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Deciphering Topical Authority and It’s Importance in 2024

2023 took the SEO world by storm, and many experts agree that we learned more about SEO in 2023 than we have in the several years prior. Content and topical authority are still important, but what is topical authority, and what do you need to know in 2024?

Let’s break down what you need to know and keep your eye on to be successful in your SEO this year.

What is Topical Authority?

Topical authority demonstrates your expertise and authority on a particular topic. It’s another way of saying subject matter expert.

Anybody can say they are an expert in something, but not everybody can demonstrate that they are an expert in something.

When I say topic, think of it like your field or your vertical.

If you are a photographer, your topic is obviously photography and other related branches, like editing software and perhaps technology like cameras and memory cards.

Anything beyond that is outside of your “topic” and thus should be left alone.

For example, if you’re a photographer who enjoys landscape photography and hiking, you should refrain from branching off into discussions about hiking.

Although you may enjoy hiking and have to do it to get to some of your locations to capture your landscape photography, your expertise is not in hiking. Your expertise is photography.

If you look at Fstoppers’ sitemap, you can see that their topics mostly revolve around photography.

Fstoppers sitemep shows their topical authority

The same thing goes for all fields and industries. Whatever your core offerings, core services, or core line of products are, that is your main topic.

Thus, you need to demonstrate topical authority or that you are an expert in your topic/field/industry/area of expertise.

What do you think of when you hear the name Nike? What comes to mind? Coffee or shoes?

Shoes. 

Yes, they have other product lines now, but they’ve built their brand around their core product, and your website content should do the same.

Why Topical Authority is Important to People

When potential customers come to your site, they want to know you are qualified to speak about your topic. 

Demonstrating that you are an authority in your field makes the buying or selling process much easier.

Think of it this way: if you were in legal trouble, would you want to hire somebody who has been in the courtroom once and has written an article on it?

Or do you want a bunch of kids who were just told what a subpoena is?

legal experts

The answer is obvious: you want an expert.

This is why it’s crucial to demonstrate that you are an expert in your field and have the authority to discuss the topic.

So, no matter what your product or service is, discuss issues pertinent to your ideal customer on your website blog. 

Not only will that be helpful for your potential customers, but it also demonstrates that you know what you’re talking about and can be trusted.

Why is Topical Authority Important to Search Engines 

Google and other search engines like Bing and DuckDuckGo want to serve the most relevant search results for any given query.

A lot goes into search engines, including how they operate and how they choose the content they render on the search engine result pages (SERPs). Essentially, it comes down to topical relevance and site authority. 

Suppose somebody is looking for a source of information on how to transform their van into an RV. In that case, search engines will display results from websites that often discuss those topics. 

They will likely not show an article on the website with only one article discussing the topic.

The exception is for huge and authoritative sites like Forbes, Huffington Post, and the like. 

Because they have so much online authority, and by authority, I mean they have millions of backlinks pointing to their websites, they have a lot of trust with search engines.

Forbes can pretty much write whatever it wants, and it will fall on the first page of Google, whether good quality or not, simply because they have a lot of site authority.

But for the rest of us mortals, we must build site and topical authority.

You’ve heard it said before that riches are in the niches, and that’s precisely true. Your site should narrow down and talk about one specific topic or area of issues if you want to be seen as an authority.

How Local Businesses Can Build Topical Authority 

For local businesses, there is good news and bad news.

The good news is that local businesses really only need to worry about their geographic location and how it relates to their business practice.

The bad news is, this is sometimes difficult to do.

For example, let’s say you are a local pest control company in Charlotte, North Carolina.

You don’t need to write about broad topics like “what is pest control,” “what are termites,” and other general topics because you will never win against big companies like Orkin and Terminex.

Instead, you want to discuss pest control for Charlotte, North Carolina.

“How many homes are destroyed yearly in Charlotte, North Carolina because of termites? What are the top pests in Charlotte, North Carolina, that other parts of the country don’t deal with?

Most of the content on your site should be geographically specific to your location. Why? Because it reinforces to your customers and search engines that you are an expert on your topic and location.

If I am a homeowner in Charlotte, North Carolina, looking for a pest control company, I want to know that the pest control company is an expert on the bugs in my area, not the bugs that are on the West Coast or the corn belt, but where I am.

Now, avoid slapping your location onto any specific topic. If the subject has no geographical-specific relevance, you don’t need to talk about it.

For example, discussing what a mouse is in Charlotte, North Carolina, would not make sense because it is a mouse, no matter if it’s in California or Charlotte.

However, discussing mice that are only present in Charlotte or the state of North Carolina may be applicable. 

If the topic makes sense anywhere else, it’s not specific to your location, and you should go back to the drawing board.

That’s not to say that you should never discuss broad topics, but you want to do your best to produce authoritative content specific to your location and practice.

How E-commerce Businesses Can Build Topical Authority 

E-commerce sites can get tricky because many are giants.

And that poses a problem because the larger your site is and the more diverse your product lines are, the more difficult it will be to establish topical authority.

Remember Nike? 

Shoes come to mind immediately when you hear the name, because Nike, while they do produce other lines of apparel, focuses on shoes.

Ideally, your e-commerce store is the same way in that you have one or a couple of main product lines. 

Again, this can be groups like self-defense or wedding party favors; the difficulty comes when you try to sell everything under the sun.

But coming back to topical authority, you want to write on informational topics related to your products.

So, if you sell many self-defense products, you want to talk about all the self-defense topics your customers need to know. 

