The SEO landscape that we’ve become so accustomed to today has its foundations rooted firmly in keywording, and the pursuit of achieving relevance by using terms that are discoverable to search engines. However, with modern technology looking to bypass keywording in order to return search queries with more valuable results, could we be entering the era of topical authority?
The term ‘authority’ when it comes to SEO tends to lead marketers to consider the pursuit of link building. Backlinks have traditionally been a key factor in building domain authority. While this is very much still the case, it seems that generating quality topical content could be an even more effective and organic method of building your website’s authority.
Building topical authority has already shown that it can improve your ranking for existing keywords. It’s also an effective way of boosting the number of keywords for which a site ranks. So, is it time to start abandoning your keyword research tactics to become disciples of topical authority? Let’s take a deeper look into what the arrival of topical authority means for SEO:
What is Topical Authority in Keyword Research?
Topical authority is a perceived authority over a niche subject or broad idea set, as opposed to authority over a specific idea or term.
Understanding the difference between niche authority and broad authority is best summarized by Search Engine Journal, which offers an example in the form of an excellent article features article about blue widgets on a website that focuses on all things that are blue.
Take the article about blue widgets and compare it to a page that’s of equally high quality but based on a website that focuses on widgets of all kinds.
Each page will have their respective authority, but the website covering all things blue – despite having a quality page on blue widgets – can’t be recognized as a topic authority on the subject. They may have a page that can answer questions about blue widgets but there are no indicators for Google or its users that the site owner knows about the subject of widgets. Additionally, there won’t be other pages on site to indicate that the visitors will find related answers to their widget-based queries elsewhere – unless those questions also relate to the color blue, of course.
This means that the site with a single page covering blue widgets on a widget site is likely to be seen as possessing higher topical relevance for search engines due to the fact that it will be capable of solving more relevant questions surrounding widgets elsewhere on site.
As indicated by the name, topical authority relates to the perception of authority from search engines towards websites covering a specific topic or a relevant area of interest.
The Importance of Topical Authority
While keywords, and particularly long-tail keywords, can certainly help users to find what they’re looking for online, they don’t represent the most natural way of satisfying search intent.
As we can see in the example above, long-tail keywords can be effective in winning conversions due to how refined and specific they are, but while they work in directing users to relevant pages, they offer little insights into the authority or credibility of the website publishing the content.
With the arrival of more advanced technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning, a shift has begun to take place away from keywords that focus on the search engines themselves to keywords and phrases that focus more on the user.
Google’s intention is to offer up the most relevant, high-quality, content in response to a user’s query. It’s the addressing of their billions of daily queries that helps to keep millions of users content.
For example, if you type in ‘best headphones for commuters’, your search intent is likely to revolve around buying headphones – or to compare your options based on different factors. If Google’s results aren’t relevant to the question that you’re asking – like displaying an article about portable speakers – your intent wouldn’t have been satisfied.
Google’s pursuit to bring more relevance resulted in a move away from simply matching keywords and query terms to suit search intent. With the search engine giant’s 2013 Hummingbird algorithm change, suddenly factors like context, meaning and natural language were brought into account when catering to user queries.
The Impact of Hummingbird
The task of understanding search intent within the Hummingbird algorithm change was highly challenging, especially due to the rise of spoken-word searches being conducted from voice assistants. Today, queries aren’t simply keyworded but also fully conversational.
With voice searches becoming increasingly prevalent in East Asia and the Americas, the pursuit of understanding search intent is vital for search engines like Google.
While AI and machine learning are put to work in accurately interpreting the context of queries being asked, it’s only one piece of the puzzle for Google. Once the searcher’s intent is determined, semantic analysis needs to be put to work in extracting the meaning and relationship between words, phrases and other on-site signifiers to extract the most appropriate and relevant content to satisfy users.
To better understand intent, Google has developed its own Knowledge Graph to better connect the dots between related items – enabling the search engine to understand the relevance of terms alongside its meaning and intent. Synonyms are a big part of this, posing fresh challenges to marketers and business owners alike in reaching the right audience with their content.
Outpacing Keyword Research
The ramifications of topical authority could be far-reaching in the world of marketing. For instance, if you were to own an eCommerce site, it’s natural to seek out ways to optimize each page for the products it showcases to enable better navigation and search engine discovery.
Traditionally, this would involve optimizing each page for its respective category, allowing each specific product to feature its own SEO content.
However, how would this approach change if you instead focus on optimizing for topics rather than keywords? Let’s revisit our headphone example from earlier and create an example where you aim to optimize the content on noise-canceling headphones. By creating more supporting content and blog posts on different pages covering the topic of noise-canceling headphones to accompany your product, you can generate a much greater level of topical authority on headphones.
Through topical SEO, you can outpace the power of keyword research in attempting to rank for various different keywords and long-tail phrases at the same time and instead build your authority on your topics through engaging content. It may be time-consuming, but it can lead to a higher volume of visitors looking to learn more about a niche that Google believes you hold authority on. This goes some way in overcoming those old attempts to rank through matching obscure queries in a bid to appeal to a user’s search intent.
Accommodating topical authority into your marketing approach could carry evergreen benefits as search engines look to relevant topics to back up the relevance of your website.
An effective way of establishing topical authority across your website is to operate a ‘hub and spoke’ content strategy, where one central topic is backed up by a series of more niche spokes that are still relevant to the central theme.
If you’re an eCommerce website, look to set up hubs surrounding the products you’re selling, or those that you specialize in. Look to build content that can anticipate customer questions or ease their concerns while ensuring that they internally link towards your hub.
An effective way of measuring the success of your various hubs and spokes is to utilize analytical tools like Finteza to gain insights into how your traffic interacts with your website, learn about how they arrive on your pages and where they land.
By understanding how traffic flows through your pages, you can see which areas are gaining more traction on search engines than others. If your hub surrounding headphones is performing well, but your hub covering Bluetooth speakers is underperforming, you may be able to increase your authority by adding more relevant spokes to the topic.
While generating SEO based on topical authority rather than keyword research may require a little bit more elbow grease, it’s an effective way of limiting the impact of black hat SEO techniques and link buying to boost a website’s SERPs.
For many website owners and marketers, topical authority could represent a solid opportunity to work towards customer retention strategies through establishing trust and encouraging loyalty with value-adding free content. The notion of a marketing landscape that’s built on care and hard work may not be as troublesome as it first seems for traditional SEO practitioners.