Imagine if your website was the cool kid in school. Everyone would be talking about it, wanting to hang out with it, and ogling its every move.
That’s pretty much what it’s like when you have topical authority in SEO.
Search engines can’t get enough of you, nor can your audiences. Your content is authoritative, relevant, evergreen, and always up-to-date — the holy grail of SEO.
But just like that cool kid in school, you didn’t get to the top by luck alone. You worked hard to get there. And that’s why we’ve created this comprehensive guide on topical authority in SEO — so you can become the cool kid on the block.
We’ll cover everything you need to know, from the basics of topical authority to tips and tricks on building a successful SEO strategy with topical authority. So please put on your best SEO shoes, and let’s get started.
A topical authority is an SEO concept that involves creating content around topics and themes related to a particular website. It’s based on the idea that search engines weigh pages more heavily when their content closely relates to the website’s main topics.
You essentially want to become the go-to authority on your main topics. That means creating highly relevant, authoritative, evergreen, and up-to-date content.
Let’s say your website deals with protein powder supplements. A good topical authority strategy would involve creating content on topics related to protein powder, such that you become the go-to source for all things protein powder.
That could be anything from reviews and comparisons of different brands to advice on how to choose the best protein powder for your needs.
Here are some of the topics you need to cover on your site:
- What’s Protein Powder?
- What Does Protein Powder Do?
- What Kind of Protein Powder Should I Take?
- What are the Different Types of Protein Powders?
- How to Choose the Best Protein Powder
- How to Take Protein Powder
- What are the Benefits of Taking Protein Powder?
The goal is to become an authority on protein powder — not just on one aspect of it or a few brands, but on the entire topic. You’ll need to create content that covers all aspects of protein powder and related topics, such as nutrition and health benefits.
Dig through search engine results, and you’ll notice that not all websites that rank high have high domain authority. Some rank because of their topical authority —their content covers a topic in-depth and offers more value to the reader than other similar sites.
For example, if you search for “Mountain Bike Gifts,” you’ll find that one of the top-ranking websites, “twowheelwanderer,” only has a domain authority of 23.
Yet it ranks higher than other websites that have much higher domain authority, like singletrack with a DA of 74, Redbull with a DA of 89, and MBR with a DA of 64
The website ranks in the third position with a DA of only 23. Why is this So?
Twowheelwanderer.com rank because it comprehensively covers bike-related topics. It has a wealth of content on mountain biking, from reviews of bikes and gear to tips on how to ride trails safely and even stories about biking adventures. This kind of content makes it an authority on the topic and earns it a higher ranking by search engines.
It cannot be outranked by Amazon, despite its high domain authority, because Amazon’s content on the topic of mountain biking is comparatively sparse.
While search intent also plays a role in ranking, where information is concerned, topical authority wins.
In a world where content is king, having an in-depth understanding of a niche topic gives you an edge over others vying for the same search engine ranking.
And since search engines work with semantic associations, they know when a website covers a topic in-depth. They can associate a website with a topic and rank it accordingly.
If your website has a lot of content on a particular topic, the more it internalizes topical authority, allowing users to find the information they need quickly and easily.
It starts with internal links, which help search engines understand the relationship between the different pages on your website and how they are related.
Ideally, you want to take your readers through a journey of valuable information. As they click through and explore, they should eventually become experts in the topic. That’s an effective way to boost your position in the SERPs and get more organic traffic.
TL;DR: no one knows.
Everything started with the introduction of the Hummingbird algorithm in 2013. Google took a 360-degree approach to search accuracy and relevance, looking at the entire page’s content instead of single keywords.
Before Hummingbird, search engines relied on keywords to determine relevance, so a web page had to include the keyword to rank for a particular search query. With Hummingbird, things changed drastically.
Now, search engines look at the overall theme of a web page and analyze its content to determine relevance. They use semantic understanding, context, and co-occurrence to interpret the data.
It’s a complex process, but in simple words, it means that search engines can determine whether or not a web page is an authority on a particular topic.
When Google first launched in 1998, its goal was to provide relevant search results for users. Back then, it relied heavily on keyword matching and page rank algorithms.
- 2011: Google announced their newly launched “Structured Search Engine,” which structured how they displayed information in the search results.
- 2012: They launched the Knowledge Graph, a technology that used structured data to provide enriched search results.
- 2013: Google released the Hummingbird algorithm. As mentioned, this algorithm revolutionized search engine optimization and changed how websites ranked in the SERPs.
- 2015: Google released its first iteration of the RankBrain algorithm, using machine learning to improve search results further.
- 2018: Google released the Medic update, which meant that YMYL (Your Money Your Life) topics need to show EAT (Expertise, Authority, and Trustworthiness) to rank.
- 2019: Google launched the BERT algorithm, which further improved the accuracy of its search results. It focused on understanding words, concepts, and entities better.
- 2021: Google launched the Passage Indexing feature, which looks at individual sections of a webpage to determine relevance.
As you can see, Google has grown a great deal. It’s no longer that same old search engine from 1998; it’s constantly evolving, and its algorithms are getting smarter.
