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Should domain authority checkers be a part of your SEO toolkit?

A couple of years ago, I wrote about Moz’s Domain Authority and how it did not represent Google’s PageRank.

No third-party metric does.

We still like metrics, though, because they give us a quick method of determining how good a site may be for our purposes (which is almost always link building, for me).

It’s important to remember that domain authority must be viewed in conjunction with many other metrics.

What Are the Major Metrics We Use for Measuring Domain Authority? Ahrefs Domain Rating

According to Ahrefs:

“Domain Rating (DR) shows the strength of a website’s backlink profile compared to the others in our database on a 100-point scale.”

DR is a relative term that takes into account the number of sites that link to you as well as how many other domains those sites link out to.

The higher the DR, the more link equity it will transfer to the domains that the site links out to. This equity is split equally so a site that only links out to 50 domains can be a bigger influence on its target domains’ DR than a site that links out to 500,000 domains.

Semrush Authority Score

According to Semrush:

“Authority Score is the result of calculations run by a neural network algorithm that uses machine learning to measure every domain’s authority based on quality, popularity, and backlink signals.”

Authority Score measures overall quality and SEO performance.

It takes into account factors such as the number of referring domains pointing to a site, the number of outbound links from each referring domain, follow vs nofollow links pointing to the site, etc.

Moz Domain Authority

This is commonly and mistakenly thought of as how authoritative Google views a website.

According to Moz:

“Domain Authority (DA) is a search engine ranking score developed by Moz that predicts how likely a website is to rank on search engine result pages (SERPs). A Domain Authority score ranges from one to 100, with higher scores corresponding to a greater ability to rank.”

Majestic TrustFlow

Majestic TrustFlow is a little different from the others.

Majestic says:

“Trust Flow, a trademark of Majestic, is a score based on quality, on a scale between 0-100. Majestic collated many trusted seed sites based on a manual review of the web. This process forms the foundation of Majestic Trust Flow. Sites closely linked to a trusted seed site can see higher scores, whereas sites that may have some questionable links would see a much lower score.”

TrustFlow can also be broken down further than its one main number into topics which each have their own TrustFlow.

This measures how close your site is to the most trusted websites in specific categories such as Shopping, Arts, Business, Recreation, etc.

Comparing Domain Authority Checkers

For the purpose of this experiment, we’ll use some well-known and lesser-known sites.

As you can see, the first five sites have metrics that all look like they match up well enough. There aren’t any exceptionally low ones that stand out.

I imagine that readers recognize those sites, too. I think we’d probably all agree that they’re authoritative and that a link from them would be great.

The Punk News site is one that I chose because to me, it’s the most authoritative site on punk rock. It also has consistent metrics across the board.

Getting a link from it to your camping site probably won’t help you out much, though. You may get a rankings boost but you probably won’t get much traffic or many conversions.

If you’re selling camping supplies, this is probably not an authoritative site for your niche. If you’re selling vintage punk gig flyers, it would be.

The last two sites are personal blogs that I found doing some random searches.

The Life With Emily site has consistent traffic over the past two years and gets around 1500+ visits a month, according to Semrush. The site ranks well for search terms like “how to paint a front door.”

If I had a DIY client, I’d love a link on this site. I would think that it might send me some converting traffic and have authority for my client. It doesn’t have a DR 70 or a DA 65, but it has relevance.

The last site has lower metrics and very little traffic, so I probably wouldn’t seek out a link here. However, they seem to do a lot on social media, which might be more valuable to them due to the industry.

They seem to have a thriving business. They have real-world authority, and domain metrics can’t measure that.

Domain Authority Checkers Are Missing Real-World Context

I decided to take a look at some deindexed sites (I won’t reveal which ones, because I don’t like outing people).

I come across these sites when link sellers send me big lists. I’m curious about their metrics and wondering why someone wants to sell me a link for $40.

Site A is deindexed and has a DR 72, a DA 37, AS 52, and TF 21.

Site B is deindexed and has a DR 29, a DA 10, AS 25, and TF 21.

Both of those sites would be acceptable to most of my clients simply based on their metrics. Site A would be quite desirable for all of them.

But they aren’t indexed in Google, so the only way you’ll come across them is if you get to them from a link on another page, or you know the domain for some reason.

How authoritative do you think a site is if Google has removed them from their index?

