Algorithms General SEO

Although topical authority isn’t a new concept, SEO experts are placing more emphasis on it in the last few years.

Simply put, this is a measure of a website’s relevance for a particular topic. The more you write about something, the more Google perceives you as an expert on the subject.

Building authority isn’t something that comes overnight. It requires a lot of dedication and focus. Most importantly, a website that wishes to become an authority within its niche should cover all the angles of a particular subject.

In this article, we’ll talk about topical authority, its importance for SEO, and how you can use this concept to your advantage.

What is topical authority?

As the name implies, this is a measure of expertise that you slowly build by showing knowledge on a specific subject.

For a website to become an authority on a particular subject, they need to cover all the topics pertaining to that subject. For example, if you’re an SEO website, you should talk about link building, keyword research, sitemaps, and everything else that your readers might be interested in.

Not only should you cover all the angles, but you also need to provide high-quality content. Otherwise, sites would simply spam pages and pages of gibberish. Every article should serve a particular purpose in answering visitors’ questions.

The topical authority is especially important for optimization. Basically, the search engine doesn’t want to push sites with low authority to the top of SERPs. Instead, it will always give an advantage to blogs who know what they’re writing about, i.e., they’ve already shown trustworthiness and expertise.

Keep in mind that topical authority isn’t necessarily a ranking factor, but all data indicates that it’s still important for reaching top spots in Google. We’ll explain this in more detail in one of the following sections.

The concept also has a secondary, passive effect. When people perceive you as an authority, they’re more inclined to link to your pages. What’s even better, having lots of related articles on your website makes it much easier to interlink pages in a natural manner.

How is topical authority different from domain authority?

Many people mistake topical for domain authority. Truth be told, although they have some similarities, they’re completely different concepts.

As already mentioned, topical authority refers to your overall content strategy. The more high-quality post you create on a specific subject, the more you’re perceived as an expert in the eyes of Google. Whenever you write a new article on that same general subject, you’ll likely get a boost within the search engine (directly or indirectly).

With this concept, Google controls who ranks on top of SERPs. The company doesn’t want to highlight articles written by people who aren’t proficient enough. Instead, it always gives an advantage to resources that have shown expertise in the past. Among others, topical authority forces blogs to focus on just one thing and get better at it.

On the other hand, domain authority (DA) is a measure of links. This stat increases as you gain more backlinks from external sources, and, as such, it can also be perceived as a website’s measure of authority.

Although DA showcases the site’s overall power, it doesn’t necessarily show relevance. Of course, there is a correlation between the two, and you’d always expect that sites with more links are more authoritative on a certain subject.

However, in theory, you can buy lots of links that would push your domain authority up, but you will have low topical authority as you won’t have a focus. This “anomaly” is especially common for sites that allow guest posts and have articles on all sorts of topics.

How does topical authority affect SEO?

Experts are split when it comes to topical authority. Most likely, it shouldn’t even be considered a ranking factor. It’s just a concept that tells us how relevant your website is to a specific subject.

Whether or not the topical authority is a ranking factor, the massive amounts of data have shown us that resources with higher authority are more likely to rank at the top of SERPs.

Of course, this might not be a thing of causality but more of a correlation. In other words, topical authority doesn’t directly affect rankings, but sites are more likely to rank in SERPs if they’re authoritative enough.

No matter what you decide to believe, the fact remains that trustworthy sites get more external links and can create more natural internal links. So, even if the authority doesn’t provide a direct impact, it will provide indirect benefits.

E-A-T and its relation to topical authority

E-A-T, or Expertise – Authority – Trustworthiness, is a similar intangible concept to topical authority. In fact, the topical authority should be considered a part of E-A-T.

Google uses E-A-T guidelines when evaluating the quality of retrieved search results. Their Search Quality Rating team, which consists of human SEO experts, uses this principle to determine whether the search engine provided good results for particular queries. This is basically how Google does its quality control.

Similar to topical authority, we probably shouldn’t consider E-A-T as a ranking factor. It definitely affects rankings in one way or another, but simply increasing this elusive stat shouldn’t have a direct impact on your placement in SERPs.

Nevertheless, the very existence of the concept and the fact Google even mentioned it reveals how the company is thinking. It tells us that every page at the top of Google should be written by an authoritative, trustworthy, expert source.

Measuring topical authority

It’s hard to measure topical authority because there are so many factors that are a part of the equation. Here’s an example.

Let’s say that you’re an SEO company. Is it more important to create a large article about links or a post about keyword research? Which one of these two has a bigger impact on authority, given that both of them are obviously crucial for an SEO site? When you finally create a post about links, how many subarticles should revolve around it?

As if the sheer quantity of articles isn’t enough, you also have to pay attention to their quality. This is another thing that is hard to determine. Is the quality of an article determined by the use of semantics? Or by organic backlinks? By proxy, can a new website actually create quality posts? (given how hard it is for them to acquire links).

