Are you struggling to rank your content better? But does your site have the topical authority required to appear on the first page of Google?
You know, the SERP can be so surprising sometimes.
Most of the time, if you know a bit about the topic you’re researching, you can predict what domains will be ranking high.
But there are also those times when you google a keyword and see someone new among top-ranking pages. Upon inspection, you realize that the domain also lacks the authority required to rank for the phrase.
Like here, for example:
All top-ranking content has a similar, quite high authority. All pages fall in the 40-70 region. And yet, Google’s algorithms also ranked two pages with far smaller authority among them.
How did the site do it? (And most importantly, how could you do the same?)
The logical answer is because the site must have published high-quality content and optimized it particularly well for this topic, right?
True, but there’s something else – a serious ranking factor that you absolutely shouldn’t ignore.
That factor is topical authority. You’ll learn all about it on this page and discover how to build topical authority for your startup.
So, let’s do it.
What is Topical Authority?
Bad news first – There is no single, uniform definition of topical authority.
A major reason for that is because it is quite an intangible concept.
However, there is a way to describe topical authority and explain how it affects your chances to rank.
The simplest way to describe topical authority is as a website’s perceived authority and expertise in a particular niche or topic.
The key phrase in the above definition is the perceived authority.
You see, the concept of topical authority suggests that Google will rank certain pages, ones that come from websites it considers authoritative sources, better.
In other words, if Google knows (or considers) that certain websites publish valuable content that’s relevant to the topic of the search query, it is more likely to consider them for inclusion in the top search results.
To Google, topical authority signals that the site has a deep understanding and vast knowledge of the topic. As a result, it can almost assume that any pieces of content it publishes will be trustworthy and valuable to users.
Or, to put it bluntly – The topical authority reassures Google that the site’s content will deliver on the user’s search intent every single time (which is exactly what Google wants the top-ranking content to do.)
Yeah, I know, it could be. So let me illustrate the concept with a quick example.
Imagine that your startup helps companies improve onboarding and user communications. You have been publishing in-depth content on this topic only for months now.
Now imagine what Google needs to do when a user requests information about onboarding by typing related keywords into the search box.
The search engine has a simple job to do. It needs to deliver the most relevant content to the person. Otherwise, it has failed its promise as a search engine.
So, logically, its machine learning algorithm will first consider the most knowledgeable domains on the topic in its index. And then, scout the index for relevant pages from those domains.
Topical authority helps you be considered as one of those most knowledgeable domains.
(And that’s also why, sometimes, you see much weaker domains ranking on page one. Sure, those sites may lack the domain authority the other top-ranking pages enjoy. But they have the topical authority and can rank on the strength of that alone.)
But that’s not the only outcome of being perceived as an authority on the topic.
Why is Having Topical Authority So Important?
We discussed topical authority as a critical ranking factor that can help even a weaker site get on the first page of Google.
You know that once you establish your perceived authority, you might become Google’s natural choice for answering user’s questions.
But there’s more.
You will also gain more links.
Now, that’s a surprising outcome, isn’t it?
But think about it. Google isn’t the only entity that will consider a site as an authority. So do your readers.
You do it all the time, too. Just think of any topics you’ve been researching recently. I’m sure you can also think of certain sites that you associate with great information on the topic, right?
Well, that’s the topical authority at work.
And so, when everyone knows that you have great, in-depth, expert-level content on the topic, they’re more likely to link to your pages than someone else’s.
Sure, it’s hard to base your entire link building strategy on topical authority. But it certainly helps with acquiring more links organically.
You build authority and expertise with readers.
An interesting thing happens when you begin to publish great content. You build much stronger relationships with potential customers.
Just think about it:
- If potential customers like your content and feel they got value from it, they’ll remember it.
- As a result, these people might come back for more.
- Because they remember it, they will be more likely to click on your pages next time they google information (or scroll their social media feeds.) That’s purely because they consider you an authority on the topic.
- All this exposure to your content results in trust and connects you with the person.
- When they’re ready to buy, your software will be the obvious choice.
LEARN MORE: I explained this process in-depth in this guide to content marketing for SaaS. Check it out.
So, once you’ve established topical authority, you begin to enjoy:
- Much higher rankings, even if your domain isn’t strong enough to achieve them yet.
- Higher search visibility for more phrases and search queries.
- Far greater organic traffic and organic click-through rates.
- Stronger engagement with potential customers.
But how do you do it?
Here’s everything you need to know.
How to Establish Topical Authority
The biggest problem with topical authority is that it’s an elusive concept. Because of that, there is no single formula or a pre-defined set of steps to establish it.
The above doesn’t mean that you can’t establish it, of course. However, it means that doing so isn’t simple.
To make it easier to understand, I’m going to break the whole concept into two sections:
- Prerequisites – Things you must have to establish topical authority, and
- What you need to be doing to create and maintain your position as an expert.
Let’s go through them in turn.
#1. The Prerequisites
There are two:
The first one is having a site focusing on a single topic or niche, ideally relating to your product or the problem it addresses.
Now, at first sight, I admit this criterion looks almost like something impossible to get wrong. And yet, it’s also the one so many SaaS startups struggle with.
Why? Because these companies tend to focus on the wrong thing when launching a content strategy.
For example, it’s quite common for startups to create content on everything they’d like to write about.
