How to use topical authority to boost your rankings and grow your blog traffic
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Building topical authority is one of the best ways to rank higher in Google’s search results and grow your website traffic. Better still it’s easy to do and you have complete control (unlike domain authority). Want to learn how to do it? Here’s my complete guide on how to use topical authority to boost your rankings and grow your blog traffic.
When it comes to ranking on Google, it pays to listen to what Google says about the kind of content they want to see rise to the top of its search results.
And one thing Google says over and over again is your content should demonstrate authority and expertise in the topic.
For example, Google says that if you want your content to rank well it should be: “written by an expert or enthusiast who demonstrably knows the topic well.”
And also: “Your content should clearly demonstrate first-hand expertise and a depth of knowledge.”
One of the best ways to ‘prove’ to Google – and to your readers – that you are an expert in your niche and have that depth of knowledge is to build topical authority.
Google says: “We understand authority of content & the notion of topics. If your site has a history of publishing authoritative content for a topic, we can see you as an authority in that area.”
Building topical authority is much easier to do than trying to grow your domain authority, but done well it can help you leapfrog your competition in search results AND it can help you earn more too!
In this guide to topical authority, I’ll cover what exactly topical authority is, how topical authority differs from domain authority, how topical authority can boost your rankings and traffic, how to build topical authority and how to leverage your topical authority to grow your blogging income.
What is topical authority?
Topical authority is a measure of authority on a website. Topical authority is built up by publishing lots of high quality, well written, helpful content on one particular topic. The more high-quality, well-written, helpful pieces of content on a given topic there are on your site, the more likely your website is to be perceived as a trusted source of information on that particular topic – by both Google and your readers.
Topical authority vs domain authority
When we talk about ‘authority’ in SEO terms, most people think of domain authority and backlinks. And, of course, it’s true that improving your backlink profile can help you rank more highly in search results. However, getting high-quality, relevant backlinks (the kind you want!) is hard work, somewhat hit-and-miss and very time-consuming. It’s also largely out of your control – as you are dependant on the actions of other people to link back to your website and give you those backlinks.
Topical authority, however, is completely under your control as it is built up by publishing lots of high-quality, helpful content on a particular topic. The more high-quality blog posts you write on any given topic, the more topical authority you will build up and the higher you will rank for Google searches related to your niche.
How topical authority can boost your rankings and traffic
Google has made it abundantly clear that one of the determiners as to how well a blog post ranks is how authoritative the website is on that particular subject. And one of the key markers of whether a website is an authority on any given subject is the amount and depth of content on that topic.
So, it is obvious that the more in-depth and thoroughly you cover any given topic, the more you will be perceived as an authority in that niche – by both Google and your readers – and the more highly you will rank for search terms related to that topic.
And, of course, the better you rank – and the more search terms you rank for – the more traffic Google will send to your website.
How to build topical authority on your website
Building topical authority will help you rank better on Google and – unlike with domain authority – it is entirely within your control… making it something of a no-brainer. But it won’t happen by accident! Building topical authority is a technique which will require strategy and hard work. Here’s how to do it…
STEP 1: Niche down
Unless you have an enormous staff writing team, you cannot hope to build topical authority on multiple subjects! This means, if you want to build topical authority, you need to niche right down, so you can cover one topic in depth and prove yourself to be an expert in that topic.
Not niching down is one of the biggest mistakes I see bloggers making. They mistakenly believe that, if they don’t niche down, their blogs will have broader appeal and they will get more traffic. Unfortunately, the opposite is true!
Think about your own Google searches… When doing research on a particular topic, what kind of sites do you want to get information from? Big general websites which cover lots of different topics without much depth? Or a specialist website which covers the topic in depth and clearly demonstrates expertise and authority. It’s a no brainer, right?
Well, the same is true for your site! Stop trying to be all things to all people and instead niche down, focus on one single topic (or a few very closely related topics) and aim to become the go-to expert in that topic!
Still a little unconvinced? Let’s take a look at what Google says…
In Google’s list of questions to ask yourself to see if you’re on the right track with your content, they include these two:
“Does your site have a primary purpose or focus?”
“Are you producing lots of content on different topics in hopes that some of it might perform well in search results?”
Google is being really clear here – niche down!
READ MORE >>> How to choose the right niche for your blog
STEP 2: Do keyword research
To build up topical authority, you need to cover your chosen topic thoroughly. That means covering every aspect and angle of your topic – to make your blog a one-stop-shop for everything to do with that topic. A reader interested in the subject of your blog, who arrives on your blog from Google, should feel like they don’t need to go anywhere else because you have covered everything!
