Topical Authority: The What, Why, and How (Don't Ignore It)

Bernard Huang
Table of Contents

    Establishing topical authority is an excellent way to rank your pages in Google search, boosting organic traffic numbers.

    But what exactly is it, and how can you implement it on your website?

    That’s what we’re here to tackle.

    What is topical authority?

    Topical authority is a measure of your website’s credibility, and you build it by consistently creating high-quality content about a given subject. The more informative and comprehensive articles you write about a topic, the more search engines, and readers will see you as a subject matter expert.

    When a website has topical authority, it establishes trustworthiness for keyword searches related to a specific topic.

    Here are a few examples of websites with topical authority:

    • HubSpot: Inbound marketing, digital marketing, sales process

    • Forbes: Business, personal finance, investing, career growth

    • WebMD: Health, nutrition, fitness, medicine

    • Vogue: Fashion, beauty, style

    For example, if you go to Google and search for “business credit card,” you’re going to trust Forbes more than WebMD.


    Because Forbes has established itself as an expert on business and financial topics. Plus, the website has more than 59,000 articles that mention “business credit card,” and WebMD has none.

    The more you write about a topic (and the better your content), the more people and search engines will associate your website with related keywords.

    Like search engine optimization (SEO), two factors determine your topical authority: those you control and those you don’t.

    Let’s take a closer look.

    Internal vs. external topical authority

    External topical authority signals include the elements that happen outside your domain and are mostly out of your control. Examples include backlinks and brand mentions on other domains.

    In contrast, internal topical authority encompasses on-page signals primarily in your control.

    The six internal topical authority building blocks are:

    1. Topic depth

    2. Topic breadth

    3. Crawl efficiency

    4. Content volume

    5. Content monitoring

    6. Content optimization

    Internal vs. external topical authority signals.

    The rest of this guide will focus on optimizing internal building blocks since those are the elements you have the power to change.

    But first, let’s dive into the relationship between topical authority and SEO.

    How topical authority helps with SEO

    SEO is all about sending the right signals to readers and search engines. In terms of content, you need to optimize your website to demonstrate what Google refers to as E-A-T: expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness.

    Google’s search quality rater guidelines describe these terms as:

    • Expertise of the content creator

    • Authoritativeness of the creator, content, and website

    • Trustworthiness of the creator, content, and website

    To be rated as very high or highest quality content, you must have a “very high level of expertise, authority, and trustworthiness” and a “very positive website reputation.”

    Building authority as a subject matter expert for particular topic signals to searchers and Google that your website is trustworthy.

    Establishing this reputation of expertise helps improve your rankings on search engine results pages (SERPs) and strengthen the association between your brand and relevant keywords.

    Measuring topical authority

    Topical authority, while helpful, is a relatively new concept in the world of SEO. As such, measuring it may be a bit more art than science.

    One helpful clue into your level of topical authority is your traffic share. Traffic share is similar to market share, but you’re measuring traffic on search engines instead of product purchases.

    You can use the traffic share by domains feature on Ahrefs to see how big your slice of the organic traffic pie is compared to other domains. The higher your relative traffic share, the better your topical authority.

    Ahrefs traffic share by domain.

    You can also see which domain ranks #1 for individual keywords. You can use this information to find target keywords where you aren’t ranked at the top yet.

    Using traffic share as a baseline metric will help you understand your current level of perceived authority and set measurable goals for your business-to-consumer (B2C) or business-to-business (B2B) content strategy.

    Now that we’ve covered measurement let’s go over how to build topical authority for your website.

    How to build topical authority

    1. Select a wide breadth of topics

    2. Use subtopics to build content depth

    3. Write comprehensive content

    4. Find a unique angle for every piece

    5. Define your brand’s voice

    6. Ensure crawl efficiency

    7. Increase your publishing velocity

    8. Market your brand on other domains

    9. Continue monitoring existing content

    1. Select a wide breadth of topics

    Topic breadth (also known as horizontal topical authority) refers to the number of semantically-related topics you cover in your content strategy.

    Let’s say you sell customer relationship management (CRM) software, and you want to rank high on SERPs for commercial intent keywords like “best CRM software” or “buy CRM software.”

    If you only target bottom-of-the-funnel keywords, you’re skipping the top and middle sections of the sales funnel, which is where you build trust.

    So, you want to start at the top of the funnel and build a relationship that will help your posts rank higher and drive more conversions.  You can do that by covering adjacent subjects with topical relevance.