Those deindexed sites also have zero traffic and that’s been the case for the last two years.

Have they been deindexed for two years? If so, how can they still look so good metrics-wise?

Since the metrics are good, I could easily get a link on either site and many clients would just see a DR 72 and probably be happy.

They’d have no idea that these links were practically worthless.

What Other Metrics Can Help Gauge True Domain Authority? Traffic

A site doesn’t necessarily have to have amazing traffic to help you rank, but your odds of having people come to your site from a link increase drastically when there is more traffic.

Getting a link on a site with zero traffic probably won’t help you much, and there’s usually a good reason why a site has no traffic.

If a link on a site like that happened organically that would be fine, but I wouldn’t spend time pursuing one unless the reason it had no traffic was that it was brand new.

It’s normal to see some dips but in general, you want to see consistent or increasing traffic.

Referring Domains

A site that is widely linked to should theoretically be an authoritative site, but because links can be so easily manipulated I don’t think it’s that straightforward.

You certainly can’t just look at quantity over quality.

What you can do is look at the quality of those referring domains and check to see if they look like the kind of links you’d want for your client or website.

Rankings and Ranking Keywords

If a site ranks well for keywords that it should rank for, that’s a good sign.

Good rankings also increase the chance for more traffic to the site which in turn increases the chance to get more visitors to your site.

Metrics Are Only the Start of Determining Authority

It’s key to remember that none of these metrics comes from Google, although many people still think of Moz’s Domain Authority as being representative of Google’s PageRank.

Moz has stated that this is not true and they’ve tried to clear up the confusion but the misunderstanding persists.

If you want to use metrics to help gauge authority, I would suggest that you just pick one and use it for trending purposes.

I’ve used every one of these for various clients over the years, mainly because the client wanted to set a minimum metric for sites we’d get links on.

I like to have a good initial guideline for my team to use to start evaluating a site but definitely do not think any of these metrics should be used as the only data that makes you think a site has the authority you seek.

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Are Blog Comments Useless For Link Building?

Editor’s note: “Ask an SEO” is a weekly column by technical SEO experts Shelly Fagin, Ryan Jones, Adam Riemer, and Tony Wright. Come up with your hardest SEO question and fill out our form. You might see your answer in the next #AskanSEO post!

This week for Ask An SEO, we have a question from Ed in Memphis. He asks:

I can see how it might lead some to wonder whether this tactic is an effective form of link building today.

The Rise & Fall of Blog Commenting for Links

You might come across lots of older information that suggests using this tactic because it once worked extremely well.

Please hear me when I say this tactic used to work.

It does not anymore – and hasn’t for a long time.

Like many other popular link building techniques, this one was quickly abused.

When applied to an outgoing link, we are telling search engines that we do not endorse the website that this link is pointed to, and no value should be passed within that outgoing link.

Google recently released new attributes, rel=” UGC” and rel=” sponsored” as a way of allowing us to qualify our outgoing links further. (UGC stands for User Generated Content.)

The UGC rel attribute is for sites that allow outside visitors to contribute content or post a response to site content.

Another good example would be web forums.

Are Blog Comments Useful at All?

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4 Signs That Link Building Isn’t Right For Your Business

Link building isn’t right for every single business.

It feels a little weird to say it, especially as someone who has practiced link building for nearly 20 years and wrote an entire book on it!

But it’s true.

More specifically, link building may not be the best investment for a business when it comes to digital marketing spend.

After all, our job is to grow businesses and measure that growth in sales and revenue. If we’re not sure if link building (or any activity) can do that, then we at least owe it to clients to be honest and have a conversation about it.

Putting this to one side, sometimes it may be clear that link building can contribute toward sales and revenue, but another activity presents a bigger opportunity right now. Again, we owe it to clients to talk about this even if your agency or field of expertise isn’t aligned with the opportunity.

There are some very good reasons why link building may not be right for your business. Today, we’ll explore a few of those reasons and ensure that you’re looking for opportunities to drive growth everywhere – not just via link building.

1. Blockers in Internal Politics, Bureaucracy, and Signoff

With most forms of link building, you’re likely to need approval from various people within an organization before you can proceed.

This is particularly true if you’re doing content-led link building and launching campaigns, or using digital PR tactics such as reacting to changing news cycles and reaching out to journalists on their behalf.

