Updated: Mar 21
Your jargon-free guide to building topical authority as part of your SEO content marketing strategy
Topical authority makes you a Goliath slayer in search results. But what is topical authority, why does it work, and how do you build it?
What is topical authority?
Topical authority means your website demonstrates clear expertise in a particular topic or subject area. This can improve your website's visibility in organic search results (ranking) because search engines recognize your authority on the topic.
If you establish topical authority, when someone searches keywords related to that topic, search engines are more likely to show your website than one that isn't as topically relevant. Even if that's a big player like Amazon.
Basically, topical authority makes you a Goliath-slayer in the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages).
What does building topical authority involve?
Establishing topical authority involves:
identifying relevant topics to write about on your website
building up a comprehensive core of content on that topic
structuring it so that search engines recognise your topical expertise
Keep reading for the five steps you need to follow to build topical authority for SEO.
Why is topical authority important for SEO?
Topical authority is important for SEO because it can help websites with lower domain authority to outrank websites with higher domain authority.
Topical authority building example
Here's a very simple example of how creating topical authority helps SEO.
Imagine you run a small independent pet store that specialises in organic products. Your website has a low domain ranking compared to bigger retailers. Say 24 compared to their 79. This means, all things being equal, the bigger retailer will appear above you in organic search results.
But now imagine you build topical authority on the subject of organic pet food. You write lots of articles on it. Why buy organic pet food? The benefits of it. Comparison of available products. Organic pet food for different animals...
Meanwhile, the larger retailer doesn't. They have too many other product lines to write extensively on this one subject.
By creating that content - and structuring it to signal your topical authority to search engines - you should rank higher than the larger retailer when someone searches for 'organic pet food'.
Why do search engines like topical authority?
Search engines like topical authority because it lets them serve up the best content to their users.
If someone is searching for 'organic pet food', the search engine would rather that person finds highly relevant content on your website than less-relevant content on a site that just happens to be bigger or longer established.
If users find the content they want, fast, they're more likely to keep using that search engine. This means the search engine retains its users and can monetize them through advertising sales etc.
Topical authority makes good business sense to the likes of Google. So lean into it as part of your content strategy and you could improve your search rankings.
How is topical authority different to domain authority?
Domain authority is a measure of how likely a website is to rank overall, based on a range of factors like how long they're been running, how many reputable websites link to them, etc.
It is represented as an actual number from 0 to 100 - often referred to as a DR or DA of a website. The higher the DR score, the more likely your website is to rank in organic search results.
It isn't an official metric used by search engines. It is a metric invented by Moz to help websites understand their relative position in the market. Nonetheless, it's very useful as it is thought to reflect how search engine algorithms are likely to view a website.
Topical authority doesn't come with a number attached to it like domain authority does. You can't really measure it - just aim for it.
As we established above, topical authority is about your authority on a specific topic, rather than the overall authority of your website.
Topical authority and Google's E-A-T guidelines
E-A-T stands for Expertise, Authority, and Trustworthiness. It features in Google's Quality Rater Guidelines as a way to establish which websites are reputable and expert - ie the ones they want to rank!
Although E-A-T isn't directly built into Google's algorithms, it is a flag in the sand that shows what the search engine values in a site. Since building topical authority helps your website signal both expertise and authority on a particular topic, it's worth building into your content strategy.
DR, TA, EAT... So many acronyms. Check out my guide WTF? 40 marketing acronyms all content marketers should know.
How to build topical authority in five steps
Step 1: Brainstorm relevant topics
The first step to building topical authority is to brainstorm topics that are relevant to your audience. It sounds obvious but here's why it's important from an SEO point of view.
Here's an exaggerated example.
Say you're successful at building topical authority in organic pet products. But you sell cleaning supplies. You might gain topical authority, search visibility, and traffic. But it won't be relevant traffic.
Visitors will quickly bounce off your site when they find bleach and buckets instead of dog food and treats. And that high bounce rate will send your site rocketing back DOWN the rankings. So base your topics on relevant keywords only.
How to brainstorm topic ideas
1. Use your brain
Your starting point is your expert knowledge. Think about what you offer and what people might like to know about it. The real secret to creating valuable content is to be helpful and answer people's questions. You need to find topical ideas that are not too broad and not too niche.
For example, for our pet product store, 'dogs' or 'cats' is too vague. But 'organic pet food providers in Northern England' is too specific.
However, topics like 'pet nutrition' and 'pet care' etc hit the Goldilocks spot.
2. Use free SEO tools
Visit www.answerthepublic.com and type in keywords related to what you sell. It will show you what people regularly search on the topic. These can be the basis for blog posts.
You can also do this using a Google search. Just conduct a search and look for the 'People also ask' box. This shows frequently asked questions on your particular topic.
3. Use a paid keyword research tool
Use tools like AHRefs to conduct more in-depth keyword research. Paid tools like this will show you how many searches a particular term gets each month (the search volume, SV) and how hard it is to rank for that term (keyword difficulty, KD). Ideally, you're looking for keywords/topics with high SV and low KD. But be warned, they're 🦄
AHRefs has a great in-depth article about how to use their tool to find seed keywords to build topical authority. This is suitable for people with more advanced interest/ability in keyword research.
Step 2: Flesh out your ideas
Once you've identified some good topical keywords, you can start fleshing this out into a content plan for each topic. For example, say one of your topic keywords is PET NUTRITION.
You could start to expand this to blog post ideas like
The ultimate guide to pet nutrition for dogs (for cats, etc)
Why is pet nutrition important?
What are the benefits of good pet nutrition?