    For “CRM software,” related topics can include:

    • Sales

    • Analytics

    • Marketing

    • Productivity

    • Email marketing

    Horizontal topical authority provides context around your brand’s level of expertise, and you can use it to suggest use cases for your product.

    This is an excerpt from George Chasiotis' webinar on How to Build Topical Authority.

    2. Use subtopics to build content depth

    Once you know the high-level semantic topics (content pillars) you want to cover, it’s time to think about content depth.

    Content depth helps inform your keyword research. In short, you’re brainstorming the individual content pieces (and target keywords) that will support your content pillars. The idea here is to create a content hub for each pillar.

    Let’s take one of the pillars from our CRM scenario: marketing.

    For this topic, you can develop content around the following target keywords:

    • Digital marketing

    • ROI of marketing

    • Content marketing

    • Marketing analytics

    • Marketing strategies

    • Social media marketing

    • Marketing funnel stages

    • How to write a marketing plan

    By covering a subject in-depth, you’re proving to readers and search engine algorithms that you have comprehensive knowledge about a given topic (as opposed to a superficial understanding).

    Content pillar chart with topical breadth and depth.

    3. Write comprehensive content

    Now that we’ve covered the two elements of your editorial strategy, let’s turn to the tactics you can use to optimize each piece of content.

    To start, take the same idea of depth we used for keyword selection and apply it to content creation.

    To establish expertise, you should cover each subtopic in depth by answering the main question and then elaborating to provide more value.

    Related themes and questions are an excellent starting point when you want to figure out what else to include in your post.

    Let’s take the keyword “marketing analytics.”

    That’s an informational term where the user goes to a search engine to learn more about marketing analytics.

    If we look at this keyword in the Clearscope content editor, the Research tab will show related themes and questions.

    Clearscope content editor for the keyword “marketing analytics.”

    Let’s look at a few of the related themes and see how you can turn them into sections of a post:

    • Customer: Measuring customer satisfaction, lifetime value of a customer, customer-focused metrics

    • Digital: Digital marketing analytics metrics, social media marketing analytics, email marketing analytics

    • Software: When to use marketing analytics software, best marketing analytics software, how to choose marketing analytics software

    You can also add content depth by answering questions listed in the Research tab, such as:

    • How is marketing analytics done?

    • What are examples of marketing analytics?

    • What are the different kinds of marketing analytics?

    That’s the difference between doing the bare minimum and creating valuable content that anticipates the reader’s needs.

    4. Find a unique angle for every piece

    Along with focusing on accurate and in-depth content, find a way to set each of your pieces apart from the competition.

    Let’s face it — a lot of information is repeated on Google and other search engines.

    So what will make you unique in readers' eyes and Google’s algorithm? Stand apart with a different content structure to create a unique user experience.

    There are a few approaches you can take, such as:

    • Expert quotes or interviews

    • Providing a new method or solution

    • Suggesting a new point of view on an existing topic

    • Primary research (doing your own studies or surveys)

    All of those are excellent choices, and the good news is that you don’t have to stick with just one. Just make sure to include at least one for each piece of content you create.

    How to create unique content. You can add a new point of view, new solution, primary research, and expert quotes.

    5. Define your brand’s voice

    At some point, you might have several people generating content for your brand, whether you outsource or hire in-house.

    As your content operations expand, creating a seamless content and user experience for your brand is crucial by establishing content standards and defining your voice.

    How jarring would it be if your blog posts didn’t have the same tone, grammar rules, or structures?

    Consistency is an essential part of reliability. So, you want to decide how your brand looks, feels, and sounds to your readers and search engines before you work on scaling content.

    To do that, create a brand style guide describing the voice and tone writers should use when creating content.

    For instance, is your brand casual or serious? Friendly and conversational or formal and professional?

    Your guide should also include:

    • How to handle numbers

    • Guidelines around humor

    • Punctuation and formatting for lists

    • If you use first, second, or third-person pronouns

    • Which grammar rules to follow (such as AP Style or Chicago Style)

    • Capitalization for titles and headings (like sentence vs. camel-case)

    • Which version of words with various spelling to use (like e-commerce vs. e-commerce)

    When you define your brand’s voice early, it’s easier to scale without disrupting the reader’s experience. Not to mention style guides also serve as accountability and quality assurance tools for writers and editors.

    6. Ensure crawl efficiency

    Crawl efficiency refers to how easy (or difficult) it is for search engine bots to discover and index the pages on your website. If they have difficulty getting through your web pages, then your efforts to create contextually-relevant pages are ineffective.

