Topical Authority

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Topical authority is one of the most important factors for ranking in search engine results pages (SERPs), and it’s essential for businesses that want to dominate their industry or niche. In this article, you’ll learn how having topical authority helps you rank higher in search results. We cover what topical authority is, why it’s important, and how to build and measure it.

What is Topical Authority in SEO?

In search engine optimization (SEO), topical authority is the measure of a site’s expertise and depth of content on a given subject. The more authoritative your site is on a topic, the higher it will rank in search engine results pages (SERPs) for queries related to that topic.

The concept of topical authority was first introduced by Google in 2011 when it announced its structured search engine. At the time, Google struggled to differentiate between high-quality websites and low-quality websites. So, it developed a new algorithm that used topical authority as one of the main factors for ranking websites. Topical authority became more prominent in the 2013 Hummingbird update. Now the search engine uses natural language processing to analyze content’s meaning. Instead of ranking websites based on inbound links, Google could now rank them based on relevance to a search query.

Want a quick overview of topical authority? Check out our web story here


  • Domain expertise

How Does Topical Authority Work?

Google’s algorithm uses topical relevance and topical prominence to create a topical authority score for each website. The higher the score, the more likely a website is to rank for relevant keywords. Topic relevance is how relevant a website is to a specific topic. Topic prominence is how popular a website is for a particular topic.

When you see “authority” you may think of E-A-T. There’s a relationship, but we shouldn’t conflate the two concepts. E-A-T is part of Google’s quality rater guidelines;  E is expertise, A is authoritativeness, and T is trustworthiness. The quality raters score pages based on the E-A-T factors, but they don’t influence how a page ranks. Instead, the score tells Google whether or not Google’s algorithm did a good job of serving high-quality content in search results.

So, what does this mean for topical authority? If you take what Google is looking for in their E-A-T guidelines and apply it to your content, you will be more likely to write and publish high-quality, authoritative content.

“If you understand how raters learn to assess good content, that might help you improve your own content. In turn, you might perhaps do better in Search.”

– Google Search Central

Why is Topical Authority Important?

Topical authority is a critical ranking factor for search results. Because it’s so important, Ahrefs lists it as third in its list of Google ranking factors SEOs should be considering in their optimization efforts.

Since high topical authority helps websites earn more visibility in the SERPs, that naturally leads to more clicks from search results. Higher traffic leads to increased leads and more sales.

As SEO Hacker explains, another benefit of having topical authority is earning links naturally. If you create high-quality content, you’re likely to get links from other websites.

Inbound links direct visitors from another website to yours. Readers interested in learning more about specific topics will click the link to your website. And, once they’ve done that, your authority will continue to grow.

To establish topical authority, it’s important to get links from high-authority websites in your industry. These links help show Google that your website is an expert on the topic. The more high-quality, relevant inbound links you have, the higher your topical authority score.

How Can You Build Topical Authority?

There are a few ways to build topical authority. The most effective is through a topic cluster strategy. A topic cluster is a group of related pages targeting a specific keyword and related keywords. The articles are linked together, and each one helps the others rank.

We will explain topic clusters later, but here are other ways to build topical authority.

  1. Publish high-quality content on your website that covers a topic comprehensively.
  2. Optimize your content for keywords that are relevant to your industry.
  3. Increase the visibility of your content by promoting it on social media and other online channels.
  4. Participate in expert forums and Q&A sites related to your industry.
  5. Get cited by high-authority sites in your industry (i.e., earn backlinks).
  6. Monitor your topical authority score, track your progress over time, and refresh your content as needed.

How Can You Measure Your Topical Authority?

You can use SEO tools to measure your topical authority and track your progress over time.

  1. Track your Google Search Console impressions and clicks. This will give you a sense of how much traffic you’re getting from relevant keywords.
  2. Use a tool like Moz or Ahrefs to measure your website’s topical authority score. This will show you how well your website is ranking for relevant keywords.
  3. Monitor your website’s search rankings for relevant keywords. This will give you a sense of how your topical authority changes over time. We use SEMrush’s Position Tracking tool.
  4. Majestic SEO ~ This tool provides data on the number of high-quality inbound links you have from relevant websites.

How to Use a Topic Cluster Strategy to Build Topical Authority

As I mentioned above, one of the best ways to build topical authority is by using a topic cluster strategy. Here we dive into what that means and how to develop topic clusters for your website.

What is a Topic Cluster?

A topic cluster is a group of related pages around a single topic. Each page has a link to the main cluster page, like this example.

content marketing pillar page and topic cluster example

The main advantage of using a topic cluster strategy is that it is an organized, structured way to build out a large number of pages around a core topic. The quantity and quality of the content help build authority for that topic and help you rank higher in the SERPs.

How to Build a Topic Cluster?

There are several ways to go about building a topical cluster. The approach we recommend is to use pillar pages and blog posts. Topic clusters create a solid content structure that helps search engines better understand what the pages are about and how they match users’ search queries.

  1. Start by identifying a single topic that you want to target. This topic may be broad and will have a high search volume.
  2. Write long-form content for a pillar page. It should be an in-depth, comprehensive, informational piece on the topic. The content will match the visitor’s search intent and answer questions searchers ask about that topic.
  3. Publish the pillar page, ensuring all on-page SEO elements are optimized, including images and video, and add schema markup.
  4. Create additional pages on your website that will act as sub-pages of the cluster. These pieces of content will typically be blog posts that cover relevant topics and long-tail keywords related to the central pillar topic. Again, follow on-page SEO best practices.
  5. Create a web of internal links. Link each blog back to the main cluster page, link from the main cluster page to the blogs, and add links between blogs.
  6. Look at content gaps on your site and determine other topics where you see your business as an authority. Repeat the process for as many topics as you want to target.

A Well Structured Website with Lots of High-Quality Content on a Topic Earns Topical Authority

Let’s wrap it up! When you develop an SEO and content strategy to earn topical authority, keep a few things in mind. First and foremost, topical authority is all about having a well-structured website with lots of high-quality content on a given topic. Structure is important because the categorization and internal linking of pages on your site informs the search crawlers about how the content is connected. Quantity is important because the more content you have on your site about a particular topic, the more Google understands you are an expert. And quality content is important because Google understands whether or not your content discusses a subject in-depth and matches user intent by answering their search queries.

It’s worth noting that topical authority isn’t the only factor that determines your ranking, but it’s certainly one of the most important. So make sure you focus on creating high-quality content that is relevant to your target audience and optimized for your target keywords. In addition, be sure to promote your content on social media and other online channels to increase its reach. And lastly, get involved in the online community around your topic to build connections and relationships.

Building topical authority takes time and effort, but it’s well worth it. By following these tips, you can ensure that Google sees your website as an authority on important topics to your business and industry.

Experts in Building Topical Authority

If you struggle with driving organic traffic to your website, we’re here for you! We have the experience and knowledge to increase your website’s visibility and organic traffic through proven SEO strategies. When you partner with us, you can trust that we will work tirelessly to get your website ranked as high as possible. We want your business to succeed as much as you do. So let us know how we can help!

SMA Marketing Foundational SEO

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in March 2022 and has been updated with fresh content.

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