How topical authority helps publishers win at search

Topical authority
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SEO’s Holy Grail is to rank highly for every keyword related to your niche. While the reality of search makes achieving that ideal unlikely, establishing topical authority – becoming the go-to site in your subject area – can boost SERP ratings over domains that rank higher for other SEO metrics.

  • Writing on Ahrefs, Jake Sheridan, describes topical authority as an SEO concept with the aim of a website becoming the ‘go-to authority’ on one or more topics. The aim is to help search engines understand the focus of a site, improving its potential to rank for related keywords in that subject area.
  • Succeeding in building topical authority relies on publishers creating a significant volume of content across their niche. Writing just one article, regardless of how well it performs in search, will not build authority. Publishers need a breadth and depth of content across the subject areas they are targeting.
  • Google works by making semantic associations and relating a website to a particular topic is part of the ranking process. When a site has a significant number of content pieces around a single subject and interlinks them, this demonstrates site-wide authority in the area and helps identify it as a trusted source.
Topical authority benefits
  • Establishing topical authority can help boost the search ranking of sites that rank less well against other ranking metrics. Ahrefs’ Domain Rating (DR) is a metric developed to help predict how likely a domain, subdomain, or page will rank. It is a measure of relative backlinking strength, looking at referring domains and backlink totals.
  • Sheridan illustrates this concept with a search for ‘Mountain Bike Gifts’. He says that it would be logical to see a site like Amazon, with a DR of 96, at the top of the results list. However, a specialist site with a DR of 23 appears in second place, compared with Amazon’s number seven spot.
  • Explaining this in terms of topical authority, a site like Amazon, while obviously a huge player with very strong SEO metrics, is also a generalist ecommerce site. The second-place site ( is exclusively about bikes and has created a page dedicated to content about ‘Mountain Bike Gifts’.
Establishing topical authority

As with so much of its search ranking methodology, it is not clear how topical authority is calculated by Google. But relevancy has become an increasingly key ranking factor and current search quality guidelines say:

Highest quality pages and websites have a very high level of expertise or are highly authoritative or highly trustworthy.

On Search Engine Journal, Loren Baker lays out four strategies for building topical authority.

  • Create a detailed content strategy that includes a plan for the consistent release of ‘authority-building’ content pieces incorporating the keywords and topics that you know your audience cares about.
  • Focus on just one or two topics and make these the pillars of your site. Build content around these topics to create the ‘topic clusters’ needed for effective SEO. Use synonyms, subtopics, and answers to common questions, not just keywords.
  • Search engine algorithms attempt to determine the user intent behind a particular query. Write content that answers “do” questions that result in an action; “know” questions that supply information; and “go” questions to help users find a something.
  • Structure your site’s metadata to incorporate SEO indicators that describe your content. Research research which keywords work best for both topic clusters and specific pieces of content. Adding links to relevant pages within your site is another way to build authority.

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