    Internal link building and URL structure are the two main factors to improve crawl efficiency.

    Adding relevant and useful internal links with thoughtful anchor text to each piece of content helps search engines understand your website’s structure and hierarchy.

    Learn more: What Is Pagerank in SEO, and Why Does It Matter?

    It also makes it easier for search engines (and readers) to get to know your brand by discovering more of your content.

    Start by keeping your URL structure evergreen. In other words, create guidelines for URL structures ahead of time so that there’s consistency even if you hire new people.

    For instance, let’s say you’re building a content pillar around the topic of “CRM,” and you have articles around keywords like “what is a CRM?” and “CRM for marketing.” Your URL structures may look like this:



    In this example, you start with the topic and then use the exact match keyword, making it easy for readers and search engines to understand that both pages fall into the “CRM” topic cluster.

    We’ll save the more technical SEO strategies and tips for a future article.

    Learn more: How to Master On-Page SEO

    7. Increase your publishing velocity

    While quality is the most important aspect of a content marketing strategy, quantity comes in a close second.

    Semrush’s 2022 State of Content Marketing survey asked respondents which tactics were most effective with organic content ranking in 2021, and 45% said, “creating more content and posting more often.”

    (The only tactic that had more success was “improving the quality of our content, making it more authentic,” which 61% of respondents chose.)

    Increasing publishing velocity is an excellent way to prove your subject matter expertise to search engines — as long as you don’t sacrifice quality.

    If you want to ramp up your content volume, there are a few steps you can take.

    First, you can expand your content team by hiring new in-house writers or outsourcing content creation. The Content Marketing Institute’s 2021 B2B Benchmark Report found that 86% of B2B organizations outsource content creation.

    Along with bolstering your content team, you can cover one topic in several formats by repurposing content. For example, you can take a webinar and turn it into shorter video segments, an infographic, and an article featuring quotes from the presenters.

    8. Market your brand on other domains

    You can’t control when and how other people mention your brand on their domain, but you can market yourself elsewhere. Specifically, you can take advantage of guest posting and social media.

    Many SEO marketers lean into guest posting (and participation) to reach relevant new audiences and boost their brand’s perceived authority and expertise.

    Examples of guest participation that are not blog posts include:

    • Providing expert quotes for other content creators

    • Participating in case studies for your vendors

    • Partaking in webinars for another brand

    All of those options help you reach more viewers, establish credibility, and (usually) generate more inbound links to your domain.

    Social media is another excellent way to build awareness with a larger audience. You can share your blog posts on social feeds and encourage team members to share articles.

    A snippet from Camille Trent’s webinar “How to Repurpose SEO Content for Social.”

    9. Continue monitoring existing content

    High-quality SEO content isn’t just comprehensive and easy to read. It also needs to be up-to-date and based on the latest findings to stay relevant.

    Auditing existing content and updating your previously published articles is a productive way to continue getting the most out of your content investment. It can also boost your topical authority because people will trust you more if you regularly update content.

    Semrush’s survey found that 57% of brands audit their content twice a year or more. And they see results: after updating content, 45% of respondents saw more engagement, and 43% said their SERP rankings improved.

    Here are a few steps to take when auditing and updating your existing posts:

    • Update statistics and citations to reflect the most recent findings. If you cite annual surveys or benchmark reports, update those each year.

    • Address new trends and technology. Keep up with changes, especially when writing about technology. Cover new platforms (such as TikTok) or feature updates (like shopping Instagram posts).

    • Look for changes in user intent for the primary keyword. Analyze search intent for primary keywords to ensure that you’re still answering the right questions.

    Clearscope Content Inventory feature.

    Clearscope’s optimization tool features a content inventory that automatically monitors your published pieces and notifies you of changes in user intent. That way, you know when it’s time to update.

    Final thoughts: Topical authority and how to implement it on your site

    If you want to capture more organic traffic, it’s helpful to establish topical authority by positioning your website as an industry thought leader.

    By doing so, you prove to readers and search engines that your website is a trustworthy source of expert information.

    Explore Clearscope today if you’re ready to take the guesswork out of content SEO and get more out of each post.

    Written by
    Bernard Huang
    Co-founder of Clearscope

    Join thousands of marketers who receive our weekly emails.

    We share content marketing best practices and SEO strategies from the brightest minds in marketing. You’ll also be the first to learn about and join our next weekly webinar with the industry’s best.

    Join today
    ©2024 Mushi Labs. All rights reserved.
    Terms of service, Privacy policy