Here are just a few of the internal blockers that can get in the way of you getting things done.

Communications and PR

They often hold (and want to keep hold of) relationships with key publications and journalists, leading them to put together a list of them who you can’t contact.

This limits your ability to get results. And in extreme cases, it could leave you with very few relevant publications to target.

Design, UX, and Copywriters

These can be different teams but I’ve put them together because if you are producing any content at all, they are very likely to take an interest in it.

Each may want to have the ability to sign off (or not sign off) whatever you produce.

Legal and Compliance

In some industries, there will be a high bar when it comes to what the organization is able to publish. This is most likely to happen in highly regulated industries such as finance and insurance that have external industry bodies keeping an eye on them.

It can also happen in the healthcare and medical space, where the consequences of inaccurate or misleading content can be real and severe.

Technical and Development

If you are producing content, you’ll need to upload it to your client’s website at some point.

If this is a simple execution such as a blog post, it will probably be pretty straightforward.

However, if you’re looking to upload something more complex such as an interactive infographic, a tool, or a large report, you’re likely to need help from a developer at some point. This isn’t likely to completely stop you from getting things done, but it could slow things down.

How Internal Blockers Threaten Link Building Success

There are more, but this gives you a good overview of some of the most common blockers to getting your job done as a link builder.

That’s not to say that things are impossible, but the combination of multiple of these blockers could lead to:

Big delays in getting campaigns live and links built, leading to frustration and more importantly, a delay in results being achieved and wasted budget.

Campaigns that change so much that the original message, story, or core point is diluted or lost completely.

Significantly reduced outreach targets, leading to KPIs being much harder to achieve and less realistic.

If an organization has these kinds of blockers, the consequences above become very real. This could well mean that content-led link building isn’t right for them until these blockers are removed.

The last thing you or your client want is for these kinds of blockers to stop results from coming in.

It may well be that the organization can benefit from link building, but the chances of being able to get momentum and build links quickly are low and mean they shouldn’t make the investment right now.

2. Little or No Buy-in for Link Building at the Executive Level

This is a tricky one but I’ve seen it happen a few times over the years. The thing with this one is that you can still sell a link building project to a client but you’re basically delaying what may be inevitable – you being fired.

When an organization first starts talking to you about an SEO project and this possibly involves link building, one of the first things to clarify is how they will be measuring success.

Your main point of contact probably has an answer for this which may be one or more of the following:

Quality of links.

Quantity of links.

Traffic.

Conversions.

This is a good starting point, especially if they are talking about real business outcomes such as measuring activity in sales and revenue.

However, you need to dig deeper than this and get an understanding of how the wider organization views SEO and link building and its value to the business.

Beyond this, you need to understand exactly how SEO and link building is measured and how far and wide it is reported.

Having objectives and KPIs in place around links, traffic, sales, and revenue is all well and good. But when it comes to reporting, who sees those reports?

Is it just your current point of contact, or do their bosses take a look, too?

The key thing you’re looking for here is evidence that the wider organization is invested in your activity. If they are, then you’ll see signs that involve senior management being involved in things such as:

The pitch and onboarding process.

Signing off on budgets.

Setting objectives and KPIs.

Asking you tough questions about your process and measurement.

While these can make your life difficult during the sales process, it’s a good sign because it can indicate that your activity will be taken seriously. It’s a valuable part of the wider strategy.

If you don’t see signs like these, yes, it may make your short-term life easier — but it’s almost certainly going to pose problems further down the line.

These problems can occur when the organization starts to struggle and activities are looked at more closely.

Typically, senior executives will begin looking at activities and where the budget is being spent and start to make decisions on whether to continue with them or not.

If this happens, do you want to be in a position where you’re starting from scratch in convincing a senior executive that your activity is valuable to the organization?

I wouldn’t – I’ve been there!

I’d much rather be on the front foot and have this conversation knowing that the executive is already aware of the value of the work I’m doing and needs some help to show that it’s worth continuing.

Bringing this back to the core point, if senior management are not remotely bought into (or interested in becoming bought into) your activity, then it may well be a sign that the activity isn’t right for them.

It can also make it much harder to get things done.

Ideally, you want understanding and buy-in from other departments and leaders so they can help remove blockers.

Again, it can be hard to act on this kind of information during the sales process because you can sell a project with the full knowledge of these potential issues. It’s only further down the line that things may go wrong.

