Why we should stop using DA to measure influencers

Whether you’re an SEO, PR or a website owner, it’s
highly likely you’ve come across DA (Domain Authority). The
metric, created by industry-leading
platform Moz
, was designed to help search marketers understand
the value of a domain, at a glance and compare it with others in
the same industry or niche. This was important for SEO, third party
links have long been used to understand how “trustworthy” a
website is and form part of Google’s “ranking criteria”
(although their importance and how this works is a hot talking
point in SEO).

Moz uses their index (or understanding of the web), to map out
these links between sites and, alongside other factors, try to
assign a “competition” score to each website they encounter.
This can then be used as a proxy to determine the value of a said
site.

Note: I have nothing against Moz. This piece
isn’t in any way designed to be a slight on them or their work,
but further insight and context into how to use the data they
provide.

The eye-opener to follower deception

Last year, Social Chain opened marketers’ eyes to the murky
world of follower deception. Many brands understand the importance
of influencers to the digital ecosystem, but measuring the value
that someone can bring prior to working with them is difficult and
time-consuming. As such, often companies rely on metrics that
symbolizes “reputation”, followers, engagement, and other
similar indicators. However, as Social Chain asserted, the typical
signposts do not always depict a true picture and if not completely
understood or manipulated, can lead to large amounts of spend being
wasted.

This is a common theme with SEO. Although it’s less a question
of manipulation and more a question of understanding. In 2012,

Penguin
, Google’s “webspam” filter was rolled-out and
assigned a positive or negative value to third party links. Prior
to this, “trust” was judged on an arguably simpler set of
volume-based criteria, but as the flaws in the system were
exploited. It soon became clear that a more complex solution was
required, to ensure the integrity of search results was maintained.
Trust continued to be an important factor in success, but SEO’s
had to start thinking more carefully about how they generated
these. Here the connection between SEO and PR became more important
as links could not be artificially built they had to be earned,
naturally.

The two teams started to collaborate more closely, with SEOs
providing PRs extra resource to contact a “lower”, but still
valuable tier of influencer and PRs helping SEOs reach the higher,
more widely trusted publications that they could not access before.
Over time, the lines between SEO and other channels have started to
blur – and as teams were pushed to operate across remits, PRs
started to use SEO metrics, with
DA
taking precedence (as it was arguably the simplest to use),
to understand more about the people they were contacting. With
investment from brands increasing, more influencers started to
appear, and from this grew an industry in its own right.

Fast forward to the present day

An influencer marketer will likely sit across content, Social,
PR, and SEO, with the goal of engaging personalities to improve
performance across all the channels they are connected to (based on
the goals of the organization/campaign). For social and PR,
engagement and reach can be more easily measured. But SEO has
always been complicated. This is because “good SEO” has never
been about links alone and the idea of a “link value” is
entirely subjective, based on factors that change between
industries, counties, and even search results. As such, the idea of
using a single, links-based metric to determine the value a domain
can provide for SEO is inherently floored – and yet, many
marketers, influencers and PR teams still continue to use DA for
this purpose.

To make matters more complex, the whole link-building ecosystem
has been flooded with misinformation. I discussed this in a

recent webinar with SEMRush
, but it’s often been the case
that the wider industry’s understanding of the link building
practice has come through commentators on the practice and not the
experts conducting the work themselves. This means, the influencers
and PR teams, and not the SEO community themselves.

Why is this the case?

There’s really no simple answer, although, for a long time
before the collaboration was mainstream, it would be a frequent
occurrence for SEOs and PRs to clash over remit cross-over. In the
agency world, this could have led to reduced budgets – why pay
two agencies to do the work of one, although (from my experience),
clients were very much open to creating a joined-up approach
between both teams.

While conflict happened behind the scenes, uncertainty, and
misinformation filtered out to the influencer market, with PRs and
SEOs trying to show that they “knew enough” about the other to
make a wider judgment on influencer selection for projects. This
led to followers and domain authority becoming key metrics in this
process which, although not unhelpful, rarely offered the truest
picture of a website’s worth. In turn, this led to transactional
relationships with websites, where links and shares were bought for
a price that, once this became a commodity only ever increased.
Instead of paying for the time and expertise of the people that
were being engaged, their value became intrinsically tied to their
reach or their link-equity (perceived through domain authority),
two metrics that could be easily manipulated.

Now, the growing rumble of discontent within the influencer
landscape has finally hit the headlines with a theatrical flourish.
Unfortunately for many, this has come too late, with brands
realizing the cost of investing in reach over expertise, most
famously with the Fyre festival scandal. But, this doesn’t mean
that influencer marketing isn’t valuable, as I wrote at the time,
but that how and most importantly – the reasons as to why
marketers engage with content creators need to change. We’ve seen
publicly how using followers to measure reach can be folly. But
there’s still time to take these learnings and apply them to
domain authority too before something as equally damaging to the
industry happens.

Latest developments

Recent legislation in the UK has started to pave the way for
change in this field. It’s certainly made working with
influencers harder, in large part to the ambiguity around the
specifics of how the changes should be interpreted, I personally
apply the principle of “better safe than sorry”, even from a
search perspective. Every brand interaction should now be declared
as an advert, including event invites and even in cases where the
only “payment” has been a reimbursing of travel costs. With
Google’s hardline view on manipulative link building, the
practice of engaging “high authority” SEO influencers is slowly
ending or at least, becoming incredibly risky.

Instead, we should look to engage influencers for their subject
matter expertise and credibility they can lend to a story or
campaign. In practice, this means killing the transactional “I
give you X and you give me Y” type of relationships and seeing
content creators as partners in getting your message out to the
world. For SEO, this may mean using “no-follow” links (which,
in basic terms, tell crawlers that they should not consider them
for search benefit), but this shouldn’t be an issue. Sure, their
direct value on search may be limited, but to think that the search
algorithm considers the web in as simple terms as this would be
myopic. There are some brilliant studies around the power of brand
on search, which are worth noting in this context. Moreover, at its
heart, a link is there to carry users from A to B. Adding a
“no-follow” tag doesn’t stop this from happening and in this
case, using domain authority as a metric often would lead to
discounting a valuable traffic driving part of this ecosystem.

With this shift in the industry and better collaboration than
ever between search and the wider marketing mix, the opportunity
for content, search and marketing communication teams to unite is
stronger than ever. So too, is the need for it, as achieving
cut-through in the wall of digital noise is harder than it’s ever
been. Campaigns, to be successful on all fronts, must genuinely
inspire,
engage
or provide value to users and older-school tactics, such
as product reviews and content seeding, have all but lost their
ability to drive results. On this point, we simply must move away
from using domain authority and followers as a metric, as neither
is an effective gauge of how useful a site might be to its
users.

Closing notes

I’d like to speak directly to influencers because without a
universal change in mindset, we’ll continue to see the same
practices continue and the channel will continue to be
under-utilized. I’d impress upon them the need to keep an open
mind and focus on becoming the best subject matter experts that
they can. I’d encourage the end of any agonizing over “vanity
metrics”, which are often taken out of context, and in place look
to whether their users are genuinely engaging with their content,
and how this impacts their value as creators. Importantly, I’d
implore everyone, PRs and SEOs included, to have a little more fun,
harness the incredible creativity that brand communications teams,
content creators, and influencer marketers can yield and build
something great together.

Ric Rodriguez is an SEO Director and winner of the 2018 Drum
Search Award. He can be found on Twitter @RicRodriguez_UK.

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Why we should stop using DA to measure influencers