How to Build Topical Authority and Why it is so Important for Ranking Your Content?
Have you noticed how some websites that have much lower domain rating often rank on Page one against big powerful players for a certain topic. How is that possible? Enter “topical Authority”.
In the world of SEO, if there is one concept that is gaining traction every year, it is this – topical authority. Topical authority is the only way you can start ranking for a topic even if you are a small website without hundreds of backlinks. For this to happen, you need to understand what does ‘topical authority‘ mean.
In this in-depth guide, we’ll dive into why Google cares about topical authority and why it impacts your SEO game, and why should topical authority figure in your content strategy and content writing.
Table of Contents
What is topical authority?
a. Defining what is topical authority:
Imagine you’re sitting around a campfire with friends, and someone starts talking about the latest digital gadgets. One friend, let’s call her Jenny, always has the most insightful comments, engaging stories, and latest news about everything tech-related. Before long, whenever there’s a discussion on tech, all eyes turn to Jenny.
In the realm of authority content marketing, that’s the meaning of topical content. Your website becomes the ‘Jenny’ of your chosen niche – the one-stop resource that everyone visits when they need comprehensive, trusted content on a specific subject.
To put it simply, topical authority means your website is considered an expert on a particular subject, as per Google, since it has created almost every type of content possible under that subject.
Typically, a higher topical authority (for any particular subject or product or niche), helps fetch higher search rankings for those pages. A higher topical authority on a subject also helps the site rank for those specific keywords and related keywords. Also creating topical authority does not depend on how backlinks you have created to your content. It depends totally on you and the content you are creating to establish yourself as an expert.
Have you answered all the queries that a searcher might ask on a particular subject? Does your content satisfy user intent? If yes, your website can create topical authority related to a particular topic, subject, niche, product or category.
Topical authority was introduced by Google to understand the relation between a search query and its user intent. Before the Hummingbird update released in 2013, Google’s ranking system was based mostly on keywords, where the keywords were placed in the content, inbound links, site speed.
The problem with that approach was that Google could not understand the search query on a semantic level, could not decipher the context of the search, and could not understanding the meaning behind searcher queries. Hence websites could manipulate the algorithms through keyword stuffing and large-scale irrelevant link-building techniques to rank on page 1. Google was unable to serve exactly right and relevant searches for each query. It was failing to properly understand the relation between the search keywords and what it actually meant to the user.
It had to figure out what the intent behind each query was – which is what semantic search is all about. With the Hummingbird update, all this started changing. Only websites whose content was relevant to the user intent started ranking. So now, any website which had topical authority in relation to a topic could rank.
b. Understanding the connection: topical authority and SEO
Does topical authority help in SEO? YES it does.
The relationship between topical authority and SEO is like a finely tuned symphony orchestra. Each element works together to create a harmonious end product – a higher search engine ranking.
Today’s search engines, led by Google, are like sophisticated maestros, leading the SEO orchestra with increasing finesse. They’ve moved beyond simple keyword matching to understand the broader context and semantics of the content. This is where topical authority SEO hits the high notes. By demonstrating to Google that you have topical authority on a subject, by consistently publishing high-quality, in-depth content around a specific topic, you can improve your symphony’s performance and secure a standing ovation – a higher spot in search results.
This way, you can actually rank your content higher than a lot of sites which have high domain authority. Once your authority is established, this is what happens –
- Google trusts your website for information in that niche and tends to rank your content faster
- You rank for a larger number of keywords.
- You gain more trust from readers and
- Also you earn more from your content assets
c. Visualising topical authority: the grand library analogy
Now, picture the Internet as a grand, expansive library. Each website is like a bookshelf filled with books on a variety of subjects. In this digital library, topical authority means your bookshelf – your website – becomes the definitive reference section for a specific subject.
This section is packed with volumes of informative, engaging, and comprehensive content that answers any question a library-goer may have on that topic. As word spreads about your exceptional section, you’ll notice an influx of visitors. In the digital sphere, this translates to increased traffic and a solid reputation for your brand.
