In SEO, topical authority refers to a site’s “expertise” on a given topic.
While this explanation might sound incredibly simple, it is also a fairly accurate way to boil topical authority down to a single sentence.
In an SEO context, “authority” is often associated with link building and the transferral of authority from one site to another – but it is not the only way that authority matters.
In short, Google likes experts, and it really likes presenting users with experts that can resolve their problems or search queries.
If you can present yourself as an authority on a topic, then most search engines are going to be more likely to show your site over others that only mention the topic a few times.
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Topical authority is a general measurement of a site’s overall presence and expertise on a topic. Creating high-quality articles about a specific niche on a regular basis makes you an authority on that topic because your site serves as a useful resource for anybody who needs to know about it.
If you think about how search engines work, this makes sense. Most search engines would want to present an expert on a topic rather than a one-off blog post on a site that has barely mentioned that topic in the past.
The concept behind topical authority in SEO is simple: if you can become a recognized expert, then both search engines and users are going to trust you with your chosen topics.
How is Topical Authority Different from Domain Authority?
Most people see “authority” in SEO to be domain authority, which is a measurement of how much authority (i.e., ranking potential and power) your site carries.
While boosting domain authority is never a bad thing, it is a very generalized metric that focuses on your site as a whole.
However, SEO does not always work in wholes. Having a high domain authority means nothing if you are not ranking well for the subject matter you are targeting or if you do not have enough content around a particular subject to be considered a reliable source of information.
Who Controls A Site’s Topical Authority?
While domain authority comes from the way that other sites interact with you, topical authority is entirely under your control.
Boosting it is as simple as creating high-quality content in the right niches and putting together the right content strategy to mark yourself as an expert.
In other words, topical authority is based almost entirely on what you do with your own site. While there is a lot of nuance in how it can be approached, it is often as simple as “create high-quality content, and your topical authority goes up).
As mentioned earlier, search engines love experts. Topical authority refers to how much authority you have over a specific topic, which comes from the consistency, quality, and topical relevance of your content.
Most search engines will be biased towards presenting experts when users search for something based around the topic you are targeting.
If you are regularly producing in-depth and carefully crafted content focused around the topic in question, then Google will have more of a bias towards your site – especially if you are already ranking highly for related keywords.
This basically means that having higher topical authority increases your chances of ranking for searches that are relevant to some of the content on your site. This could be a tutorial or how-to guide, a product breakdown, or even just a page of advice on getting into a certain hobby.
Greater topical authority means more chances to appear for related searches.
This naturally means a greater Google search presence for users with a relevant search intent, putting you in front of more users who are looking for something that your site has covered before or is highly relevant to.
Even if users do not click on your site directly, you will appear more often for relevant keywords, which means more eyes on your brand name.
Since Google and other search engines really want to push experts, you will be in a more favorable position to attract attention from new audiences.
Higher Quality content
Topical authority measures a very real shift in your site since you can’t have higher topical authority without actually being an authority on that topic.
This means that you are not only more appealing to search platforms but actually have great content to back your higher rankings up when users visit.
Overall Rankings Boosts
Topical authority is not an exclusive ranking that requires a laser focus to achieve.
You can build topical authority alongside any other SEO strategy, meaning that your higher topical authority could apply to basically any situation where a search engine is using your site’s overall quality to decide how to rank it.
Building topical authority is an important part of ranking better on Google and ensuring that you get your content around to the people who are in the market to see it.
However, since topical authority is entirely your own metric to control, you can’t sit back and build topical authority passively.
Having a fully-structured topical authority strategy is not always necessary if you are a smaller business, but it is still good to understand how you can establish topical authority about important topics.
For that, you need to know about topical authority and the hard work it takes to achieve it.
Define a Niche
Broad content is often at odds with what topical authority actually is.
While it is still good to make sure that most of your content is accessible (in the readable sense) for anybody who is interested, you can’t build topical relevance without a hard connection to a specific topic.
Niching down is a vital part of running any blog, article feed, or other content posting section that is being used to build topical authority.
A broader blog post or piece of online content might seem like it would achieve more organic traffic, but that is often not actually the case.
Consider how you use search platforms when you have a specific topic in your mind.
Would you rather go to a specialist about the subject matter or pick a random blog that seems to post about content from all across the internet with no real connection between it all?
You can’t build topical authority if your site is full of so much content that you are not focused on anything.
No matter how many times your blog posts about furniture, nobody will see your site as a furniture informational resource if the other 75% of your posts are about skateboarding and popular music.
Break That Niche Down Further
You do not want to go too niche (you at least want to have a decent audience to target), but it can be important to understand what the topical relevance of your chosen subject matter (or matters) actually is.
