Updated: 21 March 2017
Topical authority is a relatively new term in the SEO world that is quickly becoming a buzzword. The reason is simple: since Panda 4.0 algorithm update in 2014 there has been a change of focus from site popularity to topical authority on Google’s part. Even though they aren’t willing to directly admit the existence of a site-wide quality score, in October 2016 Google’s John Mueller delivered a somewhat confusing explanation about site-wide ranking signals, which only confirmed the long held suspicion that Google does evaluate the site as a whole in order to decide individual pages’ rank.
What Is Topical Authority?
Imagine that you run a blog about everyday life – starting from what you eat for breakfast and ending with what good night stories you read to your kids. Even though you surely are proficient at running your own life, you don’t communicate any sort of specialization for which your readers can truly rely on you. You’re simply a storyteller.
Imagine now that you still blog about every aspect of your life but you take a different approach – you write about preparing food in one blog, about child care in another – and you lean on reputable sources to back up your posts. As long as you do a good job, you now are on the way to boosting the topical authority of your separate blog.
Topical authority is based on several components: high concentration of focused, quality content on a certain topic, reputable sources, and as many quality backlinks with topic-related anchor texts as possible.
Thus, the topical authority can be defined as follows: A site with high topical authority is one that provides quality content, focuses on one major topic and its subtopics in a non-superficial manner, and often gets quoted or praised by others for its expertise and thoroughness.
It’s important to understand that it’s not only content-driven sites that should try to work on increasing their authority. For business websites, it’s just as important to accumulate quality content supporting the business core. This can be in the form of research, valuable information about the different product/service options on the market, guides to choosing the best available option, etc.
However, for topical authority to work, it’s crucial that both publishers and businesses understand that content shouldn’t be used as a pure click-generator. Instead, content must be customer-focused and provide value to each site visitor.
How Can I Boost The Topical Authority Of My Blog?
As a blogger or content manager, there’s a lot you can do in order to boost the topical authority of your site. Just as in the case of you becoming an authority within your field, there’s a lot of work to be done – and you have to start from inside out – from building a stable base to promoting your results to the outside world and getting recognition for your achievements.
Here’re the steps you must take in order to boost the topical authority of your site:
Strategy Before Action
I’ve mentioned this in the Start a Blog section but it’s important to highlight it here again: when considering to start a site, you must think the whole concept through in order to convey as much relevance, value, and keywords-weight as at all possible.
This means that, after visiting any of your site’s pages, nobody should be in doubt, what’s the topic or the purpose of your website. Thus, the strategy for your content should be based on publishing on one major topic and its subtopics only. Likewise, you must be on the clear about which is your target group, what need you’ll be addressing, and how you can deliver most value to the individual members of your target group.
These considerations will help you create focused content that stays within your topic, engages site visitors, and gives them a reason to recommend you or come back. It will also help search engines understand your website and rank it accordingly for the chosen field of expertise.
I want to highlight that, even though I’m mentioning search engines and ranking, and topical authority is without a doubt a SEO topic, the focus here should be on optimizing your content for user experience – primarily because none of this can work, if you do it with search engines instead of site visitors in mind.
After you’ve decided, which your main topic will be – and have signaled its importance via the site’s title and possibly domain name, you’re ready to take the next step towards boosting the topical authority of your site by applying structure to your content.
Structure that boosts the topical authority of your site is characterized by clustering content in a few topically relevant groups. This allows for a thorough research of the main topic by digging deeper into all the major subtopics. Content clusters can, for example, be structurally implemented by using categories for posts and the parent attribute for pages.
You should ideally work with a small number of subtopics and use these as the only categories on the site. Additionally, you can help site users understand the logic of your content by offering multiple blog pages, dedicated to each subtopic/category.
To explain this, let’s say that you’re publishing content about the wild life of Alaska. If you don’t have a strategy for the site’s structure, you might end up adding hundreds of seemingly relevant categories as Grass types, Bushes, Threes, Bears, etc. and then break these even further down by adding multiple tags to each post. It might indeed be that you can write hundreds of posts on Alaska’s bears and on all the other topics, you chose to focus on. However, most of the time, the reason behind websites with hundreds of categories and tags is simply that the webmaster never thought it was important to work with them strategically. Instead, they were randomly assigned every time a new post got published.
