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Is It A Google Ranking Factor?

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Is It A Google Ranking Factor?

Many companies and marketers believe that Domain Authority is a big deal.

There are guides everywhere about how you can boost your website’s Domain Authority for better rankings in search results.

But does a higher Domain Authority actually result in better rankings?

In this chapter, we will explore what Domain Authority is and the evidence as to whether it is a Google ranking factor.

[Ebook:] Download The Complete Google Ranking Factors Guide

What Is Domain Authority?

To understand whether Domain Authority is a part of the Google algorithm, first, we must understand what Domain Authority is.

First, there is domain authority – the concept – and Domain Authority (DA), the metric by Moz.

As VentureSkies describes it, the general definition of domain authority is as follows:

“The domain authority of a website describes how important the site is for a specific targeted subject area [and] relevance with respect to … search words..”

Then, there’s Moz’s Domain Authority or DA score, which defines the metric as “…a search engine ranking score developed by Moz that predicts how likely a website is to rank in search engine result pages (SERPs).”

Domain Authority by Moz is calculated using dozens of factors, including the number of linking root domains and the total number of links. The score itself is displayed on a 100-point scale.

It’s worth noting that Moz is not the only SEO platform that has developed a metric for measuring website authority. You will also find that:

  • Ahrefs has an Ahrefs Rank and Domain Rating. AR ranks websites in the Ahrefs database by the size and quality of their backlinks, while Domain Rating shows the strength of a website’s backlink profile compared to others in the Ahrefs database on a 100-point scale.
  • Semrush has an Authority Score that measures the overall quality and SEO performance of a domain or webpage.
  • Majestic has Flow Metric Scores that measure the number of links a website has and the quality of the website’s content.

The Claim: Domain Authority As A Ranking Factor

Many articles discussing Domain Authority refer to it as a search engine ranking score and suggest it is a good predictor of how well a website will perform in SERPs for targeted keyword phrases.

This can lead some to believe that Domain Authority is a ranking factor for search engines like Google.

There is even an interesting Twitter thread in 2020 from the co-founder of Moz, Rand Fishkin, showing internal documents from Google, suggesting Google does have a domain authority-like metric.

But continue reading – the evidence becomes clear.

[Discover:] More Google Ranking Factor Insights

Domain Authority As A Ranking Factor: The Evidence

Moz’s website says its Domain Authority score does not impact Google search results.

“Domain Authority is not a Google ranking factor and has no effect on the SERPs.”

In 2015, Gary Illyes, Chief of Sunshine and Happiness at Google, was asked about authority passing from HTTP to HTTPS. His response:

“We don’t have “authority”, but signals should pass on, yes.”

In 2016, Illyes answered a question about whether adding or removing pages from a website affected its domain authority.

“so, my problem is that I don’t know of anything in ranking that would translate to “domain authority”, so can’t answer”

A few weeks later, during a discussion about linking to image files or webpages for an impact on domain authority, Illyes replied:

“We don’t really have ‘overall domain authority’. A text link with anchor text is better though”

From there, you will find many confirmations from John Mueller, Search Advocate at Google, that Domain Authority exists but that Google doesn’t use it.

In December 2016, Mueller responded to a comment about a desktop domain having higher authority.

“Google doesn’t use ‘domain authority’”

In 2018, someone asked if Domain Authority existed on a Reddit AMA with Mueller.

Mueller’s response acknowledged that:

“Of course it exists, it’s a tool by Moz.”

Later that year, when asked on Twitter if Domain Authority existed – again – Mueller responded:

“‘Domain Authority (DA) is a search engine ranking score developed by Moz’ so exists = yes. Search engines don’t use it.”

In 2019, when asked about a site-wide metric similar to Domain Authority on Twitter, Mueller answered:

“We don’t use domain authority. We generally try to have our metrics as granular as possible, sometimes that’s not so easy, in which case we look at things a bit broader (eg, we’ve talked about this in regards to some of the older quality updates).”

Later that year, a Twitter user asked if a drop in search engine traffic was due to a loss in Domain Authority. Mueller replied:

“We don’t use domain authority, that’s a metric from an SEO company. I’d recommend starting a thread in the help forum with the details, including the URLs & queries you’re seeing changes in.”

In 2020, Mueller received another question about domain authority. This time, someone asked if backlinks from high domain authority websites matter in website rankings. His response:

“We don’t use domain authority at all in our algorithms.”

