2021 marked an important anniversary, as it’s been 30 years since the first website saw the light of day. Tim Berners-Lee gave us the World Wide Web, changing the world for good.
Among the many byproducts of this development, the first SEO seeds were planted. Over the next three decades, they flourished into an entire jungle that businesses are finding their way through.
Back in the early days of Google, high rankings were easy to achieve. Match the search query, fill your content with as many keywords as you can, and you’re golden. Google ranking factors were plain and simple, so success was mostly a matter of keyword accuracy and quantity.
Well, the amount of content blew up! According to GrowthBadger, by 2021 there were more than 1.7 billion websites out there, 600 million of which were blogs. If businesses in every niche used the same keywords, how would Google separate good content from mediocre?
This is why search algorithms grew more sophisticated. Google made it a top priority to ensure that users fulfill their search intent. For this to happen, the user has to arrive on a website that’s considered an authority based on the topic of the search terms.
In other words, the sites must have topical authority, which is among the latest trends resulting from Google’s focus on search intent. So how does topical authority impact SEO and how do you position yourself as an authority?
Before we answer these questions, we need to make an important distinction.
Authority ≠ Topical Authority
The concept of SEO authority isn’t new. It was one of the first stages of search engines’ evolution beyond keywords. To this day, it comes down to two things – on-page SEO and backlinks.
For a while, these factors were enough to secure high rankings in search engine result pages (SERPs). High-quality links paired with page optimization would show the engines that your content is more relevant than the competitors’.
So why isn’t this enough anymore? Why did search engines have to make yet another change?
When you optimize one page with the right content, keywords, and backlinks, only that page is ranked high and seen as an authority. Search engines had to broaden the context and ensure that the specific page belongs to the right website. This is so they can provide more accurate search results that match user intent better.
Let’s use an example to illustrate how this works.
You want to buy dog food, but you’re not sure which type. Without topical authority, the search term “best dog food to buy” would send you to many different sites with high-ranking pages. But not all of them focus solely on dog food or even sell it.
You could end up on an informative blog about dogs that happens to have a well-optimized page about dog food thanks to having the right keywords that match the intent. You could learn from that blog but not buy on it, which is what your search implies you want to do.
At the same time, a dog food vendor would be buried deeper in SERPs, even though it would be more useful to the searcher’s intention than the blog.
And that is why search engines started focusing on topical authority: to ensure that the right users reach the right destination. Let’s see what this means.
What Exactly Is Topical Authority?
Topical authority boils down to the depth of expertise. It means exploring a topic from as many angles as possible through engaging, well-optimized content.
For a dog food store owner, the above example would mean that they could build topical authority with a blog dedicated to everything related to dog food. They would publish lots of content on different topics, all tied together by a common thread.
Google would then use its Knowledge Graph to find connections and topical relevance within their content, recognizing their website as an authority. This is the database that stores data from billions of searches to determine relevancy. If you have lots of quality content on a specific topic, Google will place you higher than a site with dispersed content, even in the presence of matching keywords.
What does this mean? Is simply building a ton of content around a topic enough to ensure authority and high rankings?
Sadly, it’s not that easy.
How Does Topical Authority Impact SEO?
Keywords have always been the lifeblood of SEO. Despite the many changes to search algorithms, this is still the case. However, the proper way to approach keywords is different as a result of topical authority.
To clarify this relationship, Neil Patel conducted a study involving 203,900 data points. The goal was to determine how the sites in certain niches ranked for specific topics.
The study revealed something that may come as a surprise. The best-ranking sites weren’t those that had saturated keywords or solid backlinks. Indeed, the top performers were the ones with topical authority. According to Patel:
“They had strong topic coverage, few gaps in the topics that they covered, and comprehensive content within each of their chosen topic categories.”
Now, this doesn’t mean that it’s time to cancel your subscription to keyword tools. Your content still needs to match search terms as accurately as possible. But if you build topical authority, SEO can be much more effective since you can rank for keywords without directly targeting them. The synergy between related topics can make your entire website rank higher, not just the individual pages.
Plus, building authority requires you to exhaust a topic. As you research all the ways to do so, you’ll unlock plenty of keyword opportunities.
With this in mind, topical authority doesn’t replace traditional SEO practices but upgrades them. Let’s go over what you should do to stay on top of this trend.
How to Achieve Topical Authority
Google’s perspective is that authority depends on the amount and quality of information about a specific topic. In its essence, topical authority comes from consistently producing content that meets the usual SEO standards and covers an overarching topic from many perspectives.
The process of creating such content involves several important steps. Here’s what they are:
1. Group Your Content in Clusters
What does your blog look like? Do you have one category that stores all of your content? If so, this is the first thing you’ll want to change.
Let’s say you’re an insurance company offering different types of insurance. Each of those types can be a topic that you’ll want to build authority on. As such, your blog should have a dedicated category for each of them.
For instance, your categories can be:
- Life insurance
- Health insurance
- Business insurance
In each of these categories, you’ll place content that covers their respective topics. Your goal here is to come up with as many content ideas as you can for the given topic. To do this, you can use keyword tools, forums, other blogs, or topic generation platforms.
