How to Build Topical Authority (and Why it Matters)

Semrush Team

Sep 14, 202310 min read
How to Build Topical Authority (and Why it Matters)

What Is Topical Authority?

Topical authority refers to a website's expertise and credibility on a particular subject. 

It’s the trust you build by consistently creating high-quality content around a subject close to your business.

For example, Semrush is a leading voice on SEO and content marketing. 

We’ve spent years building topical authority in these areas. And gained the trust of web users and search engines by providing helpful guidance and insights to marketers, agencies, and business owners.

Note: Topical authority differs from domain authority, which measures a website's overall trustworthiness and influence across all subjects. But both impact SEO.

Why Does Topical Authority Matter to SEO?

Strong topical authority improves search performance, as Google trusts authoritative sources and ranks them higher in its search engine results pages (SERPs).

It Fosters Trust from Search Engines and Users

Topical authority builds confidence in your brand for readers and search engines alike. This leads to more returning site visitors and higher SERP rankings.

Here’s an example: Shopify and Amazon have serious topical authority on ecommerce. Google trusts their information and ranks them before other sites for ecommerce searches.

Shopify and Amazon rank first and second on Google SERP for "ecommerce" search

As a result, they capture the largest shares of traffic for that term.

Topical authority also leads to natural link building. More websites are likely to share your content organically, which drives more traffic to your site and potentially increases conversions.

In this Semrush article on social media ads, we link to Meta and Statista’s content because:

  • We trust their information on the topic
  • We know their content will support our own and benefit our readers
example of links to Meta and Statista in Semrush article on social media ads

In short: Meta and Statista have topical authority on these subjects.

As well as potentially directing more traffic to the Meta and Statista pages, our links act as votes of confidence to search engines. In essence, we’re vouching for those sites so they gain even more trust from Google.

That’s why pages with many backlinks (especially from trusted sources) often rank higher in the SERPs.

It Reduces Marketing Spend

Building topical authority can be a slow process, but the lasting effect is more time- and cost-effective marketing.

The best example is when a business outranks a larger competitor due to its niche topical authority.

Take Knit Picks’ ranking at No. 1 for “knitting needles,” ahead of Amazon, which sells the same product:

Knit Picks’ ranks first for "knitting needles" search

Notice how the top page has 104 backlinks pointing to it (also known as inbound links) compared with Amazon’s 51? It’s because more sites recognize Knit Picks’ topical authority.

How Does Topical Authority Work?

Google strives to deliver the best possible search experiences. So it prioritizes the most relevant, helpful, and trustworthy pages when organizing results. 

Businesses can build topical authority by consistently creating original, factual, and insightful content that: 

  • Naturally incorporates relevant keywords
  • Is easily readable—not swamped with inaccessible jargon
  • Resonates with searchers (e.g., solves their problems or meets other needs)

These are the controllable aspects of topical authority and what we’ll focus on here. Backlinks and brand mentions on other pages should naturally follow.

Google’s Public Votes for Topical Authority

Many of Google’s algorithm updates and statements have reaffirmed its preference for trustworthy, knowledgeable, and experienced publishers.

In other words: It favors content creators with topical authority. 

Here’s a quick timeline of updates pushing topical authority to the forefront:

Semrush infographic on topical authority over time
  • 2011’s Panda algorithm update aimed to “reduce rankings for low-quality sites—sites which are low-value add for users, copy content from other websites or sites that are just not very useful”
  • Hummingbird (2013’s search engine algorithm rewrite) was the dawn of semantic search. Google paid closer attention to search queries’ meanings so it could rank web pages using more than just links and keywords.
  • December 2022’s helpful content update is more recent. Google changed its E-A-T (Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness) guidelines into E-E-A-T—adding in an extra “E” for “Experience.” The aim was to reward content creators with firsthand experience in their topics.

Note: Topical authority is particularly relevant for news. Google uses a dedicated topical authority system to prioritize results from “news teams that are intimately familiar with the location and topic.”

