Website authority is a measure of how highly regarded your website is in the digital eyes of the search engine robots. Generally speaking, sites that are perceived as being more authoritative tend to rank more highly than brand new or low-quality sites that have no positive reputation as yet.
Improving your website authority can be a useful part of a search engine optimisation (SEO) campaign, as it should help all of your pages to perform better in the search engine results pages (SERPs). But remember that website authority is the end result, and not directly the means by which that end result is achieved.
To improve website authority, you need to focus on your content, and ensure you publish useful, engaging and authoritative pages that other internet users will naturally want to link to. By doing this on a continuing basis, you can build a website that is regarded highly by search robots and human users alike – just look to the major news outlets, healthcare providers like the Mayo Clinic, or the user-generated behemoth of Wikipedia for inspiration.
A brief history of website authority
Long ago (1997-98) Larry Page and Sergey Brin came up with the concept of PageRank, an algorithm that calculated the authority of a web page based on the number of hyperlinks pointing to it from elsewhere on the internet.
This was a core component in the search rankings of the first Google search engine, which launched in 1998, and ever since that ‘Big Bang’ it has remained one of the fundamental principles of where a web page appears in the search results.
Over time, the concept of website authority has become more complicated. It’s no longer just about how many inbound links point to a page; it’s also about the authority of the domains those links point from, and whether the third-party website’s owners were paid to add the link(s).
Website authority is no longer calculated on a per-page basis. If you have a domain that is perceived as authoritative, newly published pages may rank highly, even with no inbound links pointing to them as yet.
Because of this, website authority is something you can build over time, and something you should aim to maximise at all times, so that your search rankings don’t begin to slip.
What will we learn?
As we move through this guide, we’ll take a more detailed look at website authority and how it is calculated. By understanding the algorithms that drive your website’s authority rating, you can then understand how this feeds through into your search rankings.
Ultimately, we’ll look at some ways to optimise your website authority by raising the standard of your content and encouraging natural growth of inbound links from authoritative third-party websites. By addressing these issues, you give your website every opportunity to rank well in the SERPs not only on Google, but on search engines like Bing as well.
Finally, it’s worth noting that an authoritative website is an indication that a large number of other websites link to your pages – and that can bring in substantial traffic via referrals, rather than through organic search. Don’t forget to track this secondary stream of unique visitors when analysing your data, as it’s a valid contributor to the overall benefits of a website authority campaign.
What is website authority?
Website authority has many names and is a common feature of many SEO analytics platforms and web page performance measuring tools, extensions and add-ons. PageRank was an early way to measure the authority of a single page, but domain authority is now generally considered to be a site-wide metric, with your website’s overall rating providing a benchmark and individual pages hovering somewhere in the region of that score.
Depending on your analytics platform, your website authority score might be displayed in different ways. For example, PageRank historically gave a page a score between 0 and 10, and this remained visible on the Google Toolbar until 2016.
Nowadays, it’s common practice for authority scores to be given as an index from 0 to 100. These are broadly equivalent to the former PageRank: a page that previously had a PageRank of 6.0 would now have a page authority score of about 60, and so on.
It’s useful to know if your chosen tool to check website authority uses a linear or logarithmic scale. Using linear algorithms, it is as easy to improve page authority from 10 to 15 as it is to improve it from 90 to 95. On a logarithmic scale, even small incremental gains become increasingly difficult to achieve as you move to higher scores.
Website authority as part of EAT
Authority is one of the three principles of EAT for creating content for a website that impresses the search engines and human visitors alike.
EAT stands for:
By publishing content that combines the hallmarks of Expertise, Authority and Trust, you give your pages (and your whole domain) the best start in life, and the best chance to rank well in search results.
When is EAT used?
EAT is part of Google’s Quality Raters’ Guidelines. People are employed by Google to manually search for various words and phrases, and give the top results a rating on each of the EAT criteria.
Your pages don’t receive an ‘EAT score’ or an ‘EAT rank’ in the same way as they get an authority score, but as a publisher, you should keep the three elements of EAT in mind when creating new content.
This is particularly important in what Google calls ‘Your Money or Your Life’ (YMYL) subject areas such as finance (including shopping), breaking news events and health/safety topics.