Why should I care about topical authority when I am creating content?
a. A silent revolution: embracing the semantic web’s era
Imagine a world where the internet doesn’t just recognise words; it actually understands them. This isn’t a sci-fi fantasy; it’s the reality of the Semantic Web. Here, the internet is like a savvy linguist, discerning the context and relationships between words, understanding not just what you’re saying, but what you mean. Imagine you’re chatting about trying a new cuisine, and a stranger, understanding your underlying preference for healthy, animal-friendly options, recommends the best vegan sushi place in town. That’s the nuanced understanding the Semantic Web offers. With this shift in the web’s language understanding, topical authority has transformed from a ‘nice-to-have’ to a crucial cornerstone in content creation.
b. From isolated dots to connected networks: entities and the knowledge graph
Visualise the internet as an intricately woven tale, brimming with characters and plotlines. In this narrative, entities—people, places, or things—are the characters. Google’s Knowledge Graph is the intricate web of plotlines that connect these characters, highlighting relationships and emphasising their importance within the overall story. Establishing topical authority allows your website—your character—to not only feature in this narrative but play a pivotal role, recognised for its in-depth understanding and vital connections with other related entities.
c. The point of no return: Google’s Hummingbird update’s game-changing impact
Every compelling narrative has a point of no return—a twist that forever changes the story’s trajectory. For our online narrative, that point came with Google’s Hummingbird update in 2013. It marked a shift from a narrow focus on individual keywords to a broader appreciation of the context and themes enveloping them. Imagine moving from understanding single sentences in isolation to appreciating the essence of an entire chapter. This evolution signalled the rising importance of becoming a topical authority, encouraging content creators to delve deeper into their subjects and establish complete mastery over a particular topic or subject.
d. Thickening plot: stepping up the game with medic, YMYL, EAT, and BERT
Solidifying its intent to understand the connection between search queries and user intent, Google went on to release a number of major updates in subsequent years that makes topical authority more and more important as a ranking factor.
In 2018, Google brought in the Medic update (not named by Google though), a core algorithm update that put into front the concept of E.A.T. – Expertise, Authority and Trust (which has been around since earlier) – to determine how relevant was the content being published in medical and health sites. These sites are also referred to as ‘Your Money or Your Life’ (YMYL) websites and they are called so because according to Google the content of these sites can “potentially impact the future happiness, health, financial stability, or safety of internet users”.
Just so that we are clear E.A.T is in fact a part of Google’s Search Quality Rater Guidelines, an extensive list of guidelines developed for individuals who assess search results on behalf of Google.
However, the Medic update had definitely linkage to the E.A.T indicators since Google wanted to weed-out all the sites that were publishing low quality content in the YMYL category. Even though Google never stated that it was doing this particularly for this category, most sites which got affected were from the health, medical sectors and other sectors that were considered sensitive.
Pages on the World Wide Web are about a vast variety of topics. Some topics require different standards for quality than others. For example, some topics could significantly impact the health, financial stability, or safety of people, or the welfare or well-being of society. We call such topics “Your Money or Your Life”, or YMYL. Raters apply very high PQ* standards for pages on YMYL topics because low quality pages could potentially negatively impact the health, financial stability, or safety of people, or the welfare or well-being of society.” Google Services
E.A.T is super important since Google wants to publish content that is super useful, trustworthy and human-centred. This is again related to topical authority. So, when Google views your content as coming from an expert source, your chances of ranking higher increases.
And finally came in the BERT (Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers), which helped Google better understand the relation between words, queries, concepts and entities.
With each update, Google passed on a clear message – genuine expertise, authoritative content, and trustworthiness are non-negotiable. It’s as though Google began to scrutinize websites under a magnifying glass, closely evaluating the quality, depth, and reliability of the content on offer. In this scenario, topical authority emerged as a decisive factor in this evaluation process.
Why is topical authority important for semantic search
One of the reasons why topical authority is important is because semantic search is the driving factor behind Google’s search.
So what is semantic search?
Semantic search works by understanding the user intent behind the search, the context behind the query, and the relationship between words and what the real meaning is behind that search.
Semantic search is about understanding the natural language in the same that a human would. Hence it tries to understand what a searcher is expecting from a search query by trying to establish the entities (things, place, person) and contexts around that search query. For eg, if you search for Apple, Google is not totally sure whether you are searching for the company or the fruit. Hence it is showing both. Depending what you search next, the crawlers will understand the context and show more refined search. That is what semantic SEO tries to do – understand the contextual meaning of a human search query.
By keeping semantic search at its core, Google will interpret the relation and different between entities (people, things, places) based on a number of factors, for eg –
- The user’s search history
- Past search data
Topical authority matters since it helps machines understand your content better and throw up the most relevant content.
Here is a nice piece of explanation by Oncrawl by Koray Tuğberk GÜBÜR.