For example, building topical authority about furniture when you are an interior design site is reasonable, even if the furniture is only part of interior design.
This content might be varied, but it still all connects back to a particular topic set, which you can break down further for more defined audiences.
A car enthusiast blog can probably get away with trying to cover everything from repair tutorials to news about celebrity race car drivers.
However, these are all different audiences that probably want their own flavor of high-quality content.
It is your job to decide which specific audiences you target and how many of them you even want to target.
The more distinct audiences you are aiming for, the more effort you need to put into researching user intent and producing well-written content, with the payoff being even more topical relevance.
In other words, feel free to pursue more than one audience within a niche, but make sure that you still focus your content around a central “pillar” that binds them all together.
The more you broaden your focus, the less you are appealing to a known and measurable audience.
Understand Your Audience
Even before you jump into using a keyword research tool or writing up new pieces of content, you want to know who you are targeting and how.
Building topical authority requires an audience to target, so you want to take some time to figure out who you are going to create content for.
Look at search queries that trigger your site to appear in search results or relevant links in your backlink profile.
Try to get an idea of what users are searching for that leads them to your site – ideally, you want to focus on the organic traffic that is actually converting rather than just visiting.
A lot of the time, you can also fold semantically related topics into the same audience.
For example, links and keywords that are not quite the same as your top-ranking ones can still be worth considering, especially if the audience is clearly in the same kind of niche and would not be hard to target.
Explore your organic traffic reports, check your backlink profile, and try to decide who you are going to become content creators for.
You need a defined audience before you can start working on high-quality content, otherwise, your content strategy is running without any goal in mind.
Perform Keyword Research
Just like any content strategy, topical authority works best if you have keywords to use as a starting point.
Using even a basic keyword research tool can provide you with the keywords you need to properly target your intended audiences, helping you get the right kind of authority quickly.
Doing keyword research is always a good idea, no matter what your SEO project is. If you want to rank for the right terms and ensure that you are appearing when users search relevant topics, then it is important to gather up relevant keywords as early as you can.
Remember that not all keywords are going to be useful. Anything that shows a search intent that does not match your audience or is not used by enough organic traffic to be worth targeting might not be that helpful. However, you will not even know this until you start doing keyword research in the first place.
Getting a comprehensive and well-researched list of potential keywords is vital if you want to perform a content marketing strategy like this correctly.
Being a useful source of information is one thing, but you want to appear for the right people at the right times, and relevant keywords are the best way to do that.
Create a Content Strategy
Building topical authority is much easier with a defined strategy behind it, no matter the scale of the project or the content that you are focusing on.
Like most kinds of search engine optimization, building a strategy around the way that you create content can be important for guiding yourself in the right direction.
Work out which queries are the ones that you should focus on first and where you would find topical authority important most often.
Even if you are targeting a range of semantically related topics and keywords, some will be more valuable than others or may require more effort to produce authoritative content.
It can often help to place similar types of content together into “topic clusters.” These topic clusters define a particular part of your audience and can often be used together to provide strong topical authority benefits because they cross over with one another.
Beyond planning topic clusters, it is also important to plan out your individual pieces of in-depth content. Not everything should be a long article with a huge amount of content depth – sometimes, you can benefit just as much from short but valuable content that answers a single question.
Above all else, it is important to try and create a long-term content plan that you can adapt at a moment’s notice.
Keyword research provides a lot of avenues for establishing topical authority, but you want to have a solid understanding of what you have and have not covered with your content so far.
Write “Pillar” Content
Pillar content, also known as a pillar page or cornerstone content, is a single piece of content that covers everything within specific topic clusters.
These are meant for establishing topical authority in a more broad niche, such as focusing on vehicles overall rather than just vehicle repair.
Pillar content is usually something long and with a huge amount of content depth, such as an “ultimate guide to X” or an “everything you need to know about Y.” These are supported with smaller articles that cover everything in that topic cluster individually.
This strategy is incredibly effective for building topical authority since it provides a central piece of authoritative content backed up by a whole host of other relevant content for each individual topic.
This can often result in high topical authority across a broader niche, spread across all of the relevant content you cover. Think of this like the spokes on a wheel. Your central content piece is the hub, with the other articles being the spokes that spread out.
As long as search engines understand that these topics are all related, their search engine algorithms can bless you with a huge amount of topical authority.
Use Internal Links
Internal links are often overlooked, but they can really matter if you are trying to build topical authority consistently.
Like the pillar content above, it is good to have internal links running from any outlying content to any central articles – this helps search engines understand which content pieces are the most important.