But at the very least, you should probe into these areas to learn more and understand what may go wrong later.

Ultimately, if an organization is at the point where senior management does not understand or value link building, then it may not be right for them to invest in it.

Education is needed and this education may well come via real projects that you deliver, but you should be aware of this from the start of a project and treat it as a trial of your services.

3. The Website That You’re Working on Is Technically Flawed

Another scenario I’ve been presented with over the years is where link building has been outlined as a requirement, but the technical aspects of the website in scope are under par.

In situations like this, links will simply not be as effective as they could be. Whilst you may see a greater uplift later when technical issues are resolved, you’re not going to see the value from your work in the short- to medium-term.

Years ago, building enough links would paper over technical SEO cracks or content that wasn’t good enough. Now, these fundamentals are table stakes and will be required just to get you into the game.

If you don’t have them, links alone are unlikely to save you.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that you need to only work on websites that are 100% technically perfect (is there even such a thing?).

It does mean that you and your client can’t turn a blind eye to technical and on-page SEO issues. These must be owned by someone, whether that’s you as part of your scope of work or an internal team.

If there are serious technical issues with a website and no one is owning them getting fixed, then link building may not be right for the business. They are likely to see more value from getting this technical debt fixed and prioritizing that.

Both technical SEO and link building can happen at once, but try to avoid entering into link building if technical SEO is being ignored.

Leading on from this, avoid making predictions on what objectives you can achieve without knowing who is in control of technical and on-page SEO.

Link building can move the needle a lot but if technical SEO is an issue, you shouldn’t be held to targets where such a big part of the puzzle isn’t in your control.

Either you need to look at technical SEO too, or you need to be confident that it is being looked at and prioritized elsewhere.

4. Your Link Building Activity Won’t Make a Dent in Their Link Profile

Finally, this one is a little bit less common but is worth mentioning.

Sometimes, you’ll get a large brand coming to you who is either well known in your country or well known around the world.

You may ask yourself – why do they need link building?

Most domains, no matter how big the brand, can benefit from link building. But if a domain is getting a large number of links naturally just because of who they are (think: Apple, Amazon, Coca-Cola, etc.) then will you be able to build links that will make a difference to them?

Every time Apple releases a new product, they get links. Not just that, they get links directly to their product pages and homepage, exactly where you want them to go.

In cases like this, content-led link building (and other techniques) are not likely to move the needle for Apple.

If this is what they’re asking you for, then link building isn’t right for them.

The focus here would need to shift toward scalable techniques and enabling them to own SEO and link building internally and integrating it across departments.

Essentially, it needs to become part of work that is already being delivered so that more value is generated from it.

I’ve said no to working with a few very large, multinational brands over the last couple of years because of this. They almost certainly could have benefitted from link building, but being who they were meant that they generated a lot of links anyway, so our approach needed to change.

Unfortunately, this change wasn’t possible so we had to let them know we couldn’t pitch for their project.

In Summary

Saying no to working with someone is hard, and you’re not always in the position to be able to do this.

But it’s a reality that more agencies need to recognize because you’re only setting yourself up for failure later on if you ignore the signs of link building not being right for a business.

During times when a big focus is on ensuring that your team has the environment to thrive and succeed, we need to put as much emphasis as possible on setting them up to win rather than failure.

So don’t always assume that link building is right for everyone. Look for the signs that it may not be. Do what you can to overcome them early, to keep them from becoming issues later on.

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Measuring The Quality Of A Link

Measuring the Quality of a Link

Have a linking campaign in the works but not sure exactly where to begin or how to judge the quality of the links you’re building, or buying? Todd Malincoat dissects the anatomy of quality link building with 6 quality link indicators on the StuntDubl blog:

Getting links is hard work. It’s very difficult to solicit links with no value proposition. It’s difficult to develop a value proposition if you have no sense of what you’re negotiating for. This is one of the key reasons why understanding the value of links is such a critical component to an SEO campaign.

No one likes to hear that placing a value on a link is a “gut feel” skill, but it’s true. You need to repeat the process many times, and understand the shifts in the marketplace.

Here’s how you can test the value of links, anchor text and sites which you are soliciting links from in less than five minutes.