If you publish YMYL content – pages that could have a material impact on visitors’ money or life – it is crucial that you make sure it performs well on any independent assessment of its expertise, authority and trust.
Pages relating to professional advice (e.g. financial, medical or legal advice) need formal expertise, so make sure you evidence this on your page.
A simple way to do this is by including a brief biography of the author, their academic qualifications, their years of industry experience or the title of any major works they have published.
It’s less important to evidence authority for more frivolous pages like entertainment and recipes, although you can follow the steps in the rest of this guide to give that content ‘page authority’ in its own right.
Google’s Quality Raters are told to value life experience and not just qualifications, so if you are a well-known expert or blogger in your chosen topic, this can be enough even if you have never formally studied the subject.
For more ideas about how to evidence EAT and how to build your authority and trust as an author – which should in turn be beneficial for your website’s overall authority – read our guide Understanding E-A-T as a Concept for your Business & your SEO Strategy.
Factors that influence website authority
Specific algorithms favour different factors when calculating website authority, and it’s uncommon for the full details of a proprietary authority algorithm to be made public, so like much SEO, improving your site authority can be a case of trial and error to discover exactly what works for you
Some elements that may determine your website’s authority rating include:
Number of inbound links
The original influencer still has a significant impact on your site authority score. Generally speaking, an increase in the number of third-party websites that link to you will lead to an increase in your domain authority.
However, there are a few exceptions to this, such as:
- Inbound links that use the rel=”nofollow” attribute to tell the search engine robots not to pass any authority along that link path.
- Paid inbound links that trigger a penalty due to Google’s crackdown on ‘unnatural’ link patterns and manipulation of the authority metric.
- Links from websites that have a very low authority score of their own, which may therefore contribute less to your rating.
Remember, any inbound link can still bring in human visitors who click on it, so it’s not all about the organic SEO benefits of link building campaigns. But if you can get an inbound link included naturally in a page from a website with high authority, and especially without using the ‘nofollow’ attribute, then your website authority is likely to improve as a result.
Authority of linking websites
The higher the authority of the third-party website that links to you, the more of an effect this is likely to have on your site authority score. You can think of your authority as a kind of average of all the links pointing to your page, multiplied by the authority of the domain they point from.
It’s good to keep this in mind if you’re pursuing a website authority campaign as part of your ongoing SEO efforts. For example, if you can get featured in an article on a national news site, with a link to your homepage, that one mention alone could pass significant ‘link juice’ from the high-authority news site to your own domain.
An intriguing consequence of this is that if a website that links to you increases its authority score, this can cause your rating to increase as a result. So if you know of a website that is still in its infancy, but has strong backers and big ambitions, it might be worth getting featured on that site complete with a referral link, which will pass more and more value over to your domain in the future as the third-party site grows in stature.
Number of outbound links on referrer sites
There’s an important caveat to the above, and it is this: the more outbound referral links a website has, the less authority (often informally called ‘link juice’) gets passed via each link.
It’s quite easy to understand why this is the case. It means that a website with high authority cannot artificially inflate the scores of vast swathes of the internet, just by including a massive number of outbound links in its content.
So when building your inbound links, try to get an understanding of how common it is for a particular referral site to link to third parties. A link from an authoritative site that hardly ever puts external links in its pages is worth much more than one from an equally authoritative site that includes a long list of references at the bottom of each page, or routinely hyperlinks brand names and mentions of source material.
How to improve your website authority
Putting together everything we’ve already said, you can see that the process to improve website authority is actually relatively simple:
- Generate more inbound links…
- From high authority websites…
- Which don’t use the ‘nofollow’ attribute…
- And don’t link out to third-party websites very often…
- Without triggering an ‘unnatural’ (i.e. paid) links penalty.
If you can achieve those five criteria in a link building campaign, it is highly likely that your website authority score will increase, no matter which proprietary tool you use to measure it. And in turn, your rankings in the SERPs should also improve, especially on the big search engines like Google and Bing.
But search engine optimisation is not just about doing what works – it’s about doing what works best. To not only maximise your site authority score, but also generate as much traffic and the highest possible conversion rates and ecommerce sales from that traffic, there are some best practice guidelines for website authority campaigns that you should keep in mind.
The importance of website architectureWebsite architecture is the way your website is structured and the technical aspects of how it works. If you’re technically minded, this can include things like how fast your pages load, whether they work on mobile devices and different operating systems, and so on.
