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Complete Guide to Topical Authority: What It Is & How to Build It [Strategist Documentation]

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How to Build Topical Authority and Dominate Your Niche

Despite all the talk of SEO vanishing as a marketing channel, it’s alive and well in 2022. One thing has changed though – with more companies getting into SEO, the race for the top 10 spots in search results is getting more intense.

With so many SEO strategies, it’s hard to know which path to take. They are countless: skyscraper content, linkbait, roundup interviews, extensive link building, and many, many others.

A topical authority is a common approach to SEO. Today, we’ll show you what topical authority is, why it matters, and what you can do to build it for your website.

What is topical authority?

Topical authority means a website’s authority on a specific topic as perceived by search engines. It implies that your website is a complete source of information and the go-to place to get updates on a specific topic.

This means that websites that cover a certain topic in-depth have a better chance of ranking high in search engine results for related terms. For example, imagine that you have a comprehensive website on touch-screen laptops covering hundreds of models with specifications and news. A review that you publish for a new laptop model will probably rank better than a review by a more general tech gear website.

Search engines favor websites that cover a single (broad) topic extensively and appear to be expert sources on that topic. This is one method that Google uses to provide the best search results to readers. At the same time, it rewards websites that are truly written by experts.

Think of topics in terms of clusters

If you’re running a niche website, every piece of content you create should be tied in some way to a larger topic. For example, a blog on shoes would have a separate page for hiking shoes. As oversimplified as my example is, it proves a point: there is no such thing as an isolated piece of content. 

For you as the SEO strategist, this means sitting down and visualizing your content strategy in terms of topic clusters. Each website should have a series of pillars (larger topics) and clusters (smaller topics) around them.

topics in terms of clusters

To explain it more vividly, an outdoor lifestyle website would have pillar topics such as camping tools, outdoor clothing, lighting equipment, tents, and others. The “camping tool” pillar would have clusters for camping knives, shovels, multitools, and more.

You’ll find this approach under different names depending on the source. One of the more common names is the “hub and spoke” model for content.

What are the benefits of achieving topical authority?

There are plenty of practical benefits of topical authority. Here are just a few to keep in mind:

  • It makes it easier to rank high for your desired search terms. Also, it gets easier to rank for difficult keywords as you build more content around the topic.
  • Topical authority increases the chances of other websites linking to yours spontaneously.
  • There are opportunities to link internally to your content in a way that elevates the ranking for each link in the chain.

Whether your website focuses on SAAS, a blog niche, affiliate marketing, eCommerce, travel, lifestyle, or anything else, your content strategy must revolve around topical authority if you are in it for the long haul.  

Everything comes down to how well you plan for topical authority and execute your plan.

How to build topical authority

As much as I hate the saying that “content is king,” it proves to be true every time. The secret to building topical authority is writing relevant content and covering as much ground around your main topic as possible. However, you can’t just write about anything – that’s a shot in the dark. You want to write about the topics and subtopics that interest your target audience. This is how to find them.

Steps to create Silo to build topical authority using Outranking

We have combined Outranking’s Actions and Strategist features to be more comprehensive, effective, intelligent, and workflow-oriented. 

Building topical authority means defining your silos well and grouping all distinct topics related to a common topic in that one bucket. Let’s see how to create a new silo.

Step 1: Getting existing domain data and creating a domain project

To create a new project, add your domain. This could be a new domain or an existing domain with Google Search Console data.

create a new project, add your domain

Here is how to add an existing domain with a data project in Outranking Strategist:

  • Click Strategist.
  • Click the domain name dropdown.
  • Add your domain name.
  • Connect it with Google Search Console or other third-party data providers.

Click Add new domain.

Outranking Strategist

If your domain is new, don’t bother connecting to Google Search Console, just go with the default setting and click add new domain.

Step 2: Adding Silos

What is a Content Silo

A content silo is a method used in search engine optimization (SEO) that involves structuring your website content around keyword-based themes. When you create a silo structure, you are grouping related and relevant content into distinct sections on your website. This can improve the visibility of your content and help drive better traffic to your site.

How to select the main silo topic

Your website focus is divided into many small topic clusters. For example, a company that offers lead generation services can divide its website’s focus as follows: sales agency, lead generation services, account-based marketing, offshore sales reps, and other small fragments. 

To build topical authority for “sales agency,” aim to cover all the distinct topics related to “sales agency” and write about each and every one of those. Naturally, not all related topics would make sense to write about, so exclude those that don’t fit your brand well. 

Select a silo main topic

One thing we must imprint in our heads is that topical authority doesn’t capture all the content on your website at once. Instead, it’s about one slice of your content that revolves around a singular idea. This means that you can’t consider topical authority as a metric like Domain Authority, which is site-wide. You want one silo of your website to tell the search engine that you are an authority in a specific area.