To achieve this, you will of course need to do keyword research to discover what keywords your target audience is typing into Google. One of the best tools for this is Google’s own search results. Google’s search results have several features which help you to uncover all the different searches your target audience are googling when it comes to your specialist topic. These are: Autocomplete, People Also Ask and Related Searches.
Start by typing into Google some basic searches people search for in your niche and then make note of additional related queries that come up in Autocomplete, People Also Ask and Related Searches. You can then type the additional queries that come up back into Google to unearth yet more related search queries.
Keep noting these down and performing more searches in order to build up a comprehensive list of all the niche-related searches your target audience are typing into Google.
Another tool you might like to use to help with this research is alsoasked.com Here’s an example of the results from this tool when I typed in the seed keyword ‘start running’.
If you were creating a blog about starting running, this would give you a lot of great topics to cover. And this tool simply pulls data from Google’s People Also Asked, so you know it reflects the real searches made by your target audience.
READ MORE >>> How to use Google Search Results for keyword research
STEP 3: Develop a content strategy
Of course, just because a question appears in Google’s People Also Ask, doesn’t mean you should write a blog post on that topic! In order to turn your blog into a one-stop-shop for search queries relating to your niche, you will need to do some work to determine which queries need a dedicated blog post and which queries do not require an entire blog post to themselves, but should merely be a section in a blog post.
You will also need to decide which queries require a longer, more comprehensive ‘pillar’ or ‘cornerstone’ article and which require a shorter, but more in-depth blog post. You will also find that some queries are pretty much synonyms of each other and so a single blog post will be sufficient answer two or more search queries.
You will also want to group similar content together into ‘topic clusters’ or ‘content clusters’. Topic clusters will help you show to Google and your readers that you have topical authority. A topic cluster consists of one ‘pillar’ or ‘cornerstone’ article, typically an ‘ultimate guide’ or ‘beginner’s guide’ type post (though it doesn’t have to be called that) and then smaller sub / supporting articles which cover a single aspect of the pillar article in more depth.
For example, with our beginners’ running blog, there might be a longer, more comprehensive, ‘pillar’ post on ‘The ultimate guide to losing weight running’ and then shorter supporting articles on ‘How running helps you lose weight’ ‘How to start running when you are overweight’, ‘How much weight can you lose by running?’ ‘Will running reduce belly fat?’ and ‘How often should you run to lose weight’. Further topic clusters could be built around ‘breathing’, ‘beginner’s running plan’ and ‘running skills’, as well as other connected topics like ‘beginner’s running gear’, ‘beginner’s running first race tips’ and so on.
You will also want to plan when you will write each blog post and in what order you will write them – you can then put all of this detail in your Blog Content Calendar.
STEP 4: Write pillar content
When working on developing topical authority, I recommend focusing on just 3 or 4 topic clusters at a time. Work on building up topical authority in these 3-4 topics first before adding new adjacent topic clusters.
The first step for each of these topic clusters is to write the ‘pillar’ or ‘cornerstone’ content. This is one longer, comprehensive, very well written, very well researched blog post on the main subject of the topic cluster.
For example, let’s suppose you have a blog about Italian travel. Your pillar content might be ‘ultimate guide’ type posts for Milan, Florence, Venice and Rome.
As you write your pillar content be aware that you will also be writing supporting articles for the sub queries. Typically, these sub queries appear as sections in the pillar post with a link to the sub article for a more in-depth discussion of the topic.
One way to think of this is the ‘hub and spoke’ model. The pillar content is your hub for a topic and your sub articles are your spokes – giving more depth and demonstrating your topical authority in the subject.
So, for example, in the pillar article on Milan you might have a short section on ‘Where to stay in Milan’. This section would then (eventually) link to a more detailed supporting article on ‘Where to stay in Milan’, where you lay out all the options in much more depth.
READ MORE >>> How to use cornerstone content to increase blog traffic
STEP 5: Build topic clusters
Once you have written the pillar articles, you can then start work building out your topic clusters by writing all the sub articles for each topic cluster.
How many sub articles / spokes you write will depend entirely on your research and how many questions there are on the topic. But you should write enough spoke articles to ensure you are covering the topic comprehensively and demonstrating topical authority.
Once you have built out your initial batch of topic clusters you can then go back to your research and start a new batch of topic clusters.
For example, our Italian travel blogger could create new topic clusters for Naples, Bologna, Turin and Sicily.
As time goes by, and as you build out more and more topic clusters in your niche, it is easy to see how you will become more and more of an authority and more and more of a go-to expert in your niche – both for your readers AND Google.