A few months later, Mueller was asked how important Domain Authority was to crawling webpages faster on Twitter.

“Just to be clear, Google doesn’t use Domain Authority *at all* when it comes to Search crawling, indexing, or ranking. This is pretty clear on their site.

We do, however, index tweets that talk about it.”

Up until that point, Google representatives seem clear that there is no use of Domain Authority. However, in a late 2020 interview with SearchLove, Mueller was quizzed on whether Google had a domain authority-like metric.

Unlike the ones before, this answer hints at a possible DA-like metric in Google’s algorithm.

“I don’t know if I’d call it authority like that, but we do have some metrics that are more on a site level, some metrics that are more on a page level, and some of those site-wide level metrics might kind of map into similar things.”

In 2022, Mueller answered another question about Domain Authority on Reddit. The question was how to increase a website with a Domain Authority of 31. Mueller answered:

“I’m kinda torn. On the one hand, you do not need DA for Google Search. Google doesn’t use it *at all*. If you’d like to level your site up in search, you’d need to focus on something else, or at least use other metrics for it. This is mostly why DA as a metric is frowned upon by many SEOs. For context, I don’t think I’ve ever looked up the DA for a site in the 14 years I’ve been doing this.”

He offered additional advice on how one could improve a domain’s authority by focusing on a topic with low competition and creating “…a reasonable collection of fantastic content” about that topic.

He emphasized that user signals, not any kind of authority score, would be what moves the needle.

[Recommended Read:] Google Ranking Factors: Fact or Fiction

Domain Authority As A Ranking Signal: Our Verdict

Domain Authority (DA) by Moz is similar to Domain Rank (DR) by Ahrefs, the Semrush Authority Score, and Flow Metric Scores by Majestic.

They are all authority metrics calculated by third-party tools that have no actual effect on search engine rankings.

While Mueller once suggested that Google has metrics that map into similar things as Domain Authority, he has repeatedly denied the use of Domain Authority by Moz on Twitter and Reddit.

He also noted that they don’t call anything they do internally “domain authority.”

Therefore, we can conclude that Domain Authority is definitely not a ranking factor.


Featured Image: Paulo Bobita/Search Engine Journal

Ranking Factors: Fact Or Fiction? Let’s Bust Some Myths! [Ebook]



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Google Search Leak: Conflicting Signals, Unanswered Questions

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Google Search Leak: Conflicting Signals, Unanswered Questions

An apparent leak of Google Search API documentation has sparked intense debate within the SEO community, with some claiming it proves Google’s dishonesty and others urging caution in interpreting the information.

As the industry grapples with the allegations, a balanced examination of Google’s statements and the perspectives of SEO experts is crucial to understanding the whole picture.

Leaked Documents Vs. Google’s Public Statements

Over the years, Google has consistently maintained that specific ranking signals, such as click data and user engagement metrics, aren’t used directly in its search algorithms.

In public statements and interviews, Google representatives have emphasized the importance of relevance, quality, and user experience while denying the use of specific metrics like click-through rates or bounce rates as ranking-related factors.

However, the leaked API documentation appears to contradict these statements.

It contains references to features like “goodClicks,” “badClicks,” “lastLongestClicks,” impressions, and unicorn clicks, tied to systems called Navboost and Glue, which Google VP Pandu Nayak confirmed in DOJ testimony are parts of Google’s ranking systems.

The documentation also alleges that Google calculates several metrics using Chrome browser data on individual pages and entire domains, suggesting the full clickstream of Chrome users is being leveraged to influence search rankings.

This contradicts past Google statements that Chrome data isn’t used for organic searches.

The Leak’s Origins & Authenticity

Erfan Azimi, CEO of digital marketing agency EA Eagle Digital, alleges he obtained the documents and shared them with Rand Fishkin and Mike King.

Azimi claims to have spoken with ex-Google Search employees who confirmed the authenticity of the information but declined to go on record due to the situation’s sensitivity.

While the leak’s origins remain somewhat ambiguous, several ex-Googlers who reviewed the documents have stated they appear legitimate.

Fishkin states:

“A critical next step in the process was verifying the authenticity of the API Content Warehouse documents. So, I reached out to some ex-Googler friends, shared the leaked docs, and asked for their thoughts.”

Three ex-Googlers responded, with one stating, “It has all the hallmarks of an internal Google API.”

However, without direct confirmation from Google, the authenticity of the leaked information is still debatable. Google has not yet publicly commented on the leak.