As a result, it’s getting better at understanding and assessing topical authority.
But Why is This Important for SEO?
Having great content on a topic is no longer enough.
Google wants you to show that you know what you’re talking about and have the necessary resources to back it up.
You can’t write one comic piece and expect Google to start ranking you with websites that specialize in writing humour articles.
Unless you cover more topics, create more content related to that topic, and link back to other authoritative websites in your niche, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to build up your topical authority.
That’s why focusing on quality content is so important. Writing a few articles is not enough; you must create detailed and well-researched content.
Google discusses E-A-T in its Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines. They emphasize quality content, a positive user experience, and trustworthiness regarding YMYL (Your Money Your Life) topics.
With E-A-T, Google suggests building a reputation for your website around your niche topic. You want to be the website that people associate with a certain topic. That’s where topical authority comes in.
For example, Neil Patel is known as an SEO expert. If you’re looking for SEO advice, chances are you’ll turn to Neil Patel first. That’s because Neil has built up his reputation and credibility as an authority figure in the SEO space.
And while E-A-T is not a direct ranking factor, its concept is what informs search engines when assessing the quality and relevance of a website’s content.
Before we discuss a few strategies for building topical authority, it’s important to understand how Google measures it.
Before we get to more ranking and all that fun stuff, how do you determine if you’re headed on the right track?
Kevin Indig did us all a favour and devised a way to roughly calculate topical authority using the traffic share by domain report in Ahrefs’ keyword explorer:
Here’s how you calculate it:
- Go to Ahrefs’ keyword explorer and search for a topic related to your niche. For example, if you’re in the fitness niche, you could search for “fitness tips.”
- Scroll down to the marketing terms report and filter for a minimum volume of 10.
- Now, you want to export all those keywords and reupload them into the keyword explorer.
- Next, go to “Traffic Share By Domains.”
- You’ll now see the list of domains that are ranking for those keywords.
- Look at the traffic share and calculate your topical authority score by taking the percentage of total search traffic that your website receives.
- This number is a rough estimate of your website’s authority over that particular topic.
- If your score is lower than the other websites in the list, use the strategies below to build up your topical authority and improve your rankings.
Here’s a four-step plan to build your topical authority:
Step #1: Cover all the Obvious SEO Basics
Before building topical authority, you must ensure your website meets all the basic SEO requirements.
Among the things to pay attention to:
- Quality content;
- Responsive web design;
- Secure and fast-loading pages;
- Optimized titles and meta descriptions;
- Structured data markup;
- Properly formatted URLs.
In step #1, you’re essentially sorting out technical SEO and ensuring there’re no technicalities to weigh you down.
These are things nobody sees, but they affect your rankings in a big way.
Step #2: Perform Topic-basic Keyword Research
Your next step is to perform keyword research.
Identify the queries users are typing into Google while searching for a topic related to your niche.
You can use tools like Ahrefs’ Keyword Explorer to find relevant keywords.
To be considered a topical authority, you must identify all the relevant talking points related to a specific topic.
Be sure to choose a good seed keyword. A seed keyword is a keyword that best describes your website and the content it provides.
That’s where the hurdle is. You have to identify the seed term that best describes your topic.
Here’s how to go about it:
- Look at what other websites in your niche are targeting.
- Use Google’s “related searches” and PAA feature to identify variations of your seed term.
- Analyze the search intent behind each keyword to determine if it is worth targeting.
Topic: Coffee Roasting
Good Seed Keywords:
- What’s Coffee Roasting Process
- What are the Three Roast Levels of Coffee
- Is Coffee Roasting Difficult
- How Do You Roast Coffee as a Beginner
- Coffee Roasting Temperature Chart
- Best at Home Coffee Roaster
- Light Roast Coffee Beans
Bad Seed Keywords:
- Coffee Roasting Companies
- Coffee Roasting Machines for Sale
- Coffee Roaster Jobs
By seed keywords, we’re talking about the different angles you can approach a topic from, not necessarily the exact keyword phrase.
Are you still struggling to find seed keywords?
Enter your broad keyword into Google and click on the image filter at the top.
You can use the images you find there to come up with good seed keywords.
The second image in our coffee example talks about the basics of roasting: how to develop flavours by roasting. The third image talks about the different coffee roasting techniques and so on.
These are the entities that Google associates with the broad keyword “coffee roasting,” and you can use them to help you come up with good seed keywords.
You also want to click on the video filter to see what videos rank for your seed keyword.
That will give you an idea of the types of content you should create to become a topical authority.
Ahrefs’ “Keyword Explorer” should also be your friend. The overview section is a good starting point.
It provides an overview of the top 10 organic search results for your seed keyword and a list of related keywords.
Top Ranking Results
As the name suggests, this shows the top-ranking results for your target keyword.
That is a good starting point for your research.
At a casual glance, you’ll see how many keywords the top-ranking results rank for, the monthly search volume of each keyword, and the domain rating.
These valuable metrics tell you exactly what type of content you need to create to compete.
