AZoNetwork Media Kit 2024 Download Now

What is Topical Authority?

Topical authority refers to a website's expertise on a specific subject, which differs from domain authority (DA). DA is a score predicting the likelihood your site will rank in search engine results pages (SERPs). It isn't a direct rank factor used in SE algorithms. Topical authority is, and it's growing more prevalent.

Understanding Topical Authority in Context

Google recently updated its E-A-T principle with another E, for experience. The implication is authors with first-hand experience of a subject are more trustworthy. Credibility has always been a core facet of authority. They go hand-in-hand in. Your trustworthiness drives your authority signals, which tell SEs to rank you highly.

The topical authority system is an evolution of this dynamic. But it's important to note the system isn't new. Here are two key milestones that illustrate the point:

  • In 2011, Google Panda laid the foundations of semantic SEO. It penalised low-quality content that used black-hat SEO tactics. (keyword stuffing, link farming, etc.). High-quality content was crowned King.
  • BERT (2019) was a dramatic expansion of semantic search. Using natural language processing (NLP), Google could better understand the search context. The concept of search intent came into vogue.

Finally, in May 2023, Google offered a primer to understanding news topic authority. They claim the system aims to determine which sources are experts in specialist subjects. Typically, this applies to health, politics, or finance. But the principle applies beyond Your Money or Your Life (YMYL) pages.

How Topical Authority Works

Three primary signals factor into topical authority:

  • How notable a source is for a topic
  • Influence and original reporting
  • Source reputation

If you consistently produce original, high-quality content on a relevant topic, it signals your subject matter expertise to SEs. This, in turn, can lead to higher rankings and a surge in organic traffic.

"What you're essentially doing is, on the one hand, for search engines, you're building out your reputation of knowledge on that specific topic area. And for users, as well, it provides a little bit more context on why they should trust you."

- John Mueller, Google Webmaster Trends Analyst

How to Build Topical Authority?

Establishing topical authority is a matter of demonstrating credibility and expertise. Easier said than done. Especially when competing in technical B2B arenas. But this isn't a new concept. Your bread-and-butter rank factors and SEO strategy haven't changed. The goal is still to create high-quality, authoritative content with a strategic keyword focus and internal linking strategy.

That said, there are a few advanced concepts to consider:

  • Semantically related keywords: Conceptually-linked terms. These aren't secondary keywords or intent modifiers but phrases that provide context. This context becomes crucial in the era of semantic search. For instance, if your main topic is "digital marketing," semantically related terms might include "content strategy," "SEO techniques," "social media campaigns," and "email marketing." Semantically related terms help you broaden your keywords into concepts.
  • User intent: The underlying motivation or purpose behind a user's search query. It's a fundamental concept in SEO, where SEs use machine learning to rank search results based on the perceived intent behind a search query (informational, transactional, etc.). User intent clarifies how to best serve users interested in those concepts.

Both concepts are already essential to modern SEO. You can deploy them using a model like topic clustering to show expansive topical authority. This approach can be time-consuming but effective:

  1. Group targeted keywords into subjects linked by semantic terms
  2. Build a central piece of content, or pillar page, per subject
  3. Create sub-pages related to the pillars
  4. Link each sub-page within the topic to the pillar

Visualise this as a wheel. The pillar is the hub, and the links are the spokes. Sub-pages are interspersed around the circumference, connected to each other by "horizontal" links. FYI: The links back to the pillar are "vertical" links. These should point from the sub-pages inwards to the pillar. Again, this isn't a new concept in link-building. But it has taken on greater relevance.

The benefits of this are manifold. It creates an ecosystem of pages that are:

  • Optimally interlinked
  • Semantically and topically related
  • Individually targetted to short- and long-tail keywords

You can realise enormous peripheral benefits too:

"And for search engines...if we can recognize that this website is really good for this broader topic area, then if someone is searching for that broader topic, we can try to show that website, as well."

- John Mueller, Google Webmaster Trends Analyst

In essence, establishing yourself as a subject matter expert in one area may help you rank higher for separate but related topics. We see this routinely in our SEO department, where blogs tightly focused on one or two keywords gain rankings for a host of terms. These include long-tail and short-tail keywords. Broad-match, phrase-match, and related.


Posted by Ben Stibbs-Eaton

Ben is a skilled wordsmith with a passion for language and over 20 years of experience crafting written content in various forms. He holds an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Chester. At AZoNetwork, Ben leads the SEO Web Services team and manages the blog component of the company's SEO service. His expertise lies in search intent analysis and topical authority. He is working towards a CMI Level 5 Certificate in Management and Leadership to further enhance his managerial skills. Additionally, he aims to obtain a Blockchain Council certification in prompt engineering. Outside of work, Ben is dedicated to his writing pursuits. He is currently seeking representation for his debut novel and has gained a global readership with his short-form prose and poetry, reaching readers on every continent except Antarctica. In his leisure time, Ben enjoys rock climbing, indulging in films, creating puns, and takes pride in being a full-time people-pleaser.

Related Posts:

Send us an Email

If you’d like to know more, request information on pricing or provide us with feedback, we’d like to hear from you.


Receive Scientific Content Marketing Updates

Subscribe to the Marketing Science blog and never miss an update! (We will only ever use your email for Marketing Science updates)

The Terms agreement box above must be checked before this can be submitted.

Your privacy (see our Privacy Policy for full details)

  • AZoNetwork will process the personal data you provide together with any other information we receive from or about you for administration, market research, profiling, and relationship building based on our legitimate interests (or those of our suppliers) to do so to educate and encourage innovation in science. We may retain it for 5 years after your last interaction on secure servers in the United States of America using a trusted service provider.
  • With your consent, AZoNetwork, our Suppliers, or those legal entities that are Subsidiaries or Direct Affiliates of the Supplier(s), will send you information you request by email or tailored on-screen messages.
  • We will not sell your personal data but may share it with relevant suppliers, or those legal entities that are Subsidiaries or Direct Affiliates of the supplier(s) (some of which are in other regions of the world), to enable us and them to provide quotations, content updates and related products and services if you have requested these and to verify any industry sector statistics we provide to them. You can view our Supplier Directory by clicking here.
  • You have the right to access your personal data and, in some cases, to require us to restrict, erase or rectify it or to object to our processing it and the right of data portability. Concerns or complaints can be made to or the UK Information Commissioner’s Office.