It’s important to note that, according to Fishkin’s article, none of the ex-Googlers confirmed that the leaked data was from Google Search. Only that it appears to have originated from within Google.

Industry Perspectives & Analysis

Many in the SEO community have long suspected that Google’s public statements don’t tell the whole story. The leaked API documentation has only fueled these suspicions.

Fishkin and King argue that if the information is accurate, it could have significant implications for SEO strategies and website search optimization.

Key takeaways from their analysis include:

  • Navboost and the use of clicks, CTR, long vs. Short clicks, and user data from Chrome appear to be among Google’s most powerful ranking signals.
  • Google employs safelists for sensitive topics like COVID-19, elections, and travel to control what sites appear.
  • Google uses Quality Rater feedback and ratings in its ranking systems, not just as a training set.
  • Click data influences how Google weights links for ranking purposes.
  • Classic ranking factors like PageRank and anchor text are losing influence compared to more user-centric signals.
  • Building a brand and generating search demand is more critical than ever for SEO success.

However, just because something is mentioned in API documentation doesn’t mean it’s being used to rank search results.

Other industry experts urge caution when interpreting the leaked documents.

They point out that Google may use the information for testing purposes or apply it only to specific search verticals rather than use it as active ranking signals.

There are also open questions about how much weight these signals carry compared to other ranking factors. The leak doesn’t provide the full context or algorithm details.

Unanswered Questions & Future Implications

As the SEO community continues to analyze the leaked documents, many questions still need to be answered.

Without official confirmation from Google, the authenticity and context of the information are still a matter of debate.

Key open questions include:

  • How much of this documented data is actively used to rank search results?
  • What is the relative weighting and importance of these signals compared to other ranking factors?
  • How have Google’s systems and use of this data evolved?
  • Will Google change its public messaging and be more transparent about using behavioral data?

As the debate surrounding the leak continues, it’s wise to approach the information with a balanced, objective mindset.

Unquestioningly accepting the leak as gospel truth or completely dismissing it are both shortsighted reactions. The reality likely lies somewhere in between.

Potential Implications For SEO Strategies and Website Optimization

It would be highly inadvisable to act on information shared from this supposed ‘leak’ without confirming whether it’s an actual Google search document.

Further, even if the content originates from search, the information is a year old and could have changed. Any insights derived from the leaked documentation should not be considered actionable now.

With that in mind, while the full implications remain unknown, here’s what we can glean from the leaked information.

1. Emphasis On User Engagement Metrics

If click data and user engagement metrics are direct ranking factors, as the leaked documents suggest, it could place greater emphasis on optimizing for these metrics.

This means crafting compelling titles and meta descriptions to increase click-through rates, ensuring fast page loads and intuitive navigation to reduce bounces, and strategically linking to keep users engaged on your site.

Driving traffic through other channels like social media and email can also help generate positive engagement signals.

However, it’s important to note that optimizing for user engagement shouldn’t come at the expense of creating reader-focused content. Gaming engagement metrics are unlikely to be a sustainable, long-term strategy.

Google has consistently emphasized the importance of quality and relevance in its public statements, and based on the leaked information, this will likely remain a key focus. Engagement optimization should support and enhance quality content, not replace it.

2. Potential Changes To Link-Building Strategies

The leaked documents contain information about how Google treats different types of links and their impact on search rankings.

This includes details about the use of anchor text, the classification of links into different quality tiers based on traffic to the linking page, and the potential for links to be ignored or demoted based on various spam factors.

If this information is accurate, it could influence how SEO professionals approach link building and the types of links they prioritize.

Links that drive real click-throughs may carry more weight than links on rarely visited pages.

The fundamentals of good link building still apply—create link-worthy content, build genuine relationships, and seek natural, editorially placed links that drive qualified referral traffic.

The leaked information doesn’t change this core approach but offers some additional nuance to be aware of.

3. Increased Focus On Brand Building and Driving Search Demand

The leaked documents suggest that Google uses brand-related signals and offline popularity as ranking factors. This could include metrics like brand mentions, searches for the brand name, and overall brand authority.

As a result, SEO strategies may emphasize building brand awareness and authority through both online and offline channels.

Tactics could include:

  • Securing brand mentions and links from authoritative media sources.
  • Investing in traditional PR, advertising, and sponsorships to increase brand awareness.
  • Encouraging branded searches through other marketing channels.
  • Optimizing for higher search volumes for your brand vs. unbranded keywords.
  • Building engaged social media communities around your brand.
  • Establishing thought leadership through original research, data, and industry contributions.