If you look up self defense in SEMrush, you’ll see there are over 2,000 informational keywords you could explore.

self defense topics in SEMrush

If I’m in the market for pepper spray, a glass break, or something else like that, I want to buy it from somebody who knows what they’re selling.

Write top-of-the-funnel content that discusses your products and facets of self-defense. Write the middle-of-the-funnel content comparing different products and your brand to other brands. 

Your bottom-of-the-funnel content will be your product pages, so you must support those with content assets to warm new customers to your brand and what you’re offering. 

Give them a reason to trust that your products are legit because you know what you’re talking about.

How National Businesses Can Build Topical Authority 

Building topical authority for national brands or brands serving multiple states is similar to e-commerce.

Whatever you sell or your service is, building content on your site to support your product or service is critical.

Aim to have at least three to five pieces of content for each service you sell for each product category.

content supporting services

Since you are a national company or target multiple states, you don’t need to worry about geographically related content as much. 

The more locations you have, the harder it is to write content about those 10, 20, 50 locations, and it will also throw off your relevance.

If you have 50 locations but only write about your Los Angeles service, search engines will think you’re a Los Angeles-based company.

Additionally, you may lose rankings for the other locations.

Focus more on writing and discussing topics that don’t have geographic content.

How Do You Build Topical Authority for AI and Google’s SGE?

As of the writing of this article, which is January 2024, nobody has cracked the code for how AI (Bing’s integrated ChatGPT or Google’s Bard or SGE) finds and highlights specific content in their results.

google SGE result example

Anybody who tells you they know precisely how SGE (for example) works is ignorant at best and flat-out lying at worst.

Everyone is guessing at this point.

The only way to know that you have a good shot at being featured in the SGE snippet or the SGE results is by ranking higher in the normal SERPs, within the top five, ideally the top two. 

That’s the best chance of being featured in the SGE result.

But, with the advancement of AI and new search engines like SGE, content producers need to think about a complete funnel approach to their content.

Searchers can have an entire conversation with Bard, ChatGPT, and SGE. 

So, when producing content on your website, not only do you need to think about your service page or your product page, but you also have to think about all of the top and middle-of-the-funnel questions that someone could have about your products or services and address those in your content.

It’s not just about covering the topic; it’s about addressing the issues and sub-topics someone may inquire about.

AI will introduce super long tail keywords (my phrase) into Google’s lexicon as conversations with search engines and AI become the norm.

The more you can get ahead of the curve by answering comprehensive and long-form questions, the better you will do.

But, more research, testing, and trial and error are needed to understand how to best create content that SGE and AI will consistently feature in their search results. 

Topical Authority vs Site Authority

So, what’s the difference between topical authority and site authority?

By now, you know that topical authority is having enough informational content on your website related to your services or products to show that you are an authority on a particular topic.

Site authority (also referred to as domain authority) refers to how strong your website is compared to similar sites. 

This matters because the more authority a website has, the easier it is to rank.

Remember our discussion about Forbes?

They have so much site authority that they can throw up any garbage online and instantly rank on the first or second page of Google because they have so much weight.

Meanwhile, a new website can have the best content piece of content on the planet (like the one you’re reading right now 😉) and not rank for a long time because it lacks authority.

How Do You Increase Your Site Authority?

Links. You get backlinks to your site.

There’s been some discussion lately that links do not matter anymore, but I find no evidence of this to be valid.

Actually, with the increase of AI-generated garbage content, links appear to be more critical than they have been in recent years.

Backlinks are like votes; the more you have, the easier it is to win.

Do You Need Topical Authority and Site Authority?

The answer is yes for 95% of websites. If you have high website authority, like Forbes, Fox, or Huffington Post, you can be more frivolous with the content you produce.

The rest of us mortals need to stay in our lane. 

Write about your topic. Write informative, helpful content, and answer the questions that your customers would be thinking about. 

Don’t talk about anything else; you will become relevant to your topic and increase your likelihood of ranking.

Produce three to five solid topically related articles for each service or product line you offer, then spend the rest of your time getting links to build authority or hire somebody to do it for you.

How To Write Content that Builds Topical Authority 

As mentioned, every blog post should support a product or a service you offer.

You can deviate a little here and a little there for end-of-the-year roundups, important company announcements, or other topics like that, but the vast majority of your blog content should support either a product line or a service.

Here are a few steps to take to be more strategic with your writing. 

Brainstorm Topics

You know your business best, so start by writing out topics that would appeal to your target audience or questions you have received from your current clients or customers.

The more you can address the needs, worries, fears, and concerns of your target audience, the better your content will be from a topical and marketing perspective.

Research Topics

Once you have brainstormed some topics, conduct some research using an SEO tool like SEMrush to see if there are any metrics to back up your ideas. 

Aim for lower competition keywords, as these will be easier to rank for. 

Also, look at places like Quora, Reddit, and Facebook Groups, and research your topic on those platforms to get additional ideas. 

Cluster Your Topics

Once you have 20+ ideas, categorize those ideas into clusters by theme. For example, if you own a local gym, clusters could include strength training, nutrition, weight loss, etc.

Write down the search volume for each cluster’s keywords and the difficulty level based on the tool you use. 

Then, choose the cluster with the highest search volume potential and start writing.

Remember, your content needs to support your services or products, so if your topics do not align with your offering, you don’t need to write about it.

Final Thoughts on Topical Authority

Building topical authority is a lengthy process that takes time, content strategy, and commitment. You can do it yourself or hire someone to do it for you. 

Either way, building topical authority is helpful because it shows that you are an expert in the field. Once the content is in place, it’s time to build links to increase your site authority, rankings, and organic traffic. 

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