How to do this in Outranking

After adding your domain name, you can start creating silos by adding the main keyword, selecting the location, and clicking Create a new silo.

Create a new silo

Note: Creating silos is credit-intensive, so select your silos carefully, and don’t waste credits by just adding random broad terms. Your main topic should be two to three words. If it’s broad, narrow it down a bit with the Include Keywords and Exclude Keywords input boxes.

You can also validate your query using other keyword research tools like Semrush or Ahrefs.

Step 3: Selecting topics for each silo

A silo can have anywhere from 2 to as many as 100 distinct topics. If your initial search criteria are focused, it will be easier to identify the topics that matter for your silo. Before we select a topic, let’s understand how these topics are grouped in clusters.

If you add “sales agency” to Semrush, you get the following set of results:

Keyword Variations

6.6k results, wow! Now, trying to find the topics to write about from thousands of keywords is going to be a nightmare. Many keywords are semantic keywords, many don’t bear any value, and many that are valuable can’t be easily identified without tons of filtering and consideration. 

The point is that doing keyword research is a time-consuming task, no matter what tools you use. But to make life a little easier, Outranking automates many of the important tasks involved in clustering keywords and narrowing down a list of distinct keywords to tackle. 

So if you added “sales agency” as the main solo keyword in Outranking, it would take some time to look at the SERPs for each of those keywords and cluster the keywords into distinct topics. 

Then we collect all related keywords (semantic keywords) for those distinct topics we identified and group them further to ensure you don’t end up with two topics for which you can rank using just one page. 

This way of creating silos and clustering keywords ensures that:

  • You select distinct topics that are worth their own page and can rank on Google. 
  • You capitalize on the topical authority value by targeting topics with seed keywords while also ranking for related and semantic terms.
  • You don’t write about redundant topics that either harm your existing content or provide no additional ROI. 

Let’s see what Outranking came up with after analyzing all 6.6k keywords.

In the top-right black box, you can see that Outranking scanned through 6.8k keywords and identified 360 distinct topics that do not have overlapping intent. 

Now that’s crazy! Why? Because identifying 50 topics from 360 to build your cluster is much easier than finding the same number of topics in 6600 keywords. 

There are 10 times more mistakes you can make finding those 50 out of 6600. The bottom line is that for serious businesses looking to ensure their content rakes in the ROI, one mistake can cost as much as $10k.

Imagine the people involved, their time, and the number of net resources you could spend on a topic that does not perform does not yield qualified leads, or cannibalizes the impact of other pages you have already written.

Data we provide

The data includes keyword volume, keyword cost per click (CPC), estimated difficulty, AI-predicted funnel stage (TOFU, MOFU, or BOFU, meaning the top, medium, or bottom of the funnel), and the ranking position (if any). Since we connect to the search console, we can get a lot of the current information and map out the ranking pages for your strategy.

The funnel stages are very handy for picking out topics and their primary target keyword. It’s best to write awareness-stage keywords because they will bring the most traffic, BUT the bulk of your efforts should be eventually directed to the bottom and middle of the funnel because they bring a higher percentage of conversions (if you sell anything, even ads qualify). 

Prepare a content plan by selecting the relevant topics

Select all the important distinct topics from the list by clicking Add to the planner. For example, if you are a sales agency for a B2B SAAS company, don’t use “sales agency for real estate.” Target your resources on topics that bring real customers.

Preparing content plan by selecting the relevant topics

Step 3: Identify the primary keyword for each topic

A primary keyword is the main keyword you want to target for your ranking. All other semantic terms go under it as secondary terms. A few people decide on a golden ratio, and some have proprietary methods of selecting the primary keyword.

From a long-term perspective, choosing the primary keyword here might not be needed, since everything you write will build topical authority around that niche. Even if you target competitive terms, your coverage around that topic will eventually exceed that of the others, putting you in the right spot automatically. Content strategists that want to see results faster, go after the topics that have a favorable difficulty.

Check out this example for “local SEO strategy,” which has 1700 results. 

Check out this example of “Local seo strategy”, it has 1700 results

Within the same cluster, “local search marketing strategy” has only 303.

While the keywords in the same cluster “local search marketing strategy” has only 303.

They both have essentially the same meaning, but guess which one is easier to rank? Of course, it’s the one with 303. In this case, you’d want your primary keyword to be “local search marketing strategy.”

Even if you target the second keyword, which has more favorable competition, you can still target the first term. Outranking automatically provides this guidance when you plan and write content. 

You can select the primary keywords for each silo topic you want to work on and add them to your content planner. 

To do this:

  • Go to a silo you’ve already created.
  • Go to a topic under the silo and click on the cluster arrow.
  • Under each topic cluster, select any topic as your primary keyword.
Identify the primary keyword for each topic

Once all topics and the primary keywords have been added, it’s time to execute the strategy using a content planner. 