Given that these are the top-ranking results, the keywords you see are usually the subtopics you want to cover in your content.
Keyword Ideas and Questions
Still unsure about what kind of content to create?
The questions section in Ahrefs’ Keyword Explorer provides a list of related questions people type into Google.
You should cover these topics in your content if you want to be a topical authority.
By answering these questions, you’ll be able to establish yourself as an expert in your field.
These questions are usually more specific than the seed keywords, making them ideal for targeting longtail keywords.
The last step is to analyse the top 10 organic search results for your seed keyword.
That allows you to identify what type of content works best in the SERPs.
Look at the content length, visual elements, and other features that make it stand out from the rest.
Ahrefs has helpful information, like average word count, number of backlinks, domain rating, traffic, and more.
You can expand the list to show the top 100 ranking pages, giving you even more data points to work off of.
The trick is to identify websites with low DR that are ranking well. There must be something they’re doing right, and you can use that to your advantage.
Step #2: Create Topic Clusters
Topic clusters are essentially groups of content that cover different aspects of the same topic.
For example, you might have one cluster about “coffee roasting basics” and another about “coffee roasting techniques”.
Each cluster should contain several blog posts focusing on a specific subtopic.
The idea is to group related keywords and turns each group into a topic you can cover in-depth.
When creating topic clusters, you want to ensure all the content is interconnected.
Your topics must have good traffic potential and be information in intent. In other words, focus on topics people are likely to search for and learn something from.
Start by creating a pillar page, which is the main content piece that will cover the topic in full detail.
For example, your pillar page might be about a “coffee roasting guide” and provide a comprehensive overview of all the basics.
Next, you want to pick an appropriate format for your content:
- Guides: Comprehensive tutorials that cover a topic from start to finish.
- Listicles: A list of tips and tricks related to the topic.
- Reviews: Detailed reviews of products and services related to the topic.
- Case Studies: How-to stories that show a process in action.
- How-to X: Step-by-step instructions on how to do something.
The pillar page must be well-structured, with enough content to cover the topic, and be a helpful stand-alone article. At the same time, it should link to other more in-depth content pieces.
For example, if you’re writing about coffee roasting, your pillar page could link to subtopics like “how to roast with a skillet,” “how to roast with an oven,” and “how to roast with a stovetop.”
These subpages should be detailed enough to answer user questions but not so long that people get bored.
They should be fairly comprehensive, about 2000 words each.
You also want to link the pages within the subtopics.
For example, if you’re writing about “how to roast with a skillet,” you should link to other related subtopics such as “how to clean a skillet” or “how to store roasted coffee beans.”
Doing so will help Google draw the semantic relationship between all your content pieces and rank them appropriately.
Now, take the topics you’ve identified and start writing content.
Each piece of content should be written with the user in mind. You want to go beyond what’s already out there.
Focus on creating content that is unique, entertaining, and informative.
Start with your main pillar content. Generally, you want a pillar page for almost every product or service you offer.
Then, create more content around each pillar page, such as blog posts, tutorials, and videos.
It’s also important to be consistent with your content. You want to post regularly and create content that aligns with your core topics.
Ensure the support pages match the user intent and provide the answer they want.
In most cases, these pages will be targeting longtail keywords. Therefore, we expect them to be very detailed and goal-oriented.
For each content piece you bring yourself to write, you specifically want to pay attention to the following:
- Writing quality content: The content must align with the user’s search intent and provide helpful information.
- E-A-T (Expertise, Authority, and Trust): Ensure your content is written by an expert on the topic or at least someone with authority in the field.
- Cover as many subtopics as possible: This will help you create a comprehensive guide about the topic and rank for longtail keywords.
- Match the searcher’s intent: First, you must understand who you’re writing for and, ultimately, make sure your content meets their expectations.
Be sure to link to other relevant topics: This will help Google understand the relationship between topics and rank them better.
- Continually update content: Always strive to keep content up-to-date and relevant.
It’s not enough to produce high-quality website content. It also helps to build links to the content.
Link building is one of the primary ways to increase your online visibility and authority.
Even more important, ensure the links are from relevant websites or blogs.
Here are a few suggestions on how to get topical backlinks for your posts:
- Guest Blogging: Find relevant blogs in your niche and contact the owners or editors to write a post for them.
- Resource Pages: Look for websites with resource pages and ask them to link to your resources.
- Link Roundups: Reach out to bloggers and editors who do regular link roundups and ask them to include your content.
- Link Reclamation: Scan the web for broken or missing links and offer your website as a replacement.
- Building relationships: Connect with other experts in your field and find out if they would be willing to link back to your resources.
- Forum Participation: Get involved with forums related to your topic and link to your content when it’s relevant.
- Skyscrapers Technique: Identify popular content in your niche and create something even better. Then, reach out to the websites linking to the original content and let them know about your content.
- Ego Bait: Write content that mentions and links to influencers in your niche.
- HARO (Help A Reporter Out): Sign up for the HARO platform and wait for reporters to ask questions related to your niche. When they do, offer your content as a resource.
A few well-placed backlinks can go a long way in improving your link profile.