What is topical authority?
Topical authority is being considered an expert on a broad subject. Search engines like Google place more and more value on in-depth knowledge about a particular topic. Becoming a Topical authority means creating a large number of high-quality articles on a specific topic, that answers your visitor’s questions.
Topical authority is about going beyond just high-volume keywords. Instead, a topic expert tries to cover every possible question within a specific topic.
Topical authority requires a lot of effort, but it’s a great SEO with many benefits.
Why topical authority is relevant for SEO?
Becoming a topical authority means going beyond keywords and trying to get a site to rank for an entire topic. In the old days of SEO, you could write a blog about a topic, say slow juicers, and with the right keywords and technical setup, you could easily rank for your focus keywords.
That no longer works. Competition has increased, and more and more companies see the value of content marketing. As a result, there is an incredible amount of competing content out there, all wanting to get that top spot in Google.
At the same time, Google got a lot smarter. It now better understands the search intent and recognizes which is site is an authority on a certain subject.
Let’s get back to our example on slow juicers. Imagine there are two sites:
- Site 1 is a highly authoritative product review site that has reviewed the slow juicer XXL (I’m sure that doesn't exist). It also reviews bikes, insurances, and basically, anything it get can an affiliate commission for.
- Site 2 is slowjuicerexpert.com. It’s smaller than site 1 and has less general authority. But it is the unquestioned expert when it comes to slow juicers. It has literally everything you want to know about slow juicers and many in-depth reviews of products, including our slow juicer XXL.
All things equal, Google will favor site number 2. It recognizes the search intent and sees that site 2 is a topical authority on slow juicers. Site one might be a decent website and probably even has more backlinks. But it’s too generic to rank for this specific query.
The benefits of topical authority
As discussed, Google places increased value on topical authority. If you’re seen as a subject matter expert, your rankings for all keywords within that topic will improve.
But there are more benefits. It’s not just Google who will recognize you as a topical expert. So will your customers. People love to buy from the expert, so the effects will trickle down in the conversion funnel, leading to a higher conversion rate.
Another great point is that now you have this library of content, you can use it outside of your own website. It can be used in newsletters, social media posts and why not create a Youtube explainer about your most popular article?
Topical authority and the conversion funnel
Most of the content you'll create on your way to becoming a topical authority involves answering questions from searchers. That means you're focused on the top of the conversion funnel, with content focused on ranking for informational search intent. As with all informational searches, this means it gets you a lot of traffic, but that traffic doesn't directly convert. Turning readers into buyers may require something extra. Use your informational content to build a relationship with the searcher, for instance by getting them to sign up for your newsletter.
How to build topical authority?
Becoming a topical expert requires many high-quality articles around the topic you’re aiming to be an authority on. You can’t become a topical authority by publishing 5 great articles. Nor can you manage to become an authority by publishing 100 mediocre articles. You’ll need both quantity and quality.
If you think this is feasible and you’re ready to start building topical authority, here’s how to do it.
Pick your area of expertise
First of all, let’s figure out the topic your site should become a topic expert in. You probably have an idea, but the trick here is to determine the right breadth of the topic.
Imagine you sell electronic devices. Phones, washing machines, TVs, soundbars, everything. You sell hundreds of products, and new ones come out every month.
To become an electronic devices topical authority, you would probably need 50 full-time copywriters with a variety of expertise. For most companies, that would not be feasible.
Now let’s narrow it down. One of our product categories is slow juicers. This product is getting more and more popular, and there aren’t that many review sites. Many people have questions about this relatively new product and need guidance.
It’s also a lot more feasible. You currently sell 30 different slow juicers (vs. 1200 products in total). Reviewing each of them would take a month. Combined with a lot of generic slow juicer content, you could become a topical expert much easier.
Apart from feasibility, Google appreciates niches. That’s what topical authority is all about. If you cover everything about slow juicers, and nothing else, Google will soon recognize you as the slow juicer expert. Topical authority acclaimed!
Finding content inspiration
Within the topic you have selected, you need to find subjects to cover. It’s important to not start from what you know. Instead, start from what the searcher wants to know. There are some great tools to help with that.
Keyword tools like Ahrefs or Semrush can help find related subjects with high keyword volumes. Keep in mind that to become a topical expert, you can’t stick with just the high-volume keywords. We’re aiming to cover everything within the subject, and that includes queries with just 50 searches a month. Think beyond those 50 searches. Including this low-volume topic can help gain authority for large-volume keywords.
Here’s an example of how Ahrefs free keyword tool can help you find new keyword ideas:
Google Related Searches
We’re aiming to find questions people ask around slow juicers. Google helps with that. Enter a generic query like What is a slow juicer, and you’ll see related searches in the SERP.
Answer the Public
Answer the Public is an amazing tool to help find questions people have around a certain topic. It uses Bing data to come up with all sorts of related questions, grouped by the first word (how, when, why, etc). Here’s an example:
People Also Ask
People Also Ask boxes often show up in Google’s SERP for questions. This is based on keyword volumes from Google, so it gives great insight into what people are looking for:
AlsoAsked.com is basically Google’s People Also Ask on steroids. Enter a query, and it shows you all People Also Ask results up to three levels deep. Here’s what you get when searching for what’s a slow juicer:
This is pure gold: we can get so many content ideas, based on data from Google.
We’ve now compiled a list of questions people have around slow juicers. Let’s get cracking on that content.
Structuring your content
Our website will contain a lot of content. That means we’ll have to structure the content in a way that is easy to understand for your visitors.
You’ll find that a traditional blog structure doesn't always work. Blogs are great for regularly publishing new content, that’s not necessarily in-depth and becomes less relevant over time.
High-quality, in-depth content that can stand the test of time requires an approach that’s more like a library or a knowledge base. It will have various subtopics, and each page is interlinked with another.
The first step is to group your list of subjects you want to cover into a number of subtopics. You’ll end up with a structure like this:
Depending on the amount of content, you’ll need more subtopics. For our slow juicer example, something like this would be a good start:
Animalz has a great article about how content becomes more like a library, and less like a publication that has a new article every few days: your blog is not a publication.
Optimize internal linking
One of the great benefits of becoming a topical authority through building lots of content is that you get so many internal linking opportunities. You’ll be covering closely related subjects, and it often makes sense to link from one article to another.
Building internal links takes some effort, but it's essential to do this. It helps Google find related content, and is super helpful for your users.
Keeping your content up to date
One problem with a lot of content is that you’re never done. New products come out and new information becomes available. This means that in order to maintain your topical authority, you’ll have to have a process for updating your content. Don’t spend all your time on new content while ignoring the old. Refreshing (or sometimes, removing) old content is part of your strategy as well, so reserve time for that.
The old SEO rules still apply
Topical authority isn’t some new kind of magic SEO. All the old rules still apply. You’ll still need backlinks, good metadata, decent page speed, indexability, and everything else that is relevant for SEO. SiteGuru’s SEO auditor can help you with that.
In today’s competitive SEO landscape, topical authority is what helps your website rank. Topical authority requires a significant amount of high-quality, well-structured content. Once established, this helps Google identify your site as an expert on a dedicated topic.
Combined with good internal linking, this structure serves as a great base for further growth. Don’t forget to leverage your content by using it across other channels, such as social media or newsletters.