Create a list of topics for each category, and write engaging, unique, and SEO-friendly content. As you go about it, the research involved should support the growth of your list. As David Burkus famously said:
“Creativity doesn’t just love constraints; it thrives under them.”
The deeper you explore the topic, the more authority you’ll build. And if all that content is under the same category, the entire page dedicated to that category will rank higher.
2. Write Pillar Content
One of the best ways to achieve topical and SEO authority in general is by writing pillar blog posts, just like this one.
Pillar content offers in-depth insights into a topic, offering valuable and actionable information. Aside from performing well in search engines, it shows the reader that you have a deep understanding of a topic.
There’s no strict rule to follow as to the length of pillar content. However, it should be at least 2,000 words long. Depending on the topic and availability of information, your pillar post can be up to 10,000 words or more.
With that said, you should never make word count a priority. The last thing you want is to fluff your content just for the sake of creating a massive post. Only create super long-form posts if the topic is interesting enough to deserve thousands of words. If not, your audience won’t engage with the content, which means that search engines won’t see it as an authority.
3. Leverage Latent Semantic Indexing
Topical authority goes hand in hand with latent semantic indexing (LSI). This is a technique that search engines use to determine how your keywords and content relate to one another. It is the way search engines clarify ambiguous keywords and establish the context for determining how relevant your content is to the reader.
For instance, “Tesla” can refer to:
- Elon Musk’s electric car company
- The Serbian TV brand
- The inventor Nikola Tesla
LSI keywords determine what your content is about and show it to the right reader. But how do they help you build authority?
As web crawlers go through your content, they find related LSI keywords across your posts. They can further connect them and see that your website contains a wealth of related information, which is exactly how they define authority.
Your content will naturally have such connections through the use of industry jargon or specific terms. But to take it a step further, you can research LSI keywords using tools like LSI Graph or SEMrush. Include those keywords in your content, and let the algorithms notice a pattern that will bump you up in search.
4. Focus on Internal Link Building
As discussed, it’s not enough to just write a lot of content on a specific topic if you want to build authority. Instead, you have to find as many ways as possible of connecting your content. And internal linking is among the best ways to do it.
Firstly, bounce rates and time on site are critical for topical authority. When someone goes to your website to find an answer to a question, Google measures how much time they spend there. More time spent indicates that the reader found what they’re looking for and are now exploring the topic, meaning that your content is authoritative.
Moreover, internal links fortify the connections between your content. In addition to LSI keywords, they show search engines that your website features more content related to a specific topic.
Now, this does not mean you should link to just anything within your website. Instead, you want to use the “hub and spoke” strategy.
The way it works is straightforward. A hub is your pillar post that dives deep into a topic. The spokes are thus the supporting posts that further explore some of the points made in the hub or pillar. They can be shorter than the pillar and maintain a laser-sharp focus on one of the subtopics.
If the hub is, for example, email marketing, the spokes could be:
- Email templates
- Automation tools
- Audience segmentation
- Subject line tips
By clustering your content like this, you’re clarifying the connections between the pieces. But you’re not just creating patterns for search engines; you’re doing it for the readers as well. You can guide them through your posts and increase their time on site, which can do wonders for SEO.
This strategy also allows you to plan your content and ensure a steady delivery. Each pillar will give you many topics to explore, so you can schedule posts in advance to avoid running out of ideas.
5. Get Clear on Search Intent
Google cares deeply about user search intent, and so should you. Remember that topical authority comes down to who can give the searcher what they came for. To do this, you must know what kind of intent you should fulfill.
How do you nail it down?
One of the best ways is to look at the keywords and search analytics. Doing so will allow you to make a distinction between the common types of search intent.
For instance, if the search terms include “what is,” “how to,” or “meaning,” the search intent is informational. On the other hand, terms like “cheap,” “buy,” or “order online” indicate a transactional intent.
So, what do you do with this information?
Well, you build your content around it. If you want to target informational searches, you’ll write listicles, guides, and other types of informative content. Transactional intent means that you can focus on the more sales-driven content.
Focusing on search intent offers a plethora of benefits. It reduces bounce rates, showing search engines that people see you as the source of information they’re looking for. It can also make your CTAs more effective, as you can predict what the reader will do when they come to your website.
The list goes on and on, since meeting user search intent sends tons of positive signals to search engines. There are over 200 Google ranking factors, and many of them were developed with search intent in mind.
Be the Go-To Source in Your Niche
In the future, we can expect the importance of topical authority to grow. Google is committed to ensuring people find what they’re looking for with as little effort as possible. That’s why your website should be a one-stop-shop for the information that your audience needs.
If you follow the practices described here, doing so won’t be as daunting as it may seem at first. However, it will take a fair amount of time and effort.
Start by defining your root topics, which you’ll turn into categories. Then, use the hub and spoke strategy to create in-depth content while following the most up-to-date SEO practices. What we know about SEO still stands, so it’s just a matter of creating cohesion and clarity in your content. If you make this happen, you’ll have checked one of the most important SEO boxes that gets results in the current environment.