If you’ve worked on your website’s search engine optimization (SEO) strategy before, you know how multi-faceted SEO really is. Hundreds of ranking factors contribute to your website’s position in search results. You can’t just build a good-looking website and expect it to rank well; instead, you must bow down to Google’s all-powerful ranking algorithm.
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Establishing Topical Authority
Establishing topical authority is one strategy that can help you boost your search engine rankings. This is the concept of making your website a go-to, comprehensive source for information about a specific topic.
But how do you build topical authority? Great question! I’ve created this guide to key you into the ins and outs of topical authority: what it is, what it can do for your business, and how to improve it.
What Is Topical Authority?
Topical authority is a measure of how thoroughly your website covers a topic. Maximizing topical authority involves producing content on your website that completely covers a topic — to the point where Google begins viewing it as an authority on the subject.
Google really values authority when determining search engine rankings. Authority is part of the E.E.A.T. ranking metrics that Google uses to evaluate websites. (The other three are expertise, experience, and trustworthiness).
So, establishing your website as an authoritative source for a given subject can go a long way in boosting your search engine rankings — and subsequent organic traffic.
Example: Building Authority in a Niche
Let’s say you own a roofing company that specializes in metal roofs. Of course, you’ll want a page on your website about metal roofs. But having one piece of content isn’t enough to build topical authority — even if you know your company is a true expert on metal roofs.
Instead, you’ll want to cover as many topics related to metal roofs as possible, like:
- The benefits of metal roofs
- How to choose the right metal roof for your home
- The metal roof installation process
- How long do metal roofs last
- What maintenance metal roofs require
The more topics you cover on metal roofs, the more authority you’ll build for that subject. Then, when users search for queries about metal roofs, Google will start ranking your website higher in the search results.
Sounds simple, right? Unfortunately, if you know anything about Google’s search engine algorithms, I don’t have to tell you they’re anything but simple.
Building topical authority involves a strategic, multi-angle approach. But I’m going to help you get there.
Is Topical Authority Really That Important?
Yes. Yes, it is.
No matter the subject of your website, there’s a good chance that thousands of other websites cover the same topic. Why should Google display your site on the first page, let alone in the first few search results?
Establishing topical authority shows Google that your website deserves to rank well. Your site answers users’ questions and gives them all the information they need on a subject. As a result, Google shows your website to more people, and you gain more customers.
Benefits of Topical Authority
- It Establishes Your Website (and Business) as a Trusted Source
- It Reduces the Need for Backlinks
- It’s Something the Big Websites Can’t Do
Topical authority shows Google that your website is a go-to source of information. But even outside of search engine rankings, it shows website users — and potential customers — that your business knows its stuff. Going back to the example above, if your business installs metal roofs and your website covers every topic imaginable related to metal roofs, users will inherently know your company is a solid choice for their metal roof installation.
In contrast, if your website only includes bare-bones content about your services and contact information, users must dig deeper to find out whether you’re a trustworthy source. They may choose another metal roof installer that clearly establishes their authority on their website instead.
If there’s one shared sentiment among the digital marketing community, it’s that backlinks stink. Okay, backlinks themselves don’t stink, but creating them does. It takes a lot of time, effort, money, and dumb luck to build backlinks, yet Google values them strongly in its algorithms. Thankfully, establishing topical authority may reduce the need for backlinks in your ranking strategy. Topical authority gives your website a leg up over the other sites in your niche that may have a lot of backlinks but haven’t taken the time to build topical authority.
As a small, local business, you’ll inevitably compete for web traffic with big websites like Forbes, The Washington Post, and MSN. These websites have a lot going for them, but what they don’t have is topical authority. Websites like Forbes don’t have a reason to become topical experts on subjects like metal roofs. They may have a few articles about metal roofs (I just checked, and Forbes has at least 10), but Google will never recognize them as experts on metal roofs. These sites will always have “topical authority holes.” However, your site can overcome these topical authority holes by dedicating time and resources to fleshing out your topic completely.
How To Build Topical Authority for Your Site
Okay, enough about the benefits of topical authority. How do you achieve topical authority about a given subject?
Perform Keyword Research
The first step is to perform keyword research — and lots of it. Keyword research allows you to pinpoint the keywords your website should rank for. If you’ve already established an SEO strategy for your website, you’re probably familiar with the keyword research process.
This process normally begins with identifying a seed keyword, and the topical authority process is no different. A seed keyword is a general search term you can expand upon to flesh out your topic. For example, a good seed keyword for the metal roofing company above is “metal roofing.”
Once you’ve isolated the seed keyword, you can perform more keyword research to find related search terms and long-tail keywords that relate to that term. For the seed keyword “metal roofing,” additional keywords may include:
- types of metal roofing
- metal roofing benefits
- metal roofing installation
- metal roofing repair
- commercial metal roofing
- residential metal roofing
You can find a wide range of keyword research tools to assist this process. I like using Google Keyword Planner, but there are many other options.
Create Topic Clusters
With your keyword research in hand, you can begin creating topic clusters that center around your seed keyword. These clusters are interlinked pages that cover the same topic. For metal roofing, one topic cluster may be “metal roofing installation,” which would include pages like:
- How to install a metal roof
- How much does it cost to install a metal roof?
- Pro vs. DIY metal roof installation
It’s important to pick topic clusters with plenty of subtopics you can explore on your site. These topics should also have “informational” search intents and good traffic potential; in other words, you don’t want to choose topics people aren’t searching for.
Linking between cluster pages is one of the most important steps in building topical authority. So, for a page about “how to install a metal roof,” you’ll want to include internal links to your other pages about metal roof installation. This is a direct way of telling Google that the cluster topics are related and that your website is building authority for those topics.
Write Authoritative Content
Now that you’ve established the topic clusters to write about, it’s time to write the actual content. You’ll generally want to have all of the following types of content for a given topic:
- A pillar page, which gives an overview of the topic and links out to more in-depth pages
- “What is” pages that clearly explain subtopics
- How-to articles
- In-depth guides
Your pages should cover as many of the related keywords you discovered in the first step as possible. Discuss the topics in detail to boost your authority.
I know I said earlier that topical authority can prevent you from needing backlinks, but you must establish topical authority before this benefit becomes a reality. Establishing topical authority requires some link-building.
That’s just me giving it to you straight. You’ll want to spend time encouraging other website owners to link to your site, such as through:
- Reaching out to directories to update your website info
- Creating guest blog posts for related websites
- Asking other sites to link to your content
Building topical authority isn’t something that’s outside your grasp. Writing enough in-depth content that targets relevant keywords can establish your authority and show Google who’s boss. In turn, you’ll gain more website traffic and convert more customers.
Now, what are you waiting for? Go, research those keywords and write that content! (Or hire someone to do it for you. There’s no shame in that.