The problem? These topics often don’t match what their audience wants to learn about.
As a result, the site becomes a vehicle for sharing the founders’ or the marketer’s ideas, experiences, journeys, etc.
Don’t get me wrong; these are all fantastic topics. But they rarely relate to the audience’s problem, and because of that, fail to maintain that strict topical focus.
The other prerequisite relates to that also.
To establish topical authority, you also need great, in-depth content.
(Tying it with the first criterion – It should focus entirely on answering users’ questions.)
Granted, short blog posts might work for you. But if you want to rank well in Google search today, you need to meet the user’s expectations, and ideally, exceed the user intent for the target keywords.
And that’s something you can achieve only by publishing in-depth, comprehensive content that exhausts the topic.
LEARN MORE: To learn more about this, check out my guide to understanding the search intent from the SERP data.
So, providing your site focuses on a single topic already and has in-depth content there, what do you need to do for Google to consider you a topical expert?
#2. Establishing Topical Authority
The process is based almost entirely on creating more content, focusing on topicality, and establishing internal relationships between various pages.
In practical terms, this means:
Creating content hubs on topics relating to your product
A content hub is a centralized resource on a specific topic.
I like to explain it as a content library, a collection of pages, if you will, dedicated to a specific topic or a problem.
Here’s how content hubs help build topical relevancy:
- Because content hubs provide exhaustive information on a topic, they communicate to Google that the domain is an authority on the subject. It wouldn’t be capable of creating such a vast resource on a topic otherwise, after all.
- Relations between various pages in the hub (created with internal links) build semantic relationships between those assets, and that’s another factor SEOs believe to be helping with building topical authority.
LEARN MORE: Find out everything about content hubs here.
Writing in-depth guides based on a thorough keyword research
Content hubs are massive resources that work amazingly well at establishing your expertise.
The thing is, sometimes, you don’t need to build an entire hub to help potential customers overcome a particular issue.
This very page is a good example of that. Although topical authority is an extremely important aspect of SaaS SEO, the topic isn’t vast enough to warrant an entire hub. You can get all the information you need about it from a single page.
But the page has to provide in-depth information. Otherwise, the opposite will happen. As a result, the page will fail to satisfy the user’s intent and fail to establish you as an authority.
How do you ensure that you do not make this mistake?
For your content to pass the criteria of a strong in-depth piece, you must achieve two things:
- You must first learn what information users want to learn about the topic and how to cover the topic in-depth, and
- Discover what phrases you must use to create topical relevancy so that Google understands what the page is about (and ranks it for relevant phrases as a result.)
The answer to either of these challenges lies in keyword research.
For example, researching what phrases are related to your audience’s topic will highlight what information they want to learn about it. The research can also show you how they understand and approach the topic.
Quick example – A quick keyword research for the topic “email marketing automation” reveals the type of questions users ask about it.
That’s an amazing insight into how the target audience approaches the topic and their level of prior knowledge about it.
Evaluating LSI (latent semantic index) keywords can suggest specific information I should be covering on my page.
LEARN MORE: Check out my full guide to keyword research for SaaS
A QUICK TIP: When creating in-depth content, always put user intent first. Research what questions users ask about the topic, and identify LSI keywords to make the page relevant to the topic.
But … don’t overdo it.
When creating content, it’s easy to overfocus on keywords and semantic phrases and forget that you write it for real people.
Sure, keyword research is an amazing way to guide content development. But always put users first, and create a page that educates the person on what they need to know about the topic given their current level of knowledge.
What I mean by this is that you should include only the information that will help a person understand the very aspect of the topic you’re focusing on and nothing else.
For example, I deliberately do not spend too much time on keyword research in this guide. I could, of course. The research is an integral part of creating content to establish topical authority.
But it’s also a separate topic, and covering it in depth would take the person away from learning what they came to this page for.
Instead, I suggest other pages where I cover the keyword research process in-depth. This allows the reader to go there when ready and does not distract them from learning about topical authority.
Close content gaps between your assets and top-ranking pages
This strategy works for any existing pages you published already and the new content you might be planning to create soon.
Its premise is simple – To ensure that Google perceives your content as authoritative, you must, at minimum, ensure to cover similar information to what users find on top-ranking pages for the keyword.
In short, you must close what’s known as a content gap – information that your competitors cover on their pages, but you do not.
Closing the content gaps will help you identify what information is missing from existing pages and prevents them from ranking better and establishing your authority.
Using the same strategy on new content ideas will help you outline pieces that meet the basic user intent and build upon them to exceed the target audience’s expectations.
Bringing It All Together:
- A topical authority is one of the lesser thought of but highly important ranking factors.
- In simplest terms, topical authority is a website’s perceived authority and expertise in a particular niche or topic.
- Once search engines perceive your site as an authoritative resource on a topic, they are more like to include your pages in the SERP, and that’s even if you lack the domain authority the other top-ranking pages enjoy.
- You establish topical authority by creating in-depth content on a specific topic relating to your product and audience’s needs.
About the Author
Pawel Grabowski is the founder, SEO strategist, and principal content creator at Smashing Copy.
Pawel specializes in building roadmaps that help our clients deliver more targeted organic traffic and website conversions. He also creates and optimizes our clients’ content and has been known for being able to breathe new life and rankings into any old content asset.