To be an authority for a topic in the eyes of a semantic search engine, a source should cover a thing’s different attributes within different contexts. It must also reference similar things, and things in parent and child categories. Topical Authority and Topical Coverage can be acquired with the most detailed, entity-oriented, and semantically organized, comprehensive content network. Every successful piece of content increases the chance of success of other content for the connected entities and related queries.”To be an authority for a topic in the eyes of a semantic search engine, a source should cover a thing’s different attributes within different contexts. It must also reference similar things, and things in parent and child categories. Topical Authority and Topical Coverage can be acquired with the most detailed, entity-oriented, and semantically organized, comprehensive content network. Every successful piece of content increases the chance of success of other content for the connected entities and related queries.”
Benefits of having topical authority
Now that we’ve established what topical authority is and why it matters, let’s explore some of the tangible benefits of investing your time and resources in developing it.
a. Higher organic traffic
One of the most impactful benefits of building topical authority is the increased organic traffic to your website. When search engines recognise your website as an authoritative source on a particular topic, they are more likely to rank your pages higher in the search results.
But it’s not just about being recognised by the search engines; it’s about satisfying the curiosity and needs of your users. When you provide comprehensive, valuable content on a specific subject, visitors are more likely to engage with your content, stick around longer, and explore other content on your site. This level of engagement sends positive signals to search engines and can improve your organic rankings over time.
b. Enhanced brand reputation
Having topical authority not only boosts your SEO relevance and authority but also significantly enhances your brand reputation. When you consistently provide expert, insightful content on a specific subject, you position your brand as a thought leader in that field.
Customers today want to do business with companies they trust and respect. By demonstrating topical authority, you show potential customers that you are knowledgeable, reliable, and trustworthy. This can lead to higher brand loyalty, increased customer retention, and a greater likelihood of word-of-mouth referrals.
c. Increased backlink opportunities
Topical authority can also lead to a higher backlink count. Quality backlinks, where other credible websites link back to your content, are one of the most powerful signals to search engines about the reliability and value of your content.
When you create in-depth, authoritative content on a particular topic, other websites are more likely to link back to your content as a valuable resource. Each of these backlinks helps to increase your topical authority, forming a positive cycle that can lead to further backlink opportunities and better search rankings.
d. Better user experience
Topical content can significantly enhance the user experience on your site. By creating comprehensive, interconnected content around specific themes, you make it easier for users to navigate your site and find the information they need.
Visitors who find a wealth of related, useful content on your site are likely to spend more time browsing, reducing your bounce rate, and increasing your chances of conversion. Over time, this can lead to a more engaged audience, higher customer satisfaction levels, and ultimately, better business results.
e. Amplified consumer trust
In an era overflowing with information, consumers are more sceptical than ever. They’re tired of the constant bombardment of content and are seeking trustworthy, reliable sources. When you position yourself as an authority on a topic, you don’t just provide valuable insights—you create a beacon of trust. This credibility not only fuels your reputation but also fosters a strong bond with your audience. They begin to perceive you as a trustworthy guide in a murky sea of content, a perception that can have far-reaching benefits for your brand.
f. Improved conversion rates
Being an expert is one thing; being perceived as an expert is another. When you successfully accomplish the latter, it impacts your conversion rates positively. Topical authority helps in setting the stage for this. As you demonstrate your deep understanding of a subject, you foster a level of trust with your audience. This trust creates a fertile ground for lead nurturing, eventually improving your conversion rates. It’s like being a knowledgeable shop assistant; customers are more likely to buy from you if they trust your advice and expertise.
g. Enhanced social proof
There’s a reason why authoritative figures often become influential—people trust them and value their opinions. When you establish topical authority, your content becomes a valuable resource others want to cite and share. This organic sharing acts as social proof, showcasing your expertise to a broader audience. It’s like word-of-mouth recommendations in the digital realm—when your content is shared by trusted voices, it further amplifies your authority.
h. Building a resilient SEO foundation
In the ever-changing landscape of SEO, one factor remains constant—the value of high-quality, authoritative content. Establishing topical authority helps you build a strong and resilient SEO foundation that can weather algorithm changes. You’re not just chasing after keywords; you’re providing value, something Google always aims to reward. This approach ensures that no matter how SEO trends evolve, your content remains relevant and valuable. It’s like building a house on solid ground—it might take time, but the resulting structure is robust and enduring.
How to build topical authority
At this point, you might be wondering – “How do you determine the authority of a piece of content?”. Or you might be scratching your head over “how do you build relevance and authority for your website?”. Here is how to build topical authority with content.
a. Find what are you main topics and sub topics, and cluster topics that will help you build topical authority
Create a topical map can be a helpful tool in organising and optimising your website’s content for better topical authority. It basically involves the creation of a map that will show the connection between various concepts and ideas and how each of them fit into the broader context of the subject you are dealing with.
