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What is topical authority in SEO how to build it

Trying to build topical authority as a marketer?

In today’s competitive landscape, most brands have an end goal to become thought leaders in their industry. Not just in one niche, but several of them.

This is otherwise known as topical authority – the latest rage in SEO.

But, be warned: topical authority isn’t simply a magic bullet to SEO success. What matters is that you should continue working on secondary SEO initiatives alongside this strategy.

What is Topical Authority?

Topical authority, or ‘topical SEO’, refers to the ability of a website (or a client’s website) to rank highly for multiple keywords within a specific niche or topic.

It can be achieved through writing extensive content on all aspects of the topic, but it is important to note that building links and engaging in supplementary SEO strategies is an absolute must in order to achieve topical authority (and ultimately help you rank higher on Google).

In this blog, you will learn the ins and outs of topical authority, how you can use it to your advantage, and how you can drive more traffic to your own websites using the technique.

Why Is Topical Authority Important (For SEO)?

Put simply, topical authority is an essential SEO strategy with an aim of making any website become a top-rated expert on one or more specific topics.

Let’s say you are in the travel industry and you want to rank blogs around the focus topic of ‘things to do in Portugal’, which has an average volume of 5,400 searches per month.

Unfortunately, publishing one blog on this subject matter alone and praying you will rank after some time is not enough to help you reach the top spot on Google.

In this case, the goal is to publish multiple blogs around the same subject matter, but focusing on similar sub-niches or related keywords within that overall topic.

So, how can we better understand what this looks like?

Building topical authority around a specific topic like ‘things to do in Portugal’ might include posting content pieces such as:

  • “things to do in lisbon”
  • “things to do in porto”
  • “best things to do in azores portugal”
  • “non touristy things to do in portugal”
  • “what to do in portugal in october”
  • “is portugal worth visiting”

In the example above, it is clear that building topical authority around a specific niche requires a broader focus on the topic as a whole, versus targeting a single, specific keyword.

The end goal of building topical authority is to help search engines understand a website’s niche, which increases the website’s potential to rank highly for relevant keywords. Therefore, posting multiple articles shows search engines what your site is all about––and, more importantly––how you add value to the end user.

How Does Topical Authority Work?

The short answer? Honestly–no one is certain.

The long answer? Let’s dive deeper below.

In a nutshell, Google––the world’s leading search engine––uses semantic associations to rank websites in its search results. This means that it associates websites with specific topics, and the more content a website has about a particular topic, the more likely it is to be considered a relevant resource for keywords related to that topic.

Increased authority = increased traffic.

A Summarized History of Topical Authority

The authority of you or your website–in Google’s eyes–is a measure of your reputation. Do other people go to you for information about a specific topic?

But, Google hasn’t always ranked websites according to topical authority.

In 2013, Google’s Hummingbird algorithm was introduced to the world. As a result, the algorithm started to rank websites according to dominance on a specific topic (or a cluster of topics), instead of specific keywords.

Shortly after, it changed the ranking system to focus on semantic search. Here’s what the timeline looks like:

  • 2011: Google introduces its “Structured Search Engine” to organize information on SERPs.
  • 2012: Google unveils Knowledge Graph to organize and improve its understanding of people, places, and things.
  • 2013: Google’s Hummingbird algorithm prioritizes websites based on inbound links and keywords, with an emphasis on relevance to search queries.
  • 2018: Google’s Medic update highlights the importance of expertise, authority, and trustworthiness (E-A-T) in order to rank in search, specifically for YMYL content (Your Money or Your Life), which can impact a reader’s health, happiness, or financial security.
  • 2019: Google launches BERT––a model designed to improve understanding of intentions and contents that are indexed by the search engine. Essentially, it BERT understands words and phrases exactly like humans do.

Building topical authority can be achieved by creating content on a specific subject and linking topics together, which shows Google that the website is a knowledgeable and trusted source on the topic.

Plus, having a wide variety of content on a certain subject matter allows for more relevant internal links, which helps Google and users find (and rank) your content more easily and effectively.

The result? A dramatic increase in organic backlinks (also known as links from other websites referring to your own domain). These backlinks act as a ‘vote of confidence’ for your website and can help improve your ranking on SERPs.

It’s All About the E-A-T

Enter: E-A-T.

Expertise. Authority. Trustworthy. That’s how you build SEO authority.

Another way Google organizes and ranks content is by using the E-A-T method to evaluate the quality of content and determine how it will rank on search engines.

To start, Google’s algorithm assesses the creator of the content, reputable referring domains, inbound links, and other key factors to review the website as a whole.

Second, it reviews this combined information to establish each website’s value and level of expertise on a specific topic–leading to higher placement in SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages).

It is important to note that E-A-T in itself is not a direct ranking factor, but instead, helps Google’s algorithms understand how much of a subject matter expert a website is in its field.

So, as we mentioned earlier in this blog post, you should continue to work on supporting SEO strategies alongside topical SEO for the best chances of ranking your website.

The good news about topical authority? Keyword stuffing is now a thing of the past–and it’s brands that deliver real value to their audiences who take the top spot (or, as close as they can get to it!).

Think about it: If you, as the subject matter expert, are posting more in-depth, relevant, and interesting content compared to your competitors who are drilling down on a specific keyword or phrase, who’s website do you think your audience will prefer to visit? That’s right––the one that provides higher-quality, subject matter expert-level content that informs, engages, and inspires.

So, before putting pen to paper, ensure that your content strategy is packed with a combination of expertise, authority, and trust to boost your chances of achieving topical authority.

How to Measure Topical Authority

The bad news is that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to measuring topical authority.

The good news is that there are ways to calculate your topical authority, thanks to SEO tools like Ahrefs, which allows you to see how topically relevant your website is. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Select a core term like “travel” and enter it in Keyword Explorer
  2. Visit Matching Terms and filter for a volume above 10
  3. Export the list of keywords and re-upload them in Keyword Explorer
  4. Go to traffic share by domains
  5. Traffic share + topic share = topical authority

Another way to measure topical authority is in Google Knowledge Panel to see which companies have the largest share of a specific topic online. This is also known as ‘Topic Share’.

Once you enter your topic of choice, it will present you with a line graph that shows the percentage amount of topical authority each brand owns. Running this analysis every two to four weeks will give you the insights needed to track Topic Share split in any specific subject matter.

Have any other tried-and-tested methods of measuring topical authority? Let us know in the comment section.

Final Thoughts

In summary, topical authority is vital for strengthening your SEO, but it also offers plenty of added benefits, including:

  • Becoming a thought leader in your focus topic
  • Offering more value to your audience
  • Serving as a trusted resource on other niche topics within your overall focus industry

As we mentioned earlier in this blog post, topical authority isn’t a magic bullet for SEO success, and you have to be prepared to play the long game (it can take some time to kick in!).

So–buckle up, keep posting valuable content, and soon enough, you will skyrocket your topical authority (and website credibility) over time. Good luck!