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Topical Authority in SEO: What Is It & How to Build It

Topical Authority in SEO: What Is It & How to Build It

Home Blog Digital Marketing Topical Authority in SEO: What Is It & How to Build It

Imagine a scenario where every time you publish an article on your website, it quickly starts ranking in the top positions in Google.

Understanding topical authority, and how to build it for your website is a crucial step to helping your website perform better in Google, thereby attracting more organic traffic.

In this article, you will learn what topical authority is, why it’s important, and how to strategically build your website to be a topical authority. Let’s get right into it!

What is Topical Authority?

There’s no definitive definition of topical authority because Google hasn’t given one.

However, it’s an often-discussed concept among website owners and SEO communities, and is often referred to as your website’s expertise and credibility on a specific topic.

When your site has strong topical authority on a subject, and you publish articles on those topics, then those articles often tend to rank quickly and in the top positions in Google.

With or without a definition, I can tell you what I’ve learned about topical authority based on my experience of growing Hepper and PetKeen to a combined organic traffic of more than 6 million readers per month.

The concept of topical authority becomes a lot less abstract when looking at practical examples:

  • TripAdvisor: a topical authority on travel
  • Fastcompany: a topical authority on business news
  • Tesla: a topical authority on Tesla and electric vehicles
  • Buzzaboutbees: a topical authority on bees

I’m sure you are already familiar with some of the above websites, and can quickly pinpoint them as topical authorities without needing to see their rankings in Google search. They are big brands that have established themselves as go-to resources in their respective industries.

The Power of Topical Authority When Sites Get It Right

Look at this screenshot of a Google Search about how to protect a chicken coop from predators. Notice how in this scenario the sites solely focused on chickens are outranking household brand names such as HGTV, The Spruce, and the University of New Hampshire:

Example high ranking on google

That goes to show the power of topical relevance: sometimes your small website can outrank huge, million-dollar brands because your site has more topical relevance.

How to Strategically Establish Topical Authority

There are two primary factors that establish a website as a topical authority:

#1: Cover the topic in-depth by publishing hundreds or thousands of articles

The main way to establish your website as a topical authority is to cover the topic in-depth from many angles. This means writing lots of articles, and your goal should be to create content that’s much better than what’s already out there.

Let’s say that you want to establish your website as a topical authority on how to raise chickens._ _Your goal should be to cover everything you can about the topic. Publishing hundreds or thousands of articles about raising chickens. Anything from the different breeds of chickens to how to choose the right chicken coop.

When going in-depth with a topic you’ll often find lots of subtopics, and hundreds if not thousands of article ideas. Here’s an example of a topical map I quickly brainstormed:

Example of topical map

Now there’s a smarter way to build a topical map. Instead of relying on gut feel and guesswork, you can instead make data-driven decisions to get an estimate of what articles people are looking for.

A free, simple solution is to go to Google, search for something about your topic, and then look at the Google autocomplete data to get ideas for articles to write:

Google autocomplete data example

#2: Attract backlinks

Backlinks are links on one website that, when clicked, go to another website. Here’s a screenshot from a blog post on Mention that shows what a backlink typically looks like:

Backlink example

Backlinks were confirmed in 2016 to be one of Google’s strongest ranking factors. And it makes sense: if you have a website about health information, and you attract lots of links from other authoritative topically relevant websites like Healthline or WebMD and authoritative news sites like Washington Post and NYTimes, then that’s a good indication that your site is also likely to be authoritative.

Method 1: Statistics posts

Journalists are often looking for statistics to back up their claims. For example: maybe a journalist is writing an article about pets and is looking for pet spending statistics, and if you have an article on that, then the journalist may do a Google search, find your article, cite your statistic, and link back to you as the source.

Over time this can result in your post attracting lots of great links, and the beautiful thing is that once you’ve written the post, it’s likely to passively attract links over the next many years. Here’s an example of this strategy in practice:

On Hepper, we published a post about pet industry statistics:

Pet industry statistics
Source

This post quickly started ranking well for keywords like ‘pet industry statistics’ and ‘pet industry growth predictions’, which means that journalists have been finding this resource when looking for sources, which has meant that this article attracted backlinks from highly-authoritative websites like SeekingAlpha and Finance.Yahoo:

Arhef keyword research

Finding these opportunities is quick and easy. Simply open your keyword research tool of choice. I prefer using Ahrefs, so here’s how to do it in Ahrefs (the process should be fairly similar with other keyword research tools).

Go to Keywords Explorer, search for ‘statistics’, then choose ‘United States’ and click the search button.

Arhef keyword explorer

Then in the left sidebar click ‘Matching terms’:

Arhef list of keywords

You’ll now see a list of keywords that people often search for that contain the word ‘statistics’.

However, let’s say that your site is in the travel niche. What you would want to see is a list of statistics keywords about traveling.

In the top menu press ‘Include’, then write ‘travel’ inside the field, and then press ‘Apply’:

Arhef matching terms

You’ll now be presented with a plethora of keywords about travel statistics, and you can see data like the monthly ‘Volume’ of searches for those:

Arhef keyword volume

Based on the above, here are some good potential articles to get started writing:

  • X Business Travel Statistics, Facts, & Trends in 2024
  • X Solo Travel Statistics, Facts, & Trends in 2024
  • X Statistics about Millennial Travelers in 2024
  • X Air Travel Statistics, Facts, & Trends in 2024

Then I would start looking at the articles that are currently ranking in top 3 of Google for those keywords to get inspiration, and then you should focus on how you can create an article that’s even better, and provides even more value.

If you execute well on this strategy, you will likely find yourself in a situation where your posts passively attract links that help establish your site as an authority in the niche.

Pro tip: If your site is new, and hasn’t established itself as a topical authority yet, then it’s a good idea to start with lower-competition keywords that have fewer highly authoritative websites ranking for them in Google.

Method 2: How to turn unlinked brand mentions into backlinks

On your path to building up your website, there’s a simple and efficient way to attract high-quality backlinks: that’s where unlinked mentions come in.

Unlinked mentions are where other websites mention your brand without linking back to your website. And these are low-hanging fruits, because the website has already talked about your brand. Often all it takes is just a quick email for them to link to your website.

How to Find Unlinked Mentions

The first step is to start monitoring for mentions of your brand. Mention is a great tool for this, and they have a 14-day free trial, so you can quickly get started.

1. Set up a simple alert to monitor for mentions of your website’s name and its related terms, such as your website’s products or services.

Mention monitoring dashboard

2. Choose which sources you want to monitor for mentions:

Sources to monitor on Mention

3. Choose which languages and regions to look for mentions in.

Mention will start looking for already-existing mentions of your brand. It will also proactively keep monitoring for future occurrences of articles where your brand is mentioned.

4. Browse through the brand mentions, and look for unlinked mentions:

Example of brand mentions

5. Once you’ve found an unlinked mention, you’re going to want to reach out to the website.

6. Now it’s time to send them a pitch convincing them to turn their unlinked mention into a backlink to your website.  Make sure to write a personalized message to them. Here’s a great template to use as a starting point:

Hi [first name],

Thank you so much for mentioning [brand] in your blog post! It’s a very well-written article, and we really appreciate it!

I was wondering if you could by chance link to [website] in your article? I think it would help your readers find [brand], and it would mean a lot to us! 🙂

PS. Feel free to reach out if you have any ideas for future collaborations!

Kind regards.

Understanding the Relationship Between Topical Authority and E-E-A-T

We’ve seen several methods to increase your topical authority, but we’ve saved an important concept for the end.

If your site’s domain name is about chickens, your site’s focus is likely already limited to chickens. So even if you were to write some amazing content about astrology, it’s unlikely to rank well in Google since it doesn’t have much to do with chickens.

Having great content is not enough. _Who _writes the content is also important.

You want all your chicken articles written by and/or reviewed by someone who has experience, expertise, authority, and trust on the subject.

Known as E-E-A-T (Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness), this initialism is mentioned 126 times in the Google search quality rater guidelines, which is key to helping us understand the quality that Google wants to see on a website.

These guidelines don’t tell us how the algorithm is ranking results, but they fundamentally show what the algorithm should do.

Now, if you have a website about health, then that probably means working with doctors. If you have a site about finance, that probably means working with accountants, and other finance professionals.

However, with our example about raising chickens, there’s not a standardized certification in the niche. So what’s important here is that the articles are written by someone who has spent countless hours raising chickens, and learning everything that there is to know about them.

Smart Ways to Demonstrate E-E-A-T

A great way to demonstrate E-E-A-T for this niche is by including an author box (aka byline) on every post, one that clearly demonstrates the writer’s expertise on the topic.

Here’s a great example from ChickensAndMore:

Author bio chickensandmore

What’s great about Chris Lesley’s author box is we can see her with chickens, and she has a certificate in Animal Behavior and Welfare. Any reasonable person would not dispute Ms. Lesley’s authority on raising chickens.

Other great ways to increase your E-E-A-T could be to publish a book about raising chickens and make sure that your website has a detailed “About Us” page, with author profiles.

Digital marketing campaign

Conclusion

Establishing topical authority is a crucial concept that should be top-of-mind for website owners and their team. When getting it right, you’re likely to see profound results in the form of high levels of organic traffic from search engines.

Equipped with this article, you’re able to create a strategy to cover your niche(s) in-depth with credible and trustworthy content, attract links, and establish E-E-A-T.

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Simon Treulle

CEO & Founder @Pangolia & Hepper