How to Build Topical Authority

Here are four simple tips to start building topical authority for your brand and website.

Choose Your Niche (and Create Topic Clusters)

Aim to become the leading online source of information on one or two niche topics. It’s much more time- and cost-effective than setting sights on a broad, highly competitive field.

For example, instead of building authority around the vast topic of knitting, you could aim to become a trusted voice on beginners’ knitting patterns. It’ll be easier to create truly original, high-value content.

The fastest way to build groups of closely related keywords on a given topic—known as keyword clustering—is to set up an automated list in Semrush’s Keyword Manager.

Start by hitting “Create list” on the opening page. 

Create a list in Keyword Manager tool

Then, enter your seed term (we’ll continue using “beginners’ knitting patterns” to illustrate the process), choose your database, and select “Create list.”

Steps in creating a clustered list in Keyword Manager

You’ll get a list of keyword clusters to build content around. It’s called topic clustering.

a list of keyword clusters related to “beginners’ knitting patterns” seed keyword

Pick a cluster that covers your main topic in a general way, like “knitting designs.” This will be your pillar page.

“knitting designs” cluster

Click on the core topic to show more specific keyword suggestions. Then, pick clusters that explore the topic in more depth.

For example, “fancy textured knitting stitches,” “different knitting stitches for beginners,” and “simple knitting stitches” could all be suitable.

example of keyword clusters highlighted

Now you can start building your content.

The process should look like this:

  1. Create your pillar page. (e.g., “A Beginner’s Guide to Knitting Designs”)
  2. Create your subtopicpages (e.g., “10 Different Knitting Stitches for Beginners to Try” and “Simple Knitting Stitches We Never Stop Using”)
  3. Interlink your pillar and subtopic pages (internal links pass authority and help Google understand your site structure)

Conduct Broader Topic-Based Keyword Research

The more relevant, high-quality, search-friendly content you create, the more authority you’ll build. So you’ll need plenty of data-backed content ideas.

Once you know your niche and have ideas for pillar pages, keyword research tools can help you find more relevant search terms to target with your SEO and content marketing efforts.

Cover the same relevant topics with your social media and pay-per-click (PPC) advertising campaigns for the biggest impact.

For example:

For a content strategy that helps you build topical authority around knitting patterns, you could use “knitting patterns” as a seed keyword to learn which related searches generate the most traffic.

Here’s how it works using Semrush’s Keyword Magic Tool:

Enter a broad topic related to your business, choose your target location, and hit “Search.”

searching for “knitting patterns” in Keyword Magic Tool

The tool will list all the keyword suggestions based on your chosen seed term. 

The broader your seed, the more suggestions there’ll be—in this case, there are more than 125,000.

Keyword Magic Tool found more than 125,000 keyword suggestions based on "knitting patterns” search

Dig deeper into your niche by clicking the topical groups and subgroups on the left of the window.

topical groups and subgroups on the left of the window

For example, by clicking “baby” and “blanket,” we get a list of topic ideas relating to knitted baby blankets.

choosing “baby” and “blanket” groups returns results related to knitted baby blankets

If you’re just starting, look for keywords with significant search volumes (the average number of monthly searches) and lower-than-average keyword difficulty ratings (KD%). That’s an estimate of how hard it would be to rank for a given term in Google’s top 10.

This could be a solid starting point:

"easy diagonal baby blanket knitting pattern free" keyword has 90 search volume and 21% KD

You can store suitable terms in Keyword Manager if you have a Semrush trial or subscription. Click the “+” symbol next to a keyword in a Semrush tool to add it your current default keyword list:

Adding relevant keywords to a list in Keyword Manager

You can then revisit your lists for future campaigns and to track search volumes. Stay organized by creating new lists for each particular topic or subtopic.

Although you can’t fully control who links to your content or mentions your brand, you can attract quality backlinks using some simple strategies.

Below are a few easy link building techniques to start with. We cover these methods and others in more detail, including tool recommendations and step-by-step instructions, in our guide to link building strategies.