It helps to start with a map of the topics that you want to write about if you have to establish topical authority related to a particular subject.
Start with the main concepts/themes/keywords that people are likely to use to search for your service. For example if you are selling content marketing, this becomes your broad keyword.
You can then head to a tool like Ahrefs and key in that main term “content marketing” and see what kind of keywords are being shown. Make a list of the main keywords that come up related to this term.
For eg- some of the main keywords would be – what is content marketing? Content marketing agency, content marketing services, importance of content marketing etc.
So if you want to create topical authority for a topic like content marketing, you need to cover the main topic and then a list of all the related topics that come with it.
Ahrefs will for eg show you what are the various keywords that come with the parent topic – that is content marketing.
You can see there are a list of 131 keywords that are related to the parent topic – content marketing.
All these keywords would need to be covered in details if you need to start ranking for content marketing. And not only that, each of these keywords will further have a set of sub keywords related to it.
For eg, “content marketing strategy” will further branch out to topics like “content marketing strategy templates”, “how to build a content marketing strategy” etc
Once this is done, try and see what are the other relevant and related keywords for your niche through –
✔️ Answer the public – They throw up some great questions and semantically related keywords
✔️ People also Ask – take help of Google itself
✔️ Auto complete – See in the query bar what Google is suggesting
Now you have a long list of
- Main and parent keywords
- And Cluster or Sub-topic Keywords
- Each cluster will bring in another set of cluster
Now you are all set to create topic clusters.
b. Using topic clusters to create pillar pages and cluster pages
Now that you have your keywords, you need to start organising your keywords into a map to know which topics you will work on.
A topic cluster is always led by a parent keyword (which has dominance in search and traffic and branches out to a number sub-topics), and a number of related keywords. Basically, you are trying to create a list of pages that cover topics of the same kind. They are someway linked to the main topic and cover the various contexts of the same broad topic, hence getting someway linked to each other by virtue of shared attributes.
In order to create a topic cluster choose a keyword that can be written in depth and which will branch out into various other cluster keywords. All of these should be related to what your website does.
For eg, at Justwords, we could choose to create a pillar page (the anchor page that would cover the most relevant main keywords of the topic you are trying to rank for) about “What is content marketing”.
The structure is divided in order to cover the related parent topics that are semantically related to content marketing.
Check out our pillar page on “WHAT IS CONTENT MARKETING?”.
Each of these subtopics (related to the sub-keywords) on this main page opens up to a new page – a cluster page that covers the cluster keyword in detail. This further branches out to another set of topic clusters.
Remember: A pillar page is supposed to exhaust all information that is related to the core topic and answer all possible queries that your target audience can ask. The subtopics covered on the page then branches out in detail to another page to answer all related queries to that particular sub-topic.
It’s easy to think of this as a tree, which branches out more and more, the centre of the main branch being the main keyword.
Organising your content effectively is the key to creating a robust topical authority strategy. This process involves arranging your pillar themes, clusters, and their keywords in a clear, coherent structure. This is where a topical SEO map becomes crucial. A topical map is essentially a visual representation of how your core topics, subtopics, and related keywords connect and interrelate.
For instance, if you’re a tech company, one of your pillar themes might be ‘Artificial Intelligence’. Subtopics or clusters could include ‘Machine Learning’, ‘Neural Networks’, and ‘AI in Healthcare’. These clusters would further break down into specific keywords. Mapping these out visually can provide clarity about your content strategy and reveal gaps or areas of repetition. When you create a topical map, SEO juice is automatically enhanced.
c. Keep Current: Incorporate Trends into Your Content
One major factor that distinguishes authoritative content is its topical relevance. Your content must be in line with the current trends and industry updates. While timeless, evergreen content has its place, search engines and readers appreciate content that addresses the latest developments.
Incorporating current trends into your content strategy demonstrates that your brand is in tune with industry changes, making you a go-to resource for the most up-to-date information.
Whether it’s the launch of a new social media platform, changes in Google’s algorithm, or a new marketing tool, these trends can offer fresh insights to your readers, further enhancing your topical authority.
d. Craft comprehensive, high-quality content
Creating high-quality content is the heart of establishing topical authority. However, this doesn’t just mean writing in-depth articles; it means crafting content that addresses your audience’s concerns and questions effectively and comprehensively.
Your content should offer actionable advice, solve problems, and provide valuable insights. Utilise different content formats like blog posts, podcasts, webinars, and infographics to present your information engagingly and accessibly. Regularly update your content to ensure it remains accurate and relevant, and always strive to give your readers the best value possible.
