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What is topical authority? And how to build it?

Jason Roy

When it comes to SEO, you probably would have heard the term “topical authority.”

It is believed that topical authority can help you increase search visibility, search engine rankings, and organic traffic. 

But what exactly is topical authority? Why is it important? And how do you build it?

In this topic, we talk about all that and more. Specifically, we will address the following topics:

  • What is topical authority?
  • How Google uses topical authority
  • Why should you care about topical authority?
  • How to build topical authority

Let’s start.

1. What is topical authority?

Topical authority is simply a measure of a content creator’s or website’s perceived authority in the eyes of search engines. Topical authority is built over time through proven expertise and trust in your field.

As you can imagine, topical authority comes from high-quality content. When you continue to publish high-quality content on a certain topic for a long enough period, you naturally build that topical authority.

It is important to understand that the perceived topical authority is not for a singular term or idea. It refers to a perceived authority over a niche or field — which is broader than a singular idea.

Additionally, context is also important when it comes to topical authority.

For instance, if you have a high-quality website that exclusively talks about the software Notion and how to use it. You have many blog posts on how different people can use Notion to their advantage: students, working professionals, content creators, freelancers, etc. In addition, you regularly share tips and tricks that can improve how people use Notion.

You recently published a blog post on how Notion can help you improve your productivity.

The website is primarily dedicated to Notion. You have a single post on productivity, which does not necessarily mean that search engines will perceive you or your website as an authority on productivity.

They may, however, perceive your site’s authority for all things Notion.

How Google uses topical authority


Topical authority came into play in 2013 when Google introduced the Google Hummingbird update.

Before Google Hummingbird, Google’s algorithm focused primarily on keywords. Keywords were used to identify what a web page is about as well as to perceive what search engine users would like to see when they are searching for a specific query.

Apart from keywords, Google also relied heavily on inbound links (backlinks) to determine how high a web page should rank on the search engine results pages (SERPs).

While both these search engine ranking factors — keywords and backlinks — are still extremely important, Google now also sees pages in a broader context, i.e., the topical authority of a website. It then uses this information to decide how high a page should rank for a search query — compared to other pages competing in the search rankings.

Why should you care about topical authority?

As we mentioned at the start of this article, topical authority can help you improve credibility, search engine rankings, and search engine traffic. This, in turn, can help you increase the organic click-through rate, conversions, and revenue.

Once established, topical authority can help you build a more long-term and sustainable SEO foundation for your website. In other words, because of your higher perceived authority, your site may have more protection against Google algorithm changes and updates that may topple rankings for smaller or less authoritative websites.

How to build topical authority

All good stuff, right? 

So how do you build topical authority if it is so important and capable of playing a key role in improving search traffic?

Here are a few tips and strategies that can help you build and maintain topical authority.

1. Create a robust and well-rounded content strategy

Content is king! The quality of your content becomes all the more important when it comes to building topical authority. 

And that starts with a robust, well-rounded, and detailed content strategy.

How to build a content strategy that supports and promotes topical authority? Here are a few tips:

  • The content strategy should account for a consistent stream of authoritative content.
  • The content strategy should be built around a niche or topic. Your website cannot be all over the place — covering every topic under the sun. Specialization can help you build topical authority faster.
  • Build SOPs and content guidelines for your content strategy that focuses on publishing high-quality content. As a general rule, your content should be better than the top 10 pages on the first search engine result page.
  • Make your content relevant and useful for search engine users.
  • Incorporate keywords that people are searching for.

2. Cater to search engine users’ intents

User intent plays a key role in determining how well your website will eventually perform in search engines.

Remember we talked about creating content that is relevant and useful?

There are two ways to ensure that the content you are creating meets that criteria.

  • First, you need to create content that is in line with the sales funnel and the stage of the sales funnel your website visitor might be in. Depending on the search query and the type of search query you use, you can establish what type of content the search engine user would prefer: top of the funnel (TOF), middle of the funnel (MOF), or bottom of the funnel (BOF).
  • Second, user intents can be divided into three main types: informative, navigational, and commercial. Different search queries may have different search intents. If you are targeting a specific keyword phrase, it is important to create the right type of page (informational, navigational, or commercial) to cater to that search query.

3. Use the topic cluster strategy

Topic cluster is a proven content marketing strategy that can help you build topical authority fast.

Topic clusters, as the name suggests, refers to creating a “cluster” of content assets on a site — all centered on the same broad topic for which you want to build topical authority.

There are three components of the topic cluster strategy:

  1. Pillar content. The pillar content refers to a top-level page that targets relatively generic and shorter-tail keywords on a broader subject or topic.
  2. Clusters. Clusters refer to pages that are shorter than the pillar content. Each cluster page targets a specific subtopic or question and longer-tail (less competitive) keywords.
  3. Internal links. The cluster strategy relies heavily on a web of internal links to and from each page. This is important as it helps search engines understand how all these pages (on the same broader) topic are linked, making them easier to find and establish topical authority on the subject.

The following graphic by Hubspot will help you visualize what the topic cluster strategy may look like in action.

Image source: Hubspot

Conclusion

Topical authority is a key component of a website’s long-term and sustainable success in search engines.

Pick a topic you are an expert in, focus on high-quality content, create lots of it, and rely on a robust internal linking structure that would make it easier for Google to find, link, and understand each page.

More importantly, continue doing it. 

Remember that it is not just about building topical authority. It is also about maintaining it.

And the only way you can do this is by putting high-quality, useful, and relevant content on a regular basis, year after year.

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