Needless to say, this counteracts the idea of topical authority, as you end up with so many topics and so many posts classified under different categories that neither blog visitors, nor search engines will be able to break the code of your content.
Instead, you should try to use as few categories and tags as possible. In the example with Alaska’s wild life, you could use only two – Alaska’s Flora and Alaska’s Fauna – and break them down with a few tags separating predators from mammals – or something like that. Then you can, of course, write all the posts about bears and threes that you originally planned to write. The only difference is that your content will be structured in a way, easy to understand and follow.
This way the structure boosts the topical authority of your site by using focused keywords, directly related to your main topic, as categories and tags. In the same time, you make it pretty easy for site visitors to navigate to their topic of interest – especially if your site features separate pages for the different post categories.
Focus And Quality
Even though applying a good structure to your website helps a lot with keeping focus, it’s important to point out that topical authority requires that all of the published content is topically relevant. The reason is that, the way Google puts it (check out the first link in the post), you can only be an authority in a certain field. Nobody is an expert in everything. Thus, if you want to make it clear, which your specialization is, you must publish content that confirms it.
A good way to keep focused and avoid irrelevant posting is to do a very good job when choosing the site’s categories. As long as these categories cover all that must be covered, it’s easy to dismiss irrelevant content ideas by checking, whether they fit under one of the categories or not.
When it comes to quality, there isn’t an easy way to ensure that all you publish is of high quality. There’re, though, enough rules that can guide you away from superficial time-wasting posting.
- Avoid to post just because it’s on your schedule, if you don’t have anything to say.
- Remember that quality always wins over quantity. It won’t boost the topical authority of a site that you posted 100 low-quality posts sprinkled with keywords. It will boost it, if you publish fewer but high-quality posts.
- Don’t obsess with length, try to deliver in terms of value and user experience.
- Do research and only post on topics that you are an expert on.
- If using content curation, remember that you always must add value to the content you use. Just reporting on what is available online, won’t do much to boost your site’s authority.
- When using others’ work, give them attribution. Trying to deceive site users is not a good way to position yourself as an expert.
- Remember to update your top content to keep it fresh.
Internal And External Resources
It’s considered a good practice to link your related posts or pages to make it easier for site visitors to find the content they’re interested in. It’s also a way to “group” your topics to help search engines classify your pages.
Make therefore sure that you don’t miss out on all that by simply forgetting to link your posts and pages. In the same time, link only truly related topics and focus on meaningful linking to the benefit of site visitors. Random linking can indeed counteract user experience and topical authority.
Another important point is to be careful about what anchor texts you use with internal links. Remember that anchor texts should include keywords supporting the topic and the keywords of the target page.
Linking to external resources is just as important as internal linking and the rules are more or less the same. You must only link to relevant and reliable sources and only include a link in your text, if you’re certain that site users will benefit from following it.
Be careful to set your links to “no follow” to avoid too much authority-transfer between the linked sites. Avoid also using too many of your own keywords in external links’ anchor texts, as some SEO specialists still warn about the risk of losing SEO points due to “outsourcing” the core of your posts.
Best practice is therefore to link to a few reputable external sources with “no follow” links and descriptive anchors not including your main keywords.
Backlinks have been one of the pillars of SEO since it’s awakening but the way they’ve been used has changed a lot throughout the years.
In relation to boosting the topical authority of sites, backlinks play once again a major role. As Google employee Matt Cutts points out though, a large number of backlinks is far from enough to impress Google. It does, in fact, make a difference when a lot of people link to your pages. However, what’s even more important, is that backlinks come from reputable domains, preferably from within your field. This is referred to as topical relevance of backlinks.
Additionally, such wording should be used in anchor texts that leaves no doubt about the topic of your posts. Thus, what you need to do, is deliver quality content that people deem worth linking to. On top of that, you must write focused enough to avoid different site visitors quoting the same page for too many different reasons, thus sending confusing signals to search engines.
In a few words, to boost the topical authority of your site, you must focus on accumulating quality, topic-centric, and well-structured content. Marketing such content and promoting it on social media is, of course, a necessity. Putting excessive effort into building backlinks, on the other hand, has never been a good idea – and neither is now. Instead, do the right thing and boost the topical authority of your site by combining strategic planning, thought-through structure, thorough research, white-hat SEO, excellent user experience, and quality content. The backlinks will come in time.