Site architecture and authority go hand in hand. A well-functioning website will naturally circulate authority more effectively between its pages via internal linking, and should also attract more legitimate inbound links from third-party websites and social networks.
You can boost this effect by thinking about your website hierarchy. If your competitors have publicly visible sitemaps, take a look at how they structure the different categories, sections and pages of their websites.
You don’t necessarily need those pages to rank in search results, because if people need them, they will find them via an internal link on your site.
Why website hierarchy matters
Website hierarchy is the circulatory system of your site, and you should make sure every page has at least one link pointing to it. This helps human visitors to find your content if they need to, but it also makes sure the search engine robots can index every page too.
Site architecture is a fancy way of saying that your website has a logical structure and works well – you can dive deeper into the technical aspects of this, but you don’t need to be an engineer to appreciate that linking to valuable pages in prominent places will help them to appear more important and authoritative to the Googlebot and its counterparts.
Audit your link profile
Auditing your link profile complements your new SEO efforts by identifying and eliminating old paid links and other inbound links that Google has flagged as low-quality or spam.
Compile a backlinks report
You can get a list of sites that link to your website using Google Search Console or your preferred analytics platform, including the total number of inbound links to your page as well as the anchor text used, which can be useful when spotting spammy links.
There are two ways to spot low-quality links:
- Manually by examining the data for anything that looks suspicious.
- Automatically using a third-party link audit SEO tool online.
Some link audit tools can compare your link profile directly with another website, which is a great way of finding out how you stack up against your biggest competitors.
Correct link quality penalties
There are two ways your website can be penalised for having low-quality inbound links:
- Manual action by Google (which you should receive a notification of).
- Algorithmic penalties (usually imposed as part of an algorithm update).
If your traffic drops substantially and you know Google has recently announced a Core Algorithm Update, then you may have been penalised under the new ranking calculations.
This is especially likely if you have paid other websites to link to you in the past, as in recent years Google has been cracking down on this practice and penalising sites for their past linking behaviour.
Fixing algorithmic penalties can be more challenging as it’s hard to know exactly what has changed in Google’s ranking calculations, and whether your rank has fallen because of your on-page content, technical issues like page load speed, or third-party factors like backlinks.
To recover from a link quality manual action, you have a few different options. You can either get the low-quality links removed by the website that links to you, or ask Google to ignore them – so how do you do that?
How to disavow old paid links
You can’t directly edit other people’s websites – so what can you do about unwanted inbound links, or old paid backlinks that you’d like Google to ignore?
This is where the Google Disavow Tool (part of Google Search Console) can be a lifesaver, as it allows you to tell Google directly that you do not want to be associated with a specific inbound link.
Google’s own guidance recommends you use the tool only in the event of a manual action, and only if you have a large number of inbound links to disavow. Even then, they say you should attempt to get the links removed from the third-party pages if possible.
If you have been targeted by a malicious inbound link attack (where a third party deliberately links to your site many times in an attempt to look like you have paid them) you can disavow entire domains using the tool.
Be very careful when using the Google Disavow Links Tool, as legitimate inbound links have a positive effect on your rankings, and disavowing a large number of them could see your position in the SERPs fall instead of rise.
Auditing inbound links is half of the strategy: building new links is the other half. By combining the two, you can go a long way towards improving the authority of your website in the eyes of Google and the other major search engines.
Best practice for website authority campaigns
If you are planning a link building campaign to improve website authority, there are a few tips and tricks to keep in mind, which should help you to achieve better results.
Not all links are equal
First of all, you should understand that not all inbound links to your website represent the same value. Not only will they pass a different amount of link juice to your authority score, but they will also send varying numbers of human visitors, who will arrive to different landing pages.
When crafting a link building campaign, consider which landing pages on your website you want third-party publishers to link to. Think about whether you should create some new, high-quality, compelling content that other people are more likely to want to link to.
Examples include informative landing pages, infographics, whitepapers and other original insight. Create useful, engaging content and people will link to it naturally, even without you asking them to do so.
Approach high-authority publishers
Target relevant high-authority publishers and find out if it’s possible to get an inbound link from them that does not use the ‘nofollow’ attribute. You can check their existing pages to see if outbound links include rel=”nofollow” in the anchor tag. If they routinely do this, it’s possibly not worth asking them to link to your website, as you won’t receive any additional authority via the link.