The idea is to make your brand synonymous with your niche and build an audience that seeks you out directly. The more people search for and engage with your brand, the stronger those brand signals may become in Google’s systems.

4. Adaptation To Vertical-Specific Ranking Factors

Some leaked information suggests that Google may use different ranking factors or algorithms for specific search verticals, such as news, local search, travel, or e-commerce.

If this is the case, SEO strategies may need to adapt to each vertical’s unique ranking signals and user intents.

For example, local search optimization may focus more heavily on factors like Google My Business listings, local reviews, and location-specific content.

Travel SEO could emphasize collecting reviews, optimizing images, and directly providing booking/pricing information on your site.

News SEO requires focusing on timely, newsworthy content and optimized article structure.

While the core principles of search optimization still apply, understanding your particular vertical’s nuances, based on the leaked information and real-world testing, can give you a competitive advantage.

The leaks suggest a vertical-specific approach to SEO could give you an advantage.

Conclusion

The Google API documentation leak has created a vigorous discussion about Google’s ranking systems.

As the SEO community continues to analyze and debate the leaked information, it’s important to remember a few key things:

  1. The information isn’t fully verified and lacks context. Drawing definitive conclusions at this stage is premature.
  2. Google’s ranking algorithms are complex and constantly evolving. Even if entirely accurate, this leak only represents a snapshot in time.
  3. The fundamentals of good SEO – creating high-quality, relevant, user-centric content and promoting it effectively – still apply regardless of the specific ranking factors at play.
  4. Real-world testing and results should always precede theorizing based on incomplete information.

What To Do Next

As an SEO professional, the best course of action is to stay informed about the leak.

Because details about the document remain unknown, it’s not a good idea to consider any takeaways actionable.

Most importantly, remember that chasing algorithms is a losing battle.

The only winning strategy in SEO is to make your website the best result for your message and audience. That’s Google’s endgame, and that’s where your focus should be, regardless of what any particular leaked document suggests.



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Google’s AI Overviews Shake Up Ecommerce Search Visibility

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Google's AI Overviews Shake Up Ecommerce Search Visibility

An analysis of 25,000 ecommerce queries by Bartosz Góralewicz, founder of Onely, reveals the impact of Google’s AI overviews on search visibility for online retailers.

The study found that 16% of eCommerce queries now return an AI overview in search results, accounting for 13% of total search volume in this sector.

Notably, 80% of the sources listed in these AI overviews do not rank organically for the original query.

“Ranking #1-3 gives you only an 8% chance of being a source in AI overviews,” Góralewicz stated.

Shift Toward “Accelerated” Product Experiences

International SEO consultant Aleyda Solis analyzed the disconnect between traditional organic ranking and inclusion in AI overviews.

According to Solis, for product-related queries, Google is prioritizing an “accelerated” approach over summarizing currently ranking pages.

She commented Góralewicz’ findings, stating:

“… rather than providing high level summaries of what’s already ranked organically below, what Google does with e-commerce is “accelerate” the experience by already showcasing what the user would get next.”

Solis explains that for queries where Google previously ranked category pages, reviews, and buying guides, it’s now bypassing this level of results with AI overviews.

Assessing AI Overview Traffic Impact

To help retailers evaluate their exposure, Solis has shared a spreadsheet that analyzes the potential traffic impact of AI overviews.

As Góralewicz notes, this could be an initial rollout, speculating that “Google will expand AI overviews for high-cost queries when enabling ads” based on data showing they are currently excluded for high cost-per-click keywords.

An in-depth report across ecommerce and publishing is expected soon from Góralewicz and Onely, with additional insights into this search trend.

Why SEJ Cares

AI overviews represent a shift in how search visibility is achieved for ecommerce websites.

With most overviews currently pulling product data from non-ranking sources, the traditional connection between organic rankings and search traffic is being disrupted.

Retailers may need to adapt their SEO strategies for this new search environment.

How This Can Benefit You

While unsettling for established brands, AI overviews create new opportunities for retailers to gain visibility without competing for the most commercially valuable keywords.

Ecommerce sites can potentially circumvent traditional ranking barriers by optimizing product data and detail pages for Google’s “accelerated” product displays.