Step 5: Execute your content plan

What is a content planner?

Outranking’s AI content planner in Strategist can help you solve content problems and stay organized. It helps you develop high-performing content that tells your brand’s story and increases your topic authority. 

Prioritize what content to write first – what will bring the biggest bang for your buck?

The last step is probably the most important. Executing a complex topical authority strategy requires buy-in from your entire content (and broader marketing) team. Make sure everyone is aligned with your strategy and goals.

Outranking makes it extremely easy to prioritize content once everything is in the planner – even the content you need to optimize on your website, whether through internal linking or content optimization.

There are a few ways to prioritize content, and this mostly depends on your goals. Some goals based on the project and the type of website could be:

  1. Bring more traffic
  2. Target more users at the middle and bottom of the funnel using the right keywords (bring qualified customers)
  3. Reduce ad spend

If you have a SAAS product, target numbers 2 and 3. If you have a website that you monetize using ads, go for number 1. If your manager gives you a KPI to reduce ad spend, well, you know what to do. 

Outranking can help you narrow down these goals using AI-based funnel mapping.

Outranking can help you narrow this down using AI based funnel mapping

Additional tasks for building your next silo for topical authority

Get the search intent right

Search intent is the answer to a question that someone is asking to a search engine. For example, someone searching for “Slack vs. Microsoft Teams” is looking for a head-to-head comparison of the two tools, and they’re most likely deep down the sales funnel and ready to make a purchasing decision.

A long-form blog post outlining the differences and similarities between the two is probably best to address the search intent here. You do not want to create a comparison of the history of the two companies. You could write an interesting piece of content and make it amazing, but if it doesn’t answer the question of the person searching, it just won’t rank.

Before writing any content, think about the following: what does the person searching want to achieve? What kind of problem do they want to solve, and how can my content help them in the best way possible?

As mentioned, you can write some genuinely amazing content that will completely miss the mark. To find the search intent, you need to take a good, detailed look at the top-ranking posts in the search results and the changes in those top 10 posts over time. Just as keyword data changes over time, so does search intent.

Make the most out of internal links

Everyone who’s been in SEO for longer than a minute knows that external links are a major ranking factor, if not the most important. Internal links, on the other hand, are also pretty important. And the best part is, you’re in control of them.

Use internal linking for topic clusters

Your internal link structure tells search engines how to approach your website. The pages you link to determine which pages are pillars and which pages form the clusters that support them.

Returning to the example above, let’s say that you wrote a new review of hiking boots for your outdoor lifestyle blog. One of the first internal links in that new piece of content should be to your main pillar page about outdoor apparel and clothing.

With strategic linking, you’re doing two things:

First, you’re showing search engines which pages hold the most importance on your website.

Second, you’re giving your readers a chance to click through and stay longer. Longer sessions, a better bounce rate, and a higher chance for conversions. What’s not to like?

Well, there is one thing, actually.

Regularly update your content

There is one thing that SEO experts often forget to mention about the topic cluster model. In order for it to work properly, you don’t just have to create new content – you have to update your older content quite frequently too.

As a rule of thumb, refreshing your content every now and then is good for your search engine performance. When a new piece of information about those hiking boots is released, you’ll want to update the page because you can rest assured that your competition will do it too.

Internal links are crucial, but what about creating a new page about GPS watches in June 2022 when you have blog posts from 2017 mentioning the same topic?

You’ll have to go back and add an internal link from the 2017 page to the 2022 page. Rinse and repeat for every new page you create – you need to find good internal link opportunities. It may not be the most exciting job in the world, but the effects compound, supporting a slick user experience and an easier way for search engines to understand your website’s structure.

Also, as mentioned above, search engines rely on human behavior – which is hardly predictable. In order for your content to be more relevant, you may have to change the angle and meet a completely new search intent, so it pays off to stay in the loop even after you hit “publish.”

Check out this video on how to create topical authority with Outranking.

Quick case study on why Outranking’s topical authority model works

Outranking is an AI writing tool. To prove that this model works, we created lots of content with common phrases including “types of.” While it’s not quite specific enough, the below screenshot clearly suggests that if you write “types of” enough times, Google tends to catch on. The below screenshot is taken from Ahrefs.

case study of why the topical authority-based Outranking model works

You may think that this is just one example. But there are many more – working with a variety of websites in our early days, we did exactly this. 

Let’s see a second example. Everything related to “blog” outranks websites that have existed for many years and even over a decade.

case study of why the topical authority-based Outranking model works

Bottom line: You need to create websites with a focus on building topical authority. If you keep writing around a singular idea, you can outrank monster websites in your space. 

Here is a short video of how to use Outranking’s Strategist:

Pankil Shah
Pankil Shah
Co-founder @ Outranking.io