1. By Keyword, Theme, or Industry Value : What is the value of the placement and traffic garnished from that link?

2. PageRank and Link Popularity : How much of a well trafficked authority site is that of which you have in your sights?

3. Outbound linking : In order to get, one has to give a little. Does the site give as much as it receives?

4. Links to the entire domain : How many sites are linking to various pages throughout the domain? And not just their links pages or link baited topics?

5. Where’s the link? Where on the site and within the pages will your link occur? In the body? The sidebar? Or hidden on the bottom? Would a normal web user notice or find the link? If so, chances are it will have more value to something burried behind the bushes.

6. How aged is the site? Anyone with a well mannered upbringing has respect for their elders. Expect the search engine algorithms to follow suit on giving value to links from older, established sites.

Todd has a rundown on the tools, which are all available in the post, The Five Minute Link Value Test at StuntDubl.

John Mueller Answers What To Do About Link Building

Google’s John Mueller answered a question about link building practices in an Office Hours hangout. Mueller outlined Google’s passive and proactive actions against certain links and offered suggestions for a better way to acquire links.

Is it Necessary to Spend Thousands of Dollars for Links?

The person asking the question noted that he watched many link building YouTube videos and read case studies that demonstrated that link building is necessary for best rankings.

The question asked:

“…The question is on link building practices. So we …approached many… companies… they say they will charge thousands of dollars or ten thousands of dollars to get the link… from the home page or the news sites and…

They also talk a lot… about …we should get a high authority …link and stuff like that.”

Next he explained how companies he approached showed him examples of sites that were high ranking because of their link building.

The person continued:

“…they also showcase that okay, see this is a site which is ranking high on …Google and …they have taken our service and they have paid us.

So if you pay us then your site will also rank because we are going to put …your site backlink with the good article on the home page…”

Are “Such Practices” Necessary to Rank in Google?

Next he questioned the wisdom of spending money on what he perceived as low quality link building, what he called, “such practices,” implying manipulative practices.

He seemed troubled that according to the link building claims, Google’s search rankings reward manipulative practices that cost thousands of dollars.

He continued the question:

“I don’t think that it is wise to put money in such practices or not. Like what are your opinion, like what are your final wordings?

And one more thing. …There are a lot of people over at YouTube and they’re writing a lot of blogs also like these are the best link building practices, you do this… and you do like that and they are charging a lot of money but we don’t want to engage in such stuff like that.”

The person asking the question ended by asking:

“We just want to know… what we should do now?“

Screenshot of John Mueller in the Office Hours Hangout How Google Treats Manipulative Link Building

John Mueller related how Google treats artificial links:

“What should you do now…

I think that’s a super complicated question because there’s no one answer for everyone.

So I think first of all, like you probably recognized, artificially building links, dropping links on other sites, buying links, all of that is against the webmaster guidelines.

And we take action on that algorithmically, we take action on that manually.

And the actions that we take include demoting the site that is buying the links, demoting the site that is selling the links.

Sometimes we also take more subtle action in that we just ignore all of those links.”

Screenshot of John Mueller Explaining How Google Handles Paid Links

Google: Paid Links Have No Effect

Google’s John Mueller says paid links have no effect:

“For example if we recognize that a site is regularly selling links but they also have other things around that, then we often go in and say okay, we will ignore all links on this website.

That basically means …a lot of these sites are things where people still sell links because it’s like they can sell it and they find a seller then of course they’ll try to do that.

But those links have absolutely no effect.

So that seems like a big waste of time from my point of view.”

Mueller Describes Non-Black Hat Links

Mueller ends his answer by suggesting Google-friendly link building tactics.

His first suggestion is the classic create content and tell others about it approach. It’s an oldie but a goodie but it can work.

Mueller suggests to build it and tell others about it:

“That said, I do think that there are ways that you can approach the topic of links in a way that is less black hat where you’re buying links from other sites.

But where you’re actually kind of actively creating content that you know will attract links and then going out and reaching out to other sites and saying hey, we have this interesting content, don’t you want to take a look at it.

And …kind of encouraging them to link to your site but without this kind of exchange of value, exchange of money, all of that.

And that’s something where some people are very experienced in doing that and they can really kind of guide you to find those topic areas that are interesting for other people.”

Building Links to Product Pages is Hard

Creating content and telling others about it isn’t always an appropriate strategy for an ecommerce website.  An ecommerce website offers products, not articles.

