marketing.

The Verdict

Virtually all authority measurements are flawed in some way. PageRank and Alexa ceased to be useful some years ago, while Domain Authority from Moz can be easily gamed and may reveal inaccuracies for sites that have poor quality inbound links. Manually checking the quality of a site may be the most effective method, as long as you have a keen SEO eye, but it takes a long time to check a single site and unless you are an SEO expert it is unlikely that you will be able to identify the very best sites.

A combination of Klout score for measuring social ranking, and Majestic SEO’s Trust Flow gives a good all-round view of how authoritative your content, your site, and your opinion is considered. A decent ranking on one or the other means that there would be benefit from a link from that site, while a good ranking on both means that you could well have stumbled on one of the more authoritative sites in a particular industry.


Matt Jackson is the founder and lead copywriter for Ethical Link Building, providing SEO link building campaigns including press release writing and article marketing services. He provides eCommerce writing services, including the writing or rewriting of production descriptions.