At this moment, SEO experts haven’t created a reliable formula that would quantify this concept. In an ideal situation, a website should create all possible articles on a particular subject. Even this wouldn’t guarantee success, as your posts might be of a low quality.

In many ways, tackling topical authority is similar to creating pillar pages but on a much larger scale. You should start by listing the most important topics, create large articles revolving around them, and in-depth subarticles that you’ll later interlink.

How to increase a website’s topical authority?

Although this is an elusive concept that we don’t know enough about, there are things that will probably help you increase it. Generally speaking, to increase your authority, you’ll have to implement the SEO’s best practices:

  1. Perform keyword research and find the most important phrases for your industry.
  2. Use all these subjects and organize them into clusters.
  3. Make sure that the articles properly answer users’ questions.
  4. Interlink the pages and start building external links.
  5. Monitor the performance and make tweaks when necessary.

Here’s how to address each one of these.

1.     Keyword research

As it usually goes with any SEO process, it all starts with keyword research. Although the traditional wisdom dictates you should start with articles that are easy to optimize, i.e., high volume/low difficulty, the topical approach forces you to write about all relevant subjects.

When performing topical research, you should start by listing seed keywords. These are usually two or three words long, and they tackle a specific subject. Avoid terms that are too general, as they might be too vague.

The best way to find these phrases is by using tools such as AhRefs. Depending on the specific program that you subscribed to, there will likely be a section such as “Related keywords” or something of that sort. Here you can see a list of suggestions, most of which can be used as seed keywords.

Alternatively, you can analyze top-ranking articles for broad topics. Each one of them is ranking for numerous keywords, a lot of which are seed phrases.

Once you discover seed keywords, finding subtopics will be much easier. Basically, once you write an article, you can check out each paragraph and decide if they deserve a separate page. Alternatively, you can read top-ranking articles for particular seed keywords and analyze their internal links.

2.     Topic clusters

As previously mentioned, if you’re using topical relevance as a guide for your SEO, your articles will be similarly organized as pillar pages. After determining what your focal articles are, you’ll have to find all related topics and group them into clusters.

Using this approach is especially important for interlinking but also for avoiding cannibalization. By categorizing everything together, it will be much easier for users and the Google search engine to find your content.

When creating their main article, most people use formats such as “Ultimate Guide” or “How To.” Which one you choose depends on the topic. When creating informational, theoretical articles, it’s much better to go with guides. “How To” posts are most suitable for practical topics.

Your main page should be extensive and provide quality information. However, it shouldn’t be too extensive to explain all the terms. Otherwise, there will be no point in creating secondary satellite pages.

3.     Content quality

If you’ve properly planned and executed your keyword research, it’s time to create quality articles. So, what should be considered “quality content?”

For the longest time, Google’s representatives have denied that user experience is a ranking factor. However, as time went by, they finally revealed that things such as time spent on the site and bounce rate are crucial for ranking pages.

Nowadays, search engine uses all these indicators to determine whether a page answers users’ question. So, the best way to figure out if an article is valuable is by checking the user-related stats. If people stay on the page and browse other articles afterward, this is a good indication that you’ve hit the mark.

Quality content should cover all the angles of a topic. It should also link to other resources that would help readers with any subsequent questions they might have.

Although external links are still an indication of quality, there’s a good chance that UX stats have overtaken them in terms of importance. Then again, this might vary based on the specific topic and the quality of links received.

4.     Linking

Internal linking is crucial for modern websites. As previously mentioned, it’s a practice that helps both users and search engines.

When it comes to users, internal links are a sneaky method for boosting certain UX stats. For example, by linking out to other relevant posts, you can increase visitors’ time spent on a website. This sends a strong signal to Google that your post(s) are relevant to a particular query.

The search engine itself also benefits from internal linking. It makes it much easier to crawl content on a website. Furthermore, by categorizing all these topics together, it’s easier for Google to understand what your site is all about.

External links remain one of the best ways of reaching the top spots in search engines. In a way, they are a vote of confidence that you receive from other sites. That being said, a link from a reputable blog will have a much greater value than one from a small, niche website.

Aside from link quality, you should also consider relevance. Back in the day, websites were able to do wonders by accruing backlinks from various niches and industries. Over time, Google has become smarter and has downgraded external links that come from unrelated posts and unrelated websites.

5.     Monitoring

Lastly, you should monitor your performance.

Even if you’ve written a fantastic post that answers all visitors’ questions, there’s a chance you’ve missed something. Perhaps you haven’t linked to other pages on your site? Perhaps you have banners and pop-ups that significantly reduce users’ time spent on the page?

Whatever the case may be, don’t be lazy and continuously check on your older posts. Among others, this is a good opportunity to freshen up your content and add new information.

Always remember that it’s much easier to improve an old page that was already indexed by Google than to create an entirely new article.

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