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Understanding SEO: Topical Authority and Relevance

September 23, 2023
September 23, 2023

Understanding SEO: Topical Authority and Relevance

Erin Porter

Imagine if your website was ranking for every keyword within your target niche. With topical authority, you can. In the past, search engines primarily focused on matching keywords found on a webpage to a user's search query. However, the continuous evolution of Google search algorithms has rendered the SEO landscape significantly different from just five or ten years ago. SEO experts are seeing an undeniable and ever-surging shift towards topical authority, an SEO concept consisting of efforts aiming toward your website becoming the source trusted by consumers on one or numerous topics within your industry. Read on for more on how our B2B Webflow agency integrates topic-centric strategy into our SEO efforts.

A tree map demonstrating website topical authority branches to pillar pages categorized by colors with topic clusters surrounding each.

Anatomy Of Topical Authority

Topic-based SEO consists of two elements that semantically and authoritatively encompass the service/product of a brand.

Pillar Pages

Pillar pages are the foundational pieces of content within a topical authority strategy. These pages serve as comprehensive guides covering a broad topic in overview detail. Pillar pages are strategically optimized for relevant keywords and attract significant organic traffic. What sets pillar pages apart is their ability to act as the central hub or cornerstone for a cluster of related content. They link out to and are linked from cluster pages, creating a logical and hierarchical content structure that signals to search engines your expertise in the subject matter.

Topic Clusters

Topic clusters display niche expertise to bolster and support the site architecture for topical authority. Taking pillar page content a step further, topic cluster pages provide detailed insights, answer specific questions, and address various facets of the topic, catering to different user intents. These pages link back to the pillar page, providing context and relevance with additional interlinking between sibling topic cluster pages within the same pillar topic. This interconnected web of content acts as ranking factor identifiers to search engines that your website offers comprehensive coverage of the subject matter.

In essence, topic clusters work with pillar pages to create a cohesive content structure that strengthens topical authority by demonstrating expertise across a comprehensive range of subtopics.

Why should strategists care about topical authority?

Keywords alone can no longer effectively organize information as they used to; instead, the spotlight has shifted to topics. While keywords may uncover various terms used to search for similar results, they fail to capture the nuanced semantic relationships that topics can produce. In the contemporary SEO paradigm, the emphasis is increasingly on comprehensively covering topics rather than fixating on isolated keywords. Google’s Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness (E-E-A-T) model is one example of supporting evidence that topic-centric content creation effectively pleases the algorithm and users.

How does topical authority work?

In 2013, Google’s Hummingbird algorithm introduced topical authority logic into the ranking system. Hummingbird generates search engine results based on a page's relevance to the user’s query. Before Hummingbird, Google’s algorithm was primarily reliant upon keyword optimization. Keywords were vital to web crawlers' understanding of users' expectations when they searched. Google also relied heavily on inbound links to determine whether a page was authoritative, largely regardless of the content on the page. Voice search amplified the demand for optimizing semantically with the introduction of Alexa, Google Assistant, and Cortana.

Topical authority still benefits from keyword optimization, but it also remains heavily reliant on a page’s contents. If a page consists of more keywords and other subtopics relating to the primary topic, that page is likely to have topical authority.

Inputs Of Topical Authority

Now that we understand how topical authority works, let's break out the four inputs of topical relevance that collaborate to facilitate a comprehensive topical strategy.

Topic Clusters

Incorporating topical authority into content strategy requires a deliberate and systematic approach. Conduct thorough research to identify the key topics and subtopics relevant to your niche or industry. Creating SEO topic clusters requires an SEO-minded site architecture (website hierarchy).

Internal links between pillar and topic cluster pages help Google and users find related content to your landing pages. Internal linking also assists in semantic page relationships, or how content fits together on your website and industry. Ensure that your topic clusters include well-rounded subtopics that provide users with an accurate and informative roadmap.

Segment topic clusters by user intent. A robust topical authority strategy identifies and addresses users across all intent stages, from informational and research intents to transactional and navigational intents.

Topical Content Strategy

Once you've identified relevant topic clusters, develop a content creation plan that includes pillar pages – comprehensive, in-depth articles that cover the main topics comprehensively – and topic cluster pages, which delve into specific subtopics. Ensure your content is well-researched, highly informative, and addresses different user intents. Optimize your content for relevant keywords and phrases, but do so naturally, avoiding keyword stuffing.

Diversify your content types and formats to cater to different user preferences. This may include blog posts, articles, videos, infographics, podcasts, case studies, and more. Regularly update and refresh your content to keep it current and relevant, and actively promote and distribute across media channels and link building opportunities to expand your reach and authority within your chosen topics.

Green, orange, pink, and blue boxes segment the four user intent types.

Analyze User Intent

Addressing user intent types is crucial to building topical authority for your website. User intent refers to the underlying motivation or purpose behind a user's online search query. Understanding and effectively addressing different user intent types enhances your website's relevance, credibility, and authority in your chosen topics.

User intent often dictates keywords, phrases, and content used in search queries. By optimizing your content for a variety of relevant keywords associated with different user intent types, you increase your chances of ranking well for a diverse range of search queries.

Phones with icons of cars, car repair services, and a money bag with chain link icons between each represent internal linking between pillar and topic cluster pages to build topical authority.

Optimize Site Architecture

Optimizing site architecture is a crucial step in building topical authority for your website. Create a content map that outlines the main topics and subtopics you plan to cover on your website. This map will serve as a blueprint for your site's structure.

Organize your content into topic clusters or silos. Each cluster should have a pillar content piece at its center, covering the main topic comprehensively. Subtopics related to the pillar content should link back to it and each other, creating a clear hierarchy.

Ensure that your URL structure reflects your content hierarchy. Use concise and keyword-rich URLs that clarify what each page is about. Implement a robust internal linking strategy. Inter-link related content on your site to guide users and search engines. Prioritizing these technical SEO items helps distribute authority across your site and reinforces topical relevance. Include external links to relevant information from authoritative resources Google can identify.

Use structured data to provide search engines with structured data about your content. Schema markup can enhance the visibility of your content in search results, especially in featured snippets, rich results, and voice search results.

Invest in Topical Relevance For Long-Lasting Search Results

Incorporating topic clusters into your content strategy is a powerful method to build topical authority. Start by identifying core topics and creating comprehensive pillar content around them, optimizing for relevant keywords. Then, delve into related subtopics with cluster content, linking back to the pillar page and within the cluster to create a structured content hierarchy. Align your content with various user intents, maintaining high quality and authority throughout. Regular updates and strategic internal linking keep your content fresh and interconnected. Promote your content, monitor performance, and expand your cluster strategy as your authority grows. By following this approach, you can establish your website as an authoritative resource in your chosen topics, boost search engine rankings, and attract a larger, more engaged audience. Stay up-to-date on the latest digital marketing news and search industry updates with Red Shark Digital.

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