Attracting links to product pages is one of the toughest kinds of links to acquire because people generally don’t feel enthusiastic about certain products and when they do feel enthusiastic the typical ecommerce store is one store of out thousands selling the same product.

The problem with attracting links to product pages is that it’s extremely difficult to make the case that one store out of thousands is more deserving of a link than the other stores selling identical products.

The tactic of building content to help rank a product page rarely works because the links acquired for that content boosts the content and not the products.

One can internally link from the content pages to the product pages and that might help.

But I’ve rarely seen that happen, even for content pages that went viral.

There is simply no replacement for a direct link to a products page.

Here’s what John Mueller said about acquiring links:

“Where if you’re selling refrigerators then obviously a category page of refrigerators is not going to be very interesting for other people.

But if you can create a survey around refrigerators that is somehow fascinating to others that’s something that’s a lot more interesting for people where they say, oh… here’s this really cool survey about refrigerators.

Did you know that they were like this or they were invented like this or whatever.

That’s the kind of thing where you’re creating something that other people find interesting that other people want to link to.

From my point of view that’s the kind of link building that I have less of an issue with because you’re creating something that other people are linking to it because of what you’ve created.

But it’s not that other people are linking to your content because you’re giving them money to do that or because you have kind of these back door relationships with the other site.

So that’s kind of the direction I would take there.”

Mueller Warns Against Link Building Shortcuts Links More Important than Popularity?

And this can skew Google’s search results to favor the site with the most links and not show the site that is most popular that a searcher would most likely want to see.

As an example, a wildly popular store I won’t name cannot rank for their key terms, which they pay PPC to appear for those search terms.

This company, which I’ll call Site A, has a popularity that is largely driven through social media, word of mouth and not search. They are an example of a truly popular company in their niche.

Two keyword phrases that the popular store should rank for but does not contains the usual top brands one would expect. One is the highly competitive two-word phrase and the other is the more descriptive three word phrase.

The search engine results pages (SERPs) for the  two keyword phrase has a search result in fourth place that is a regional brick and mortar (Site B) with stores in a handful of rural states.

Site A is the wildly popular store and Site B is the regional store.

Google Trends Showing Search Popularity of Two Online Stores

Site A is wildly popular online with tens of millions of followers on social media.

Site B has social media followers in the low six figures.

The Google Trends graph makes it clear that there is enormous search traffic for Site A’s brand name but Google ranks a relatively unpopular website as #4 for a highly coveted two word keyword phrase.

The relatively unpopular Site B is a regional site that acquires many links from regional news media sites. They also have live links (with coupon codes) from “influencers” which seems to indicate an active promotional campaign.

Those coupon codes, by the way, are not from an affiliate program because Site B doesn’t have an affiliate program.  So it could be that the coupon code and non-no followed live link is from a private agreement between the blogger and the company.

How Popular is Site A?

Here is a Google Trends graph showing how Site A is nearly as popular as McDonald’s:

Google Trends Graph Comparison with McDonald’s

As you can see, site A is nearly as popular as McDonald’s but it can’t outrank a regional store that happens to have decent links…

Performance on Bing

Bing is more resistant to link spam than Google is.  When I search on Bing, it doesn’t rank Site A for the two-word phrase. But it doesn’t rank Site B either, which indicates that Bing probably was not influenced by the links the way Google was.

Most interestingly though is that Bing does rank the highly popular Site A for the more descriptive three-word phrase.  If you want to see if something is ranking high on Google because of links, check the same keyword phrases on Bing.

If the SERPs largely are the same except the one suspicious site doesn’t rank in Bing, that’s a clue that that one site might be ranking in Google because of links.

This is just an illustration showing the power of links to influence Google’s search results.

The Question as to How to Link Build is Frustrating

Circling back to the person who asked John Mueller the question, one can understand the frustration that is inherent in the question that was asked:

“We just want to know… what we should do now?“

The answer on how to build word of mouth popularity by promoting the site to both users and websites is a tough one to answer.

There are many out there proposing short term solutions to long term problems and it can be frustrating to see those solutions continually proposed as the answer.