Is my (cat, dog etc) getting the nutrients they need?
X signs your pet needs better nutrition
Top 5 pet foods for optimum nutrition for (dogs, cats, etc)
If you're using a keyword research tool, you might want to enter these titles and see what the traffic potential and ranking difficulty is. Prioritise the titles that have the best potential to rank and gain organic traffic to your site. (Organic traffic just means traffic you've attracted via SEO, not traffic you've paid to attract via ads).
Note that this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to content strategy. This is a quick-and-dirty way to come up with ideas for the top-of-the-funnel/awareness stage audience. If that means nothing to you - don't worry. Check out my article explaining the buyer's journey next.
Step 3: Write the content
Now you have your ideas, it's time to start creating your content. If you're not a writer by nature, you should consider outsourcing this work to a content writer.
A content writer will be able to create readable, engaging content, fast. They'll also be able to optimise the content for search engines. For example, using keywords in the right place and at the right density, addressing search intent, including appropriate calls-to-action etc.
If you do want to write the content yourself, consider using paid tool like SEO Surfer. This tool lets you type in a keyword and it will build a 'content editor' that recommends keywords and scores your writing for its likelihood to rank.
Should I hire a content writer or write my blog posts myself?
If you've answered a hearty 'Yes' to the questions above, write your content yourself.
If you've answered a shuddering 'No', hire a content writer.
Check out my article on why to hire a content writer to support your marketing strategy.
Step 4: Group your content into topic clusters
Once your content is written, you need to publish it. This is where you can signal to search engines that you're a topical expert. You do this by creating content clusters connected by lots of internal links.
A content cluster has a hub-and-spoke structure. Basically, you have one core piece of content that covers the topic in depth. This is called your 'pillar content'. And then lots of shorter pieces that link off from the pillar content and to each other.
In the list of blog posts above, 'the ultimate guide to pet nutrition' piece would be the pillar content.
This would cover the topic at length. The other pieces would be shorter blog posts that it links to. These shorter blog posts would expand on specific things mentioned in the pillar piece.
When the search engines crawl your page, they'll understand that these internal links connect related content. The more internal links they find, the more they'll assume a topic cluster. And that means they'll assume some level of topical authority.
Structure and internal link building is a key tactic in your topical authority strategy. Don't just publish your pieces separately. Always look for opportunities to add internal links between related content.
Step 5: Add external link juice
As well as internal links, external links can also boost your authority. These are sometimes called 'backlinks'. But they're not easy to get!
A backlink is a link from another website to yours. It tells the search engines that your content is worth reading. And the better the website that links to you, the more credibility it will have with the search engines. (Remember domain authority? The higher the DA of the website that links to you, the better you'll look!)
There are a few tactics to get backlinks to your website.
Create unique content that only you have - then promote the heck out of it, so people discover it and link to it (this is sometimes called a lead magnet as it can be good for capturing leads too)
Reach out to websites with broken links (404) and offer them your webpage to link to instead
Include expert quotes - use a website like HARO to reach out to experts for quotes on your topic - they're likely to promote it to their network and link to it from their own website
I'm writing an article on this soon. In the meantime, check out SEMRush's Link Building Strategies for more detail if this is something you want to do.
Topical authority FAQs
How does topical authority work?
Nobody really knows. It is part of the mysterious workings for search engine algorithms. But we think it works because search engines understand internal links as a sign of grouped, topical content. And because they like to serve up relevant, expert content to their users, they rank this content higher.
What is a topic cluster?
A topic cluster is a group of pages that cover the same topic and are connected by internal links. It is shaped like a hub and spokes. It has a pillar piece of content as the hub. And shorter blog posts and articles as the spokes.
Why is search intent important in building topical authority?
Search intent - or user intent - is what someone searching in Google, for example, hopes to find. search. Google and other search engines want to serve up relevant content that matches user intent because that's what will keep the user happy and engaged with their service. You can improve your chances of ranking by creating high quality content that matches user search intent. Basically it means living up to the promise of your content. If your article is called 'How to build topical authority' then your content needs to answer that question.
What is pillar content?
Pillar content is a long, in-depth piece of content that forms the heart (or hub) of your topic cluster. Typically it will be a deep dive into the broad topic you want to build authority for. For example 'The ultimate guide to'. You then link to shorter articles and blog posts from this pillar piece. You should aim to have a pillar piece for every topic you want to build topical authority on. For example, pet nutrition, pet care, pet grooming, pet health, etc.
What is topical relevance?
Topical relevance just means your content is relevant to a particular topic. It's about creating a body of articles and blog posts that are related, not a random jumble. Topical relevance makes it easier to create a coherent content cluster and supports your link building strategy. The brainstorming tips above will help you think of keywords and article ideas grouped on a specific topic.
There you have it...
If you follow the above steps, you'll be well on your way to a topical authority strategy that builds your reputation and gains organic traffic.
It isn't a magic bullet, however, and doesn't work in isolation. Like any SEO tactic, it works in partnership with lots of other factors. For example
a thorough on-page SEO strategy
technical SEO that makes your website work
offline SEO that drives traffic to your site
If you want help achieving topical authority through content creation, I can help. From creating your topical authority strategy to writing your content. Email me to get the ball rolling.
About the author
Libby Marks is an award-winning copywriter and content marketer. After 15+ years in marketing and communications, she escaped the 9-to-5 and started Write on Tyne.
Write on Tyne is a small content and copywriting agency dedicated to making marketing managers' lives easier.
We provide top-notch copy for campaigns, content marketing, and websites - underpinned by expertise in marketing strategy and SEO.