The detailed assessment framework provided by Solis enables merchants to audit their exposure and prioritize optimization needs accordingly.


FAQ

What are the key findings from the analysis of AI overviews & ecommerce queries?

Góralewicz’s analysis of 25,000 ecommerce queries found:

  • 16% of ecommerce queries now return an AI overview in the search results.
  • 80% of the sources listed in these AI overviews do not rank organically for the original query.
  • Ranking positions #1-3 only provides an 8% chance of being a source in AI overviews.

These insights reveal significant shifts in how ecommerce sites need to approach search visibility.

Why are AI overviews pulling product data from non-ranking sources, and what does this mean for retailers?

Google’s AI overviews prioritize “accelerated” experiences over summarizing currently ranked pages for product-related queries.

This shift focuses on showcasing directly what users seek instead of traditional organic results.

For retailers, this means:

  • A need to optimize product pages beyond traditional SEO practices, catering to the data requirements of AI overviews.
  • Opportunities to gain visibility without necessarily holding top organic rankings.
  • Potential to bypass traditional ranking barriers by focusing on enhanced product data integration.

Retailers must adapt quickly to remain competitive in this evolving search environment.

What practical steps can retailers take to evaluate and improve their search visibility in light of AI overview disruptions?

Retailers can take several practical steps to evaluate and improve their search visibility:

  • Utilize the spreadsheet provided by Aleyda Solis to assess the potential traffic impact of AI overviews.
  • Optimize product and detail pages to align with the data and presentation style preferred by AI overviews.
  • Continuously monitor changes and updates to AI overviews, adapting strategies based on new data and trends.

These steps can help retailers navigate the impact of AI overviews and maintain or improve their search visibility.


Featured Image: Marco Lazzarini/Shutterstock



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Google’s AI Overviews Go Viral, Draw Mainstream Media Scrutiny

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Google's AI Overviews Go Viral, Draw Mainstream Media Scrutiny

Google’s rollout of AI-generated overviews in US search results is taking a disastrous turn, with mainstream media outlets like The New York Times, BBC, and CNBC reporting on numerous inaccuracies and bizarre responses.

On social media, users are sharing endless examples of the feature’s nonsensical and sometimes dangerous output.

From recommending non-toxic glue on pizza to suggesting that eating rocks provides nutritional benefits, the blunders would be amusing if they weren’t so alarming.

Mainstream Media Coverage

As reported by The New York Times, Google’s AI overviews struggle with basic facts, claiming that Barack Obama was the first Muslim president of the United States and stating that Andrew Jackson graduated from college in 2005.

These errors undermine trust in Google’s search engine, which more than two billion people rely on for authoritative information worldwide.

Manual Removal & System Refinements

As reported by The Verge, Google is now scrambling to remove the bizarre AI-generated responses and improve its systems manually.

A Google spokesperson confirmed that the company is taking “swift action” to remove problematic responses and using the examples to refine its AI overview feature.

Google’s Rush To AI Integration

The flawed rollout of AI overviews isn’t an isolated incident for Google.

As CNBC notes in its report, Google made several missteps in a rush to integrate AI into its products.

In February, Google was forced to pause its Gemini chatbot after it generated inaccurate images of historical figures and refused to depict white people in most instances.

Before that, the company’s Bard chatbot faced ridicule for sharing incorrect information about outer space, leading to a $100 billion drop in Google’s market value.

Despite these setbacks, industry experts cited by The New York Times suggest that Google has little choice but to continue advancing AI integration to remain competitive.

However, the challenges of taming large language models, which ingest false information and satirical posts, are now more apparent.

The Debate Over AI In Search

The controversy surrounding AI overviews adds fuel to the debate over the risks and limitations of AI.

While the technology holds potential, these missteps remind everyone that more testing is needed before unleashing it on the public.

The BBC notes that Google’s rivals face similar backlash over their attempts to cram more AI tools into their consumer-facing products.

The UK’s data watchdog is investigating Microsoft after it announced a feature that would take continuous screenshots of users’ online activity.

At the same time, actress Scarlett Johansson criticized OpenAI for using a voice likened to her own without permission.

What This Means For Websites & SEO Professionals

Mainstream media coverage of Google’s erroneous AI overviews brings the issue of declining search quality to public attention.

As the company works to address inaccuracies, the incident serves as a cautionary tale for the entire industry.

Important takeaway: Prioritize responsible use of AI technology to ensure the benefits outweigh its risks.



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