Citation

Watch John Mueller answer discuss link building at 1 minute mark:

What Is Domain Hijacking And How To Recover A Stolen Domain Name

Do you run or maintain a website? If so, you must have heard the term – Domain Hijacking. With competition taking over the market these days, protecting your business’s identity is a must. And domains are one of the most vulnerable assets these days. This post is all you need to know about Domain Hijacking, how to prevent it and how to recover a stolen domain name

What is Domain Hijacking

Domain Hijacking is a form of theft where the attacker takes access to a domain name without the consent of the original registrant. Hijacking can happen due to security flaws on your end or the end of your domain/hosting company.

How is it done

These days businesses are coming online, and their web properties are a major asset to companies. Hacking into someone’s website is almost equivalent to depriving them of their profits and earnings. So that is why hackers prefer to hijack domains and deprive a company of its internet identity.

One reason that can cause your domain name to be hijacked could be your negligence towards security. Once, you’ve registered a new domain; the provider gives you access to the domain’s Control Panel. This panel lets you change your domain’s settings that point to the original server. And while you created your account, you must have provided an email address that will have administrative access. If the hacker can access this administrative email account, he can also have control over the domain’s control panel and eventually all the settings. Hackers usually obtain your email and other information from the WHOIS data records.

The other reason could be security issues with your domain provider. If the hacker has access to back-end services provided by your Registrar, then probably your domain is at risk of getting hijacked. So, it is suggested to choose a well-trusted domain provider.

There could be a third reason as well. Your domain registration expired, and you have disabled auto-renewal. Someone may register your domain in the meantime and you will be left with nothing. You cannot take any actions on the hijacker as his/her actions are completely legal. So to avoid this from happening, you have to make sure you’ve enabled auto-renewal on your domain names and register domains for longer durations.

What are hijacked domains used for Malicious use

Why are websites hacked? What exactly does a domain hijacker do this? Usually, the hijacked domains become inaccessible, and if the website was a source of income, you’ve started losing your money as well as your online identity. The hacker may demand money from you to transfer the domain name back to you. Or the hijacker might replace your website with another similar-looking website and misuse it for Phishing or other malicious activity. This might fool your users and lead them to enter their sensitive credentials on a fake website.

Domain Transfer

The hacker may transfer the domain’s ownership to some other name. In this case, it is very difficult in fact almost impossible to get your domain back. The hacker may impersonate you and request the domain provider to transfer the domain to some other account or entirely different domain provider. This is a very difficult scenario as you may need legal help here. Also, if you are not able to convince the domain provider about your situation, the company may decline to cooperate.

How to prevent Domain Hijacking

Prevention is the cure! The first step in ensuring your domain’s security is choosing a good trusted domain provider. Make sure your domain registrar is in the list of ICANN accredited registrars.

Now once you’ve registered and created your account, ensure a strong and unique password to your Control Panel as well as your associated Email account. Also, follow some common steps towards maintaining the security of your email account.

Not just domains, if the hacker has access to your email account, he/she can practically reach into any of your accounts. Make sure you’ve reviewed your email security settings recently. Enable security features such as two-factor authentication and sign in alerts to stay secure. The best way to protect a domain is by protecting the administrator’s email address associated with it.

You can also opt for WHOIS privacy, a service offered by many domain providers. If you’ve purchased this service then the domain registrar will hide or change your WHOIS data, so, that the hacker does not get your real details and the real administrative email address.

How to recover hijacked or stolen Domain name

The first step involved in recovering the domain is by contacting your domain registrar. Call the support team and explain to them the entire situation. Give them relevant details and complete any required paperwork. In some cases, the registrar itself is of no help. As the domain has already been transferred to some other registrar and that too probably in some other country. So, there is no other way out then getting legal help. Most of the registrars offer 24/7 call service support; you should keep this in mind while choosing a registrar.

The other option is to contact ICANN Registrar. What is ICANN?

To reach another person on the Internet you have to type an address into your computer — a name or a number. That address must be unique so computers know where to find each other. ICANN coordinates these unique identifiers across the world. Without that coordination, we wouldn’t have one global Internet.

Conclusion

Recovering a stolen domain name is not always an easy job, and it is therefore imperative that you maintain adequate website security. If you are handling your company’s websites yourself, you need to be protected from any form of website hijacking and theft. There’ve been many cases where the website owners were forced to change their domain names as they were left out with no other option and legal help was way too expensive. So, to avoid any such circumstances, you should keep your Control Panel & email account password secured and enable Domain Privacy Protection.

Now read: What is DNS Hijacking?

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