I recently studied 500 keywords within the AHREFS Keyword Explorer. I did this to explore whether domain rating is credible for determining rankability. To do this study I chose 5 niches and 100 keywords almost at random. Once I had completed my list, I sourced a VA to use the AHREFS Keyword Explorer and record all of the information against each search term. Before we start I should say that my hypothesis is that Domain Rating is not a credible factor, and you can the results below to decide for yourself.
What is Domain Rating?
To start with, I want to explain to those that don’t know what domain rating actually is. It’s not just a number that tells you how good your site is – very specifically it is a measurement of your backlinks. Importantly, in order for the metric to be valuable they assume that it already is valuable to create a weighting. Websites that have a high DR are authoritative and so the more links from other highly scored sites will also increase your score.
The metric is logarithmic and so it requires a lot more effort to get from 50 – 60 than it does from 0 – 40. From my results below, the average domain rating across the first page of Google is between 50 – 60. I therefore use that as my basis for whether a site has the potential to rank when addressing clients. One of the core reasons I do not report on DR though is because the limit is 100 and if you get more highly authoritative links you can’t increase further. Therefore, AHREFS decided to change the reference point of 100 by dropping 1 point from all other sites. Your score could change without you gaining or losing links – so it’s not reliable for client success.
Should you like to find out more about the different type of metrics that AHREFS report on, you should consider reading their guide on SEO Metrics explained.
Choosing Keywords For The Experiment
Since I am going to pay for this experiment, I wanted to select 100 keywords for 5 clients from completely different niches. This meant that not only could I do a case study, I could also do keyword research at the same time. Success! However, to remain impartial, I chose the niches but for the large part did not choose the keywords. I started by using the Keyword Explorer and looking for 5 different keywords on Google.com. Then I exported lists of search suggestions and filtered any keywords that were branded or low search volume. I did this because branded terms will often include links to Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter which will skew the results.
The other core requirement is that the keywords must have a reasonable search volume. I wanted to make sure that these terms would be useful for clients, but also that they would have click through data that could be useful to study as well. The average search volume across the whole list is rounded to 4,098; the median value is 1,900; and the range is from 600 to 259,00 monthly searches. So there’s a great selection of generic terms and smaller targeted terms.
The five niches that were included in the study are as follows:
- Diet & Healthy Eating
- Fitness & Sport Equipment
- Construction & Log Cabins
- Video Games & Technology
- Furniture & Lifestyle
What I Found From The Results
My original expectation is that Domain Rating would not correlate well with actual rankings within the top 10 positions. I suspected this because Google is moving away from backlinks and towards a diverse spread of ranking signals. Therefore, if this is true we would expect a graph that shows little to no correlation. I have provided the Average & Median graphs to provide as much information as possible.
If we look at the average values it is a complete mess. There is absolutely no correlation between the average domain rating and position of ranking. However, when we look at the median values which are less susceptible to random values – there is a different pattern. Not only does domain rating show very little correlation between the 1st and 5th positions, but the 6th – 8th positions are considerably higher. This is somewhat consistent with the average graph too. Initially I thought this might be due to social media accounts, but when I took all 1500 URLs in these positions there were only:
- 48 Pinterest URLs
- 1 Facebook URL
- 0 Twitter URLs
- 5 YouTube URLs
- 5 Wikipedia URLs
This makes up roughly 4% of the links, but it’s nowhere near the huge influencing factor you would expect. Having looked at the URLs, there’s no immediate trend that a specific site is showing up more than usual in these positions. It seems as though Google may be slowly pushing relevance into the top 5 positions over domain power. This is interesting, but how does it affect links that point directly at the articles? Is the AHREFS URL Rating going to provide us more answers?
This is looking a lot better. There is a clear trend that the first position has a higher UR score than the following positions. So why is this? URL Rating takes into account the backlinks to a specific page. This means that whilst Google are still looking at links, pointing them all towards your homepage is not going to have a profound impact unless it is your homepage you are trying to rank. The AHREFS team concede that URL Rating is a higher indication of rankability than URL rating. However, it’s not perfect, it suffers many of the same symptoms that domain rating does, that it is confined to a 0 – 100 scale. Yet, it’s harder to hit the cap on this without getting a penalised site, so this metric is more stable than domain rating.
To summarize my conclusions, I do not think that domain rating is a useful metric for determining success. It does show some potential to rank, with a score around 50 – 60 suggesting you should be able to rank, but no guarantee. However, a URL rating is more reliable at predicting ranking.