In general, Google will take note of any pages that have a lot of links referring back to them. While this normally includes main pages and contact pages, internal linking to major articles can sometimes nudge them higher in search engine results compared to other similar articles you are hosting.
If you do this right, then that larger article gains even more power within search engine results pages, which naturally means more topical authority.
Alongside this, internal linking is also invaluable for crawlers and users. Being able to easily navigate around a site lets crawlers properly document the site’s layout and pages and makes it much easier for regular users to get around in a way that will not leave them lost or frustrated.
If you want to start building topical authority correctly, then you need content that can do the job well. While good content is important for SEO as a whole, creating the right content for gaining more topical authority is not always as easy as it sounds.
First of all, you want to focus on all of the usual steps, too. This means a good user experience, optimization for Google’s search algorithm, and generally a min. read time of more than a few seconds.
If you really want to focus on topical authority, then it is also important to use the advice mentioned earlier: always know what audience you are targeting.
Like many kinds of search engine optimization, topical authority relies on targeting a specific audience. However, when authority is your goal, you often have to know exactly what kind of content you are trying to create and which audience it will hit – you can’t afford to be as vague.
Achieving topical authority through content means creating relevant, useful, high-value content that aims for and hits a very specific audience.
The exception is a pillar page, but even a pillar page can’t be created without knowing a lot about your goals and audiences.
Do not forget internal linking, either. Good internal linking can be extremely effective at getting users where you want them and making sure that they are all nudged towards the same conversion funnels.
Topical authority is very different from link building or creating content for social media channels.
Finding a solid starting point and following the right steps to success are vital for actually becoming recognized as one of your chosen topic’s authoritative websites.
While every single project is going to be different, there are some smaller details that need to be kept in mind. It is easy to overlook certain elements when you are focused on trying to measure topical authority, and not paying attention can hurt in the long run.
Don’t Be Too Niche
It is easy to laser-focus on a single part of your audience and ignore the rest, but this often results in you only appearing for a tiny fraction of Google’s search engine results pages.
Becoming an authority on one topic does not mean you can’t target others either.
Google uses a lot of complicated algorithms, but relevance is a major factor in almost all of them. You will always have ways to target an audience that is similar to your current target(s), even if it means producing a new stream of content that appeals specifically to them.
Being too niche just means that you force yourself into a tiny box that you can’t expand out from, which can kill your chances for expansion.
Use More Than Search Engines
Being an authority on search engines means nothing if users are not looking for you there. You also want to try and spread brand awareness in other places, especially if you have not actually been accepted by the audience as a major authority yet.
Social media platforms are a great example. Neglecting social media massively harms your brand awareness and limits the number of places that you can post, promote, or supplement your on-site content.
Measure Topical Authority Alongside Other Metrics
Whether it is keyword research changes and user experience reports to traffic data and conversions, topical authority will only help build your brand’s rankings if you are using it alongside other pieces of information.
Do not get caught up in focusing on authority when there are other metrics that need attending to, especially if they are suffering drastically and might be actively harming your rankings.
Focusing on one particular topic in the topical authority context does not mean you should ignore all of the others. Do not stop writing content that is meant to boost your rankings for certain keywords or earn you extra link building opportunities.
You can become an authority on a certain niche while still engaging in all of the usual keyword research, link building, and general SEO that helps sites grow beyond their own limitations. In fact, it is often something that you should be doing.
Take Extra Opportunities
There are some opportunities that are simply worth taking, even if they do not fall into your topic-based understanding of how authority works. For example, if you get a rare chance to start link building some inbound links from a major publication or brand website, it is often something worth exploring.
Not every single backlink you receive needs to be extremely relevant to your business. More often than not, something that is even vaguely relevant will be enough to confer some SEO benefits.
Keep Content Creation Coming
Once you earn your authoritative website status through content creation, it is important to keep it. Producing content on a semi-regular basis can be a great way to keep yourself in the spotlight, even if you are not producing anything that would be ground-breaking for your traffic numbers.
Not every single piece of content needs to be part of an internal linking structure that leads back to a central pillar or a tool specifically meant for capturing a niche audience.
Sometimes, writing a simple but useful article can be enough to earn some extra backlinks or capture a little bit more traffic.
Topical authority is a strategy that can work extremely well in a huge range of contexts but requires planning and effort to pull off. Whether you are a small business looking to expand or an established company that wants to steal away customers from competitors, it can be something worth exploring.
Just remember that no SEO technique has a guaranteed route to success and that every business needs to tackle its marketing differently. The way you might approach topical authority could be completely different from another company in the same industry – but if it works, it works.
Searcharoo is a Link Building & Content Marketing company run by SEO’s based in the UK.
Our goal from the start has been to provide premium links and content services, at fair and affordable prices.