Outreach

Outreach involves contacting relevant websites and requesting links to your site. It’s the most straightforward, direct technique.

For a compelling pitch, explain what makes your proposed piece of content unique. It could be the only study of its kind in your industry, for instance.

And be specific. People should see the benefit of linking to you.

For example, linking to your research report could add weight to another site’s ideas, making its content more trustworthy.

Broken link building is when you find broken external links on other websites and offer working links from your site as alternatives.

Dead links hinder the user experience (UX), which means many website owners are happy to replace them.

Make the best of your outreach time by only offering to link when it’s a perfect fit. 

For example, if you have a new guide on the “best SEO software for 2023,” look for broken links to similar software lists by searching on Google for “choosing SEO software.” You might find sites referencing outdated versions.

Unlinked Brand Mentions

An unlinked brand mention is when a website mentions your brand name without including a link to your website.

Like this:

an example of an unlinked brand mention

Often it’s just because the writer hasn’t thought to add one. 

By reaching out and explaining the benefit of linking to your content, you might persuade them to amend it. 

Use an app like Semrush’s Media Monitoring tool to receive notifications when another site mentions your business.

Create Problem-Solving Content

Plan a consistent stream of authoritative content that speaks directly to your audience’s needs and interests.

Unique, original insight is always best. Offering value that your competitors can’t match is the best way to stand out.

Take this case study:

"Case Study: How an SEO Agency Helped an Artisan Bakery Increase Mobile Organic Traffic by 460%" by Semrush

No one else can tell this story. Yet it helps a broad audience of digital marketing agencies by providing insight on the tools and tactics they can use to increase mobile organic traffic.

Other types of authoritative content to build into your content strategy include:

  • Contrary takes on your industry’s hot topics
  • Interviews with subject matter experts
  • Frequently asked questions (FAQs) that others fail to answer
  • First-hand research

To ensure your content resonates with potential customers, research the questions they’re asking on search engines and social media.

AlsoAsked is a simple tool for getting quick ideas.

Enter a term or question, choose your region, and hit “Search.”

searching for "knitting patterns" in AlsoAsked

You’ll see a tree diagram containing questions that Google users who searched your topic also asked:

A tree diagram containing questions that Google users who searched "knitting patterns" also asked

Click on any of these to explore further follow-up questions and use the most relevant ones to inspire helpful content.

You get three free searches per day on AlsoAsked. Use them wisely, or sign up for a paid plan for more monthly credits.

Further reading: Creating quality content.

3 Simple Ways to Measure Topical Authority

Full disclosure: There’s no definitive method or metric for measuring your site’s topical authority.

But you can gauge the impact of any significant changes using the following factors:

Google Analytics

If website traffic grows after you start building authority on a specific topic, it’s a potential sign your efforts are working. 

Use Google Analytics (GA4) to see whether visits are up or down

From the dashboard, click “Reports” in the top left-hand corner.

“Reports” button in the top left-hand corner highlighted

Then, expand the “Generate Leads” tab and hit “Traffic Acquisition.” 

Navigating to “Traffic Acquisition” button in GA4

There, you’ll see a breakdown of your traffic by channel.

GA4 shows you a breakdown of your traffic by channel

Filter the data by traffic source to measure the impact of a specific campaign. 

For example, if you’re using email marketing to establish your brand, you could focus on increasing or decreasing traffic from emails. 

Note: Many factors can impact your website traffic. Consider what other recent actions could affect interest in your site and pair traffic data with the methods below to gain a clearer picture.

Gaining backlinks shows trust in your site is growing. Track yours using Semrush’s Backlink Analytics report.

Access this from your SEO Dashboard or type your site’s URL (you can also check on competitors) into the Backlink Analytics tool and hit “Analyze.”

searching for "www.knitpicks.com" in Backlink Analytics

Near the top of the page, you’ll see Referring Domains (the number of domains that point back to your site) and Backlinks (the total number of backlinks pointing to your site).

You’ll see in red or green whether each figure has increased or decreased.

"