22.03.2023

SEO & Paid Media

SEMRush's Authority Score update (Jan 2023) explained

14 min read

Jim

Has your SEMRush Domain Rating changed recently? Huble’s SEO experts explain what the latest update means and how it impacts your SEO.

At the start of 2023, businesses using the SEO tool SEMRush saw a significant change in their Authority Score. Here’s an overview of why this happened and what the Authority Score Update means for your website’s SEO. 

What is SEMRush’s Authority Score?

Authority Score is a metric from SEO tool SEMRush designed to help uncover insights into the overall quality of a piece of content on your website or your domain as a whole. It is a similar metric to Domain Authority and Domain Rating, but this latest update is designed to provide greater accuracy and be more resilient to manipulation. 

What’s the difference between Domain Authority, Domain Rating, and Authority Score?

In essence, these scores are all trying to achieve the same goal, but are calculated by different companies and their software:

 

  • Domain Rating = AHREFs

  • Domain Authority = Moz

  • Authority Score = SEM Rush

All three tools use a single metric ranging from 0-100 to assess the authority, competitiveness and trustworthiness of your website against all other websites. 

Only the most trustworthy sites achieve scores close to the maximum of 100 because they are able to reach the widest audience with authoritative content that encourages links - which is why these scores are usually only seen on Government or national news websites.

Authority Score Change

Three of the four major UK news outlets tested by us saw a significant jump in authority score following the change.

Authority Score Drop

It’s interesting to note that the UK government sites have dropped significantly in Authority Score following this change, despite both being in the 80s-90s on Moz and AHREFs, and the score of the US.gov site only dropping slightly.

Given Search Engine’s efforts to combat misinformation and fake news, it’s likely that these official sources of information would perform better than a typical site with a similar authority score. We predict SEMRush may adjust its algorithm further or manually intervene on sites like these in order to better reflect their competitiveness. 

 

The goal of these scores is to give SEO teams better insights into how a site and its pages might perform against competitors on the Search Engine Results Page (SERPs). 

There’s no guarantee that a higher score means your site will rank higher on SERPs. But generally, sites that have higher authority do find it easier to rank well and attract more organic traffic. 

This data can help with SEO-related tasks such as uncovering quick-win keywords to target or explaining why a competitor is consistently outperforming your site.

How AHREFs calculates Domain Rating

AHREFs’ Domain Rating (DR) focuses primarily on the actual links and domains linking to you. 

 

  1. How many unique domains link to your website;

  2. The Domain Rating score of those domains (the higher the better)

  3. The number of unique domains each of those sites link to (presumably, the more generous they are with links, the less power those individual links have).

  4. Raw DR scores are then created using AHREFs patented algorithm. 

  5. Those raw scores are then transposed to a 100-point scale.

 

AHREFs have stated that Domain Rating does not factor in other variables such as link spam, traffic, domain age, etc.

How Moz calculates Domain Authority

Domain Authority (DA) is based on data from Moz’s web index, Link Explorer, using metrics such as the number of links pointing to your site, and the authority of the domains those links are coming from. 

As of the last major update to DA in 2019, this data is then fed through a machine-learning model. Moz explains that it uses machine learning to, “predictively find a ‘best fit’ algorithm that most closely correlates our link data with rankings across thousands of actual search results”. This algorithm is then used to calculate DA, which Moz advises should be used as a comparative metric to your competitors, and not a target to reach the highest value possible. 

The best place to learn more is Moz’s own whitepaper on how Domain Authority is calculated.

How SEMRush calculates Domain Score following the Jan 2023 update

The biggest change to SEMRush’s Domain Score is that its calculation has been expanded to cover other factors beyond the quality and quantity of backlinks pointing to your domain (The “classic” rating which SEMRush now calls Link Power).

Link Power is still the main factor considered in your Domain Score, but now it is combined with two new metrics: Organic Traffic and Spam Factors

 

SEMRush’s Organic Traffic calculation

This is an estimate from SEMRush and may not exactly match the traffic you see in your analytics tools. It is calculated by looking at which keywords in SEMRush’s huge database your site ranks for. It then combines the number of monthly searches those keywords receive, with an estimate of the number of clicks you’d expect to receive in your current ranking position. 

The more keywords you rank for, the more searches they get each month, and the higher you rank for them, the higher your organic traffic score. 

With the Jan 2023 Domain Score update, SEMRush now factors in your organic traffic estimates, meaning smaller, niche websites should expect to see a lower DS than ones with a broader appeal. 

 

SEMRush’s Spam Factors calculation

To determine if a link is likely to be spam and created purely to manipulate search engine rankings, SEMRush checks a list of signals and deducts points from your final Domain Score if it finds them. 

