Ballarat’s Best Websites: Rankings for 40+ Local Sites

I’ve set myself a bunch of audacious goals for Eat Local Ballarat, and one of them is to be among Ballarat’s best websites.  But how can I tell if I’ve made it?  To start with, I’m going to have to figure out the best websites Ballarat currently has to offer.

Measuring Website Quality

The first part is easy enough: Moz’s Domain Authority (DA) is a measure of how well a site will rank in search engines.  Since search engines are looking for high quality sites that meet people’s needs, DA is not a bad proxy for site quality. You can find the DA for a site by using Moz’s Open Site Explorer, or installing the MozBar in your browser.

DA is based on a logarithmic scale from 1-100, where Google itself is 100 and a new site with no content is 1.  Because of the logarithmic ranking, it’s much easier to gain points in the lower ranges than the higher ones. Many, many websites hover around the 10-30 range; those above 50 are usually quite authoritative websites, and anything over 70 is generally a household-name brand, a university, or a branch of government (at least in Australia, where I’ve mostly been looking.)

[well]Side note: you might have heard of Page Rank, an older measure of how Google perceived your website’s quality.  Page Rank hasn’t been updated since 2012, and it was just announced that it’s going to be completely removed. So if “Page Rank” is still part of your vocabulary, it’s well and truly time to replace it with “Domain Authority”.[/well]

Finding Ballarat Websites

Harder than finding a working definition of “quality” is actually coming up with a list of “Ballarat websites”.  What makes a website a Ballarat one?  My working definition is:

  1. Subject matter is focused on Ballarat
  2. Or it’s a organisation based in Ballarat, which does a large proportion of its business here (so, not Mars, is what I’m saying)
  3. Site must be independently hosted on its own domain: sites on WordPress.com or Squarespace don’t count, nor do subdomains like ballarat.bigcompany.com.au.

The next challenge is to actually find them.  There’s no way (that I know of) to focus a search so that only websites matching my criteria are returned. Luckily, Ballarat’s a relatively small city, and it’s not unthinkable to research all the top sites in town manually.

I started by simply investigating the websites of all the most prominent Ballarat institutions I could think of. Most of them had quite healthy DAs in the 40+ range.  Then I began repetitively searching for “Ballarat <industry>” to cover such areas as schools, health, tourist attractions, restaurants, real estate agents, dentists, and so on. I found that as I got into less and less technically savvy industries, I very seldom found DAs above 20, so I gave up somewhere between “Ballarat plumbers” and “Ballarat livestock”.

The Moz Bar’s SERP Overlay mode showed me each site’s DA right on the Google results page, which made it fairly quick to skim and find high-ranking ones.  Plus, of course, I only had to look at the first page or two at most, as low-DA sites are, by definition, unlikely to perform well in search results pages.

But enough of all that. You’re here for the list, right? Drumroll, please!

The Top Ballarat Websites, by Domain Authority

The top ten Ballarat websites by domain authority, as of early April 2016, are:

(Note: as there were three sites with DA 47, I used the Page Authority of each site’s homepage as a tie-breaker, knocking one of them out of the top 10.)

Federation University website screenshot
Ballarat’s top rated website, Federation University (DA 68)

Here are some other relatively well-ranked local sites; probably not a complete list, but I think I got a pretty good sample.  If you have any others to suggest with a DA of 25 or above, drop a comment below!

Ballarat Community Health website screenshot
Ballarat Community Health (DA 35) have had a recent website redesign.

How to use this data

So what does all this mean?  Well, entertaining as it is to rank local websites by DA it’s not really very meaningful in the real world. Sites in different industries won’t usually appear on the same search results page, so comparing their DAs is like comparing apples and oranges.

If you want to make comparisons between two sites’ DAs, you always should look at sites within the same field. For instance, if you’re a regional tourist attraction, go find the DAs for other regional tourism attractions (whether in Ballarat or in other cities of similar size). If you’re a school or a web designer, compare against other schools or web designers, and so on.

I’d also advise against obsessively tracking changes in DA over time.  DA is graded on a curve each time it’s run, which means that if you stand still while other sites are improving, your score will go down.  And this isn’t just measured against your competitors, but against the entire Internet.  So if McDonalds (DA 91) and the Queen (DA 97) and NASA (DA 98) are doing great things to make their websites rank better in the search results, your Ballarat business’s DA will suffer.  Rough, huh?  On the other hand, sometimes DAs will bump upwards; in the process of writing this article, Moz released an unexpected early update to the DA figures, and I had to rewrite the whole article to reflect DAs which had mostly risen by around 2-5 points across the board.  Moz works in mysterious ways, is what I’m saying.

So what is DA good for?  Well, if you compare apples to apples, you can use it to get a sense of how your website is doing compared to your competition.  Taken in conjunction with a careful review of their web content, technical implementation, incoming links, and other SEO factors, it can help you figure out how your site could rank better.

It’s been an enlightening experience researching the DAs of Ballarat websites, and I’ve got a list of relevant ones in my fields of interest to keep an eye on. I also have a sense of what’s achievable and what’s not, in broad terms: I’m pretty sure I’ll never get a DA over 50 with a local food website in regional Victoria.  Then again, who knows?  Maybe local Ballarat food will be the next cronuts (DA 63).

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