Most publishers of high-authority websites will understand what you are trying to achieve – they probably didn’t get their own authority rating by accident – so don’t be embarrassed to be upfront about it in discussions, so it’s clear that a valid referral link is one of the key outcomes of any collaboration you enter into, such as providing the website with a guest blog post or editorial article.
Improve your internal link structure
It’s easy to get distracted by external links coming into your website and forget to optimise your internal link structure. But the search robots crawl your website via internal links too, and interpret pages with the most hyperlinks pointing to them as being among the most important on your website.
This makes sense: pages like your homepage and top-level category pages probably feature on your navigation menu on every page of your site, whereas those further down the hierarchy may only be linked from specific category index pages.
However, you can create your own internal SEO centipedes, with the external referrer site or SERP at the head of the centipede. This passes authority to your landing page, which is informative and engaging, but non-commercial. You then link from your landing page to an internal eCommerce page, passing authority to yourself and creating a sales funnel to encourage human visitors to place an order.
At the tail end of your centipede, you are left with an eCommerce page that can generate revenues, which should rank more highly in the SERPs thanks to the page authority you have passed to it via internal links.
Passing authority via internal links
Internal links can pass page authority around your website without the trail beginning from a third-party website or search engine results page.
No two pages on your site will have exactly the same amount of authority. The algorithms used to calculate this are very complex and just a handful more links to one page than another can make the difference in how much authority they each have.
But you can control this to an extent, by linking internally from your high-authority pages to the low-authority URLs you want to boost. Often this will happen naturally, e.g. if you link from highly optimised SEO content to a more basic page such as a contact form.
You can artificially adjust your internal link pattern though, to make sure you pass more page authority to the URLs you want to see rise in the search rankings.
This can have many different applications: one simple example is updating old internal links to a newer page with more timely information on it, which is likely to attract more traffic when it appears in search results.
Find out more about how to set up a website hierarchy and how to pass page authority via internal hyperlinks in our Definitive Guide for Internal Linking.
Who to approach for inbound links
Don’t be daunted by the prospect of asking a huge and highly regarded website to link to you – the worst that can happen is that they say no, or don’t reply to your request at all. But try to make a reasonable proposition, such as supplying them with some useful content, whether that’s an expert editorial, a guest blog post, a press release (useful for getting featured on news sites) or something similar.
If you’ve had success with a particular publisher in the past, consider working with them again. Different algorithms to calculate site authority may include or exclude second and subsequent links from the same site, but it all helps to build your brand presence on authoritative third-party sites.
Look for websites that have published content similar to yours in the past, and especially those that link to pages similar to your own. Always remember to check for the ‘nofollow’ attribute on their links, as there’s no direct benefit to your site authority score from inbound links that use this attribute.
When you find a publisher you enjoy working with, keep a note of their contact details and approach them again in future. If it’s too soon and they don’t want to link to you twice in quick succession, schedule a collaboration at a later date when enough time has passed. Keep the lines of communication open and positive, and focus on the mutual benefits of collaborating on compelling content.
The SEO value of evergreen content
Good SEO is a means to an end, and not an end in itself. Back in the early days of PageRank, some webmasters paid third parties to link to them in order to artificially improve their rank – a shortcut that delivered only short-term value.
Once Google became aware of this manipulation, the search engine cracked down, and nowadays if you have too many suspicious-looking inbound links pointing to your page, you’re likely to find yourself landed with an ‘unnatural links’ penalty.
The mistake made by those early SEO managers was to try to gamify website authority by directly manipulating inbound link numbers, instead of by publishing content that was actually worth linking to.
High-quality content that generates natural inbound links consistently proves to be the best long-term SEO strategy for linkbuilding, site authority score and generating inbound traffic in general.
Produce detailed, insightful pages supported by appropriate multimedia content, and don’t neglect mobile users and those with specific accessibility needs. Apply on-page SEO techniques to optimise your content for search performance, to give every page a headstart towards achieving the best possible position in the SERPs.
Website authority is something you can build over time, as the number and stature of your inbound links grow – so make sure you support it with content that will continue to perform well in the years to come.