The signals that indicate a backlink might be considered by SEMRush as spam and/or toxic are:

 

  • If the domain is showing no organic keyword rankings

  • If there is an unnaturally high percentage of dofollow domains

  • A large imbalance in estimated organic traffic and the number of links a site receives.

  • If there are too many referring domains with the same IP address or IP network

  • If another domain exists with an identical backlink profile

So what do changes to my Domain Score mean for SEO? 

If you’ve seen a significant drop in your Domain Score following this update, you may be worried. 

The first thing to remember is that this calculation is purely a change in the way SEMRush rates your site. This does not reflect any change in the way Google views and ranks it, so should not directly impact your current rankings and traffic. 

Before you start panicking and making changes to your site or website strategy, consider the following points, which we hope can help you communicate to stakeholders what has happened, and what your recommended next steps are. 

Organic traffic as a factor of Authority Score

We believe that the new Estimated Organic Traffic metric is likely to be the biggest factor in your Domain Score changing. This is especially the case for B2B websites, where we have seen the largest drops. 

If your business operates in a particular niche topic area, then there will be fewer searches made per month and less potential traffic to draw in from your site. This means your organic traffic calculation will be lower, and this is now factored into your lower score. 

Your Authority Score may now have dropped in order for sites with broader appeal and relevance to have their own scores go up. 

SEMRush’s ultimate goal is to provide a much clearer picture of the competitive field on a particular topic, and creating a larger separation between scores based on a combination of traffic and links is how they have achieved this. 

Relevance is still more important than Authority Score

Keep in mind that the Estimated Organic Traffic metric does not take into account the relevance of keywords you rank for. 

For example, that case study page you wrote about a big-name client of yours might rank on page 1 of SERPs for their brand name. If their branded keyword receives 10,000 searches a month, SEMRush could attribute a chunk of those visits to your organic traffic calculation, and give you a higher authority score. But, realistically, only a minuscule number of people would actually click on your site instead of the brand they’re looking for, and it's unlikely many of them would convert. 

On the other hand, your carefully targeted article solving a specific issue for your niche, based on your years of expertise in the industry, may only attract five visits a month. But every one of those visitors downloads your ebook and enters your lead funnel to become a potential customer. So an activity that does little to improve your Authority Score has a significant impact on your bottom line and the ROI of your SEO efforts. 

Toxic Backlinks

Another thing to consider is how this impacts SEMRush’s Backlink Toxicity scores. The Backlink Audit tool is used to review the quality and quantity of links pointing to your site and assess if there are any spam links causing harm to your Domain Score. These links could be disavowed via Google Search Console to essentially ask Google to ignore them. 

If Domain Score is a factor in SEMRush determining if a backlink is “Toxic”, then a drop in a site’s score could result in a genuine backlink appearing as toxic because it has a low score. You then run the risk of disavowing genuine backlinks and negatively impacting your Authority Score.

When considering whether to disavow a link, keep in mind that Google has claimed it no longer ‘penalises’ sites with spammy backlinks, and instead attributes no value to the links. 

In fact, Google spokesperson, John Mueller, actually went as far as saying that disavowing random links you don’t recognise is “a waste of time”. So, chances are that your time is better spent looking to improve your site’s content, rather than removing backlinks you think could be spam, and risk harming your score by mistake. 

Look at your Authority Score vs. Competitors

The key thing with Authority Score is to not treat this metric in a vacuum (the same goes for DA and DR too). It’s all about context. 

Look at how your competitors' scores have been impacted by this update too. 

Organic traffic may be a big contributor to an Authority Score drop if your website targets a specific niche, and it’s likely that your competitors are targeting similar keywords to you. So if you have dropped, they may have too. 

Luckily, there is a graph of Authority Score over time that you can use to do a comparison. 

In the Backlink Analytics tool of SEMRush, simply type your domain in, and then add in your competitors' domains as well. 

SEMRush Backlinks Analytics

 

Where a competitor is doing well, use SEM Rush’s Domain Overview and Keyword Gap Analysis tool to look at what keywords they rank for that you are not. 

Relevant targets should be added to your keyword list and content plan. Use the Backlink Gap Analysis tool to identify websites that may be relevant to yours that are not currently linked to you. Target these with link-building strategies to increase your Link Power. 

But most importantly, you can use this data to contextualise whether they are actually seeing a better performance than you, or are generating a higher Authority Score because they rank for keywords completely outside your area of business.

Ultimately, we believe this change is a good thing. It provides better insights into the strength of a website, and the likelihood of a piece of content ranking well, and quickly. We can also more easily identify the industry leaders and the secrets of their success and build these into our own SEO strategies. 

At Huble, we use SEMRush as part of our suite of reporting tools, in order to provide clients with a clear picture of the ROI of their SEO efforts. This helps them make strategic decisions that are data-driven and achieve better results.  


Learn more about Huble’s SEO services or get in touch if you’re interested in a free SEO audit.

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