- Add a new angle to the topic
- Add expert quotes
- Add different formats within the same content piece
- Stay away from just copying what your competitor has done
- Offer analysis and data
e. Enhance your topical authority with relevant backlinks
Backlinks are going to be relevant for a long time now. Quality backlinks are still one of the most effective ways to enhance your topical authority. When reputable websites link back to your content, it signals to search engines and readers that your content is credible and valuable.
Earning quality backlinks is no easy feat, but it can be achieved through guest posting on authoritative sites, forging collaborations with other reputable brands, or even creating outstanding content that others naturally want to reference and share. Remember, it’s not about the quantity of backlinks but the quality. Links from websites that are topically relevant to your content carry much more weight than those from unrelated sites. If you’re wondering ‘what does topically mean?’ or ‘topically definition’, check this out.
f. Do not forget internal linking
An internal link connects page A to page B (a related page) in the same website. It is a way of telling Google crawlers that –
- Two pages are related in some way – ideally contextually.
- This helps them in better understand the structure of your website.
- The links help the crawlers understand the most important pages of your website and the weight it is giving to a particular topic. Basically it tells Google what is important on your site.
Here is Google’s John Mueller confirming the importance of internal links.
If you are looking to create topical authority, then you need to make sure that internal linking is done properly between your main pages and cluster pages. Internal linking helps Google understand the content of the page and the way it has been covered in a website. It is the way it reads the site. More internal linking between pages that share contextual acts as a glue between important content assets, aiding topical authority and building topic clusters.
g. Involve industry experts and influencers
Another tactic to build authority is to involve industry experts and influencers in your content creation process. This could be in the form of interviews, guest posts, or collaborative content pieces.
When these industry experts share their knowledge and perspectives on your platform, they bring with them their own established audiences. This not only broadens your reach but also strengthens your topical authority by associating your brand with recognised experts in the field.
h. Engage with your audience
Engaging with your audience can also help strengthen your topical authority. This means responding to comments on your blog, answering questions on social media, and generally being available to your audience.
When you actively engage with your audience, you show that you’re not just an information source but also a responsive and approachable brand. This level of interaction can enhance your brand’s trustworthiness and reliability, both key factors in building topical authority.
i. Do not forget search intent of the user and Google’s E.A.T factors
While creating content, make sure you answer the intent behind the search query. Search intent is becoming extremely important with every update. In its search to provide the most relevant answer to its users, it will rank the content that finally satisfies the search intent behind the query. So make sure that any piece of content that you create answers the questions of your user properly. If the user does not get that answer, he or she will leave the page and that shows to Google that your page is not the most relevant for that search query. In such a case, you will drop in rankings since Google would want to rank the most relevant content.
Respecting Google’s E.A.T guidelines also makes sense if you want to create topical authority.
Wrapping it Up
As Google gets more and more smarter about semantics, topical authority will become extremely important. Websites will not just be able to power through rankings because of the number of backlinks they have created, but they also have to prove they have the right content, the most authoritative content. And because of that, even a smaller website with a less significant DA will have a fighting chance to rank for a topic against the big giants. The most relevant content will win.
Let’s bring it all together by tackling some frequently asked questions on the topic. This will further help clarify the concept of topical authority and its relevance in the current SEO landscape.
Topical authority Vs. domain authority: what’s the difference?
While domain authority measures the overall credibility and authority ranking strength of a website, topical authority is more focused. It gauges your website’s expertise and reputation in a specific subject area or niche.
What exactly is a topic cluster?
A topic cluster is a strategic method of organising content where a single core piece (the pillar) provides a broad overview of a topic, and related subtopics are linked back to this pillar and to each other. This grouping boosts topical authority and enhances user experience.
What is a pillar page?
A pillar page is the foundation of a topic cluster. It’s a comprehensive resource page that covers a particular topic in detail and links out to related, more specific content pieces (cluster content). These, in turn, link back to the pillar page, forming an interconnected content structure.
Why is topical authority important?
Topical authority helps in distinguishing your website as a trusted source of in-depth information on a specific topic. It impacts your visibility on search engines, resulting in increased organic traffic, better user engagement, and improved credibility with your audience.
What is semantics in SEO?
Semantics in SEO refers to the practice of understanding and responding to the intent and contextual meaning of search queries, instead of just focusing on the literal keywords. As you develop your topical authority, you’ll naturally delve into the semantics of your topic, leading to more relevant and comprehensive content.