READ MORE >>> How to write high quality blog posts that rank (according to Google)
STEP 6: Use internal links wisely
Internal linking is essential to the effectiveness of this strategy. As we have already seen, you should include internal links from your pillar / hub content out to the spokes, in order to guide readers (and Google) as to where they can get more in-depth information on the sub topics.
You should also link from all the sub articles in a topic cluster back to the main ‘hub’ article for that cluster. Your hub articles will therefore be the articles on your blog with the most internal links pointing TO them. This is important as it tells Google which articles on your blog are the most important. This is because Google sees the number of links pointing TO an article on your blog as a strong indication of the relative importance of that article compared to all the other articles on your blog.
Finally, you will want to add links anywhere else that might be helpful for readers. Using internal linking wisely will help readers navigate their way round your blog to find the information they most need. It will also help Google understand your blog’s structure and content better – and prove to Google that you really are an authority in your niche!
READ MORE >>> How to use internal linking to boost your SEO
How to leverage your topical authority to grow your blogging income
Of course, niching down, building topical authority and becoming a go-to expert in your subject won’t just help you rank better in Google, it will also make you more of an authority in the eyes of your target audience and bring to your website a steady stream of highly targeted readers who are interested in your specific niche and who perceive you as an expert – you’d be mad not to monetize that!
As a go-to expert in your topic, visitors to your website are looking to you to solve their niche related problems. By offering digital products, such as ebooks and courses, on your site, you can help those who want to go deeper AND grow your blogging income.
Better still, by offering digital products, you position yourself as even more of an expert/authority in your niche – which has the effect of boosting your rankings and traffic even more.
Selling digital products also results in positive testimonials about your digital products, further underlining your expertise and authority, and further boosting your rankings and traffic. It all becomes something of a virtuous circle!
READ MORE >>> How to create a blog monetization strategy (and why you need one!)
How topical authority can boost your domain authority
At the beginning of this article, we saw how topical authority is easier to build than domain authority, because building topical authority is completely within your control, whereas domain authority / backlinks is mostly down to the actions of others.
The irony is that by focusing on topical authority, you may well find it actually boosts your domain authority MORE than if you had focused on traditional domain authority tactics (guest posting, outreach, HARO etc.).
This is because, if you focus on building content depth and topical authority in one tight niche – and therefore become a go-to expert and authority in that niche – people will naturally start linking to you when they are writing an article on your specialist topic, since they wish to cite the go-to expert in that niche.
You may well also find you are invited to speak at summits and on podcasts about your specialist subject, further cementing your position as the go-to expert in your niche and giving you even more high quality, relevant backlinks.
And, of course, all this will further boost your rankings and blog traffic!
READ MORE >>> 15 easy ways to improve your blog’s E-A-T
Topical authority – final thoughts
As we have seen, building topical authority in one tight niche is an easy and effective way to prove to Google (and your readers) that you are an expert and an authority in your niche. The more Google perceives you to be an authority in your niche, the better you will rank for niche-related search terms and the more traffic Google will send to you.
Additionally, the more your readers perceive you as an expert in your topic, the more likely they are to buy your digital products. Digital products, and the resulting testimonials, position you as even more of an expert in your niche, which further improves your rankings and increases your traffic.
Finally, as you become increasingly well known as the go-to expert in your niche, you are likely to find people naturally link to you, thereby increasing your domain authority, which will lead to even higher rankings and even more Google traffic.
- How to get your website to rank on the first page of Google
- 17 reasons why your blog post is not ranking on Google (And how to fix them!)
- How to write high quality blog posts that rank (according to Google)
- How to write helpful content that ranks on Google – lessons from the Helpful Content Update
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As for me personally, this is the best article you have written in a while. In saying that, I have nothing against your other articles. I am speaking for me personally and where I am in my blogging journey. This article is clear, concise, and very helpful. I am saving it for further review and deeper consideration.
That’s so great to hear. I am delighted this landed at just the perfect time for you! Eb 🙂
Excellent post really clearing up for me the benefits to topical authority. I’m even more motivated now to get my cornerstone content to it’s full potential.
Aw, that’s great to hear 😀
This was a really helpful explanation of topical authority! I’m definitely going to rethink my strategy for domain authority and focus more on topical for 2023.
Aw, I am so glad you found it helpful 😀
The “hub-and-spoke” analogy really clarified the topic for me. I’m ready to pull out my whiteboard and start planning!
Yay! That’s great to hear 😀
Authority is definitely an important aspect of blogging. Great write up, followed for tips and tricks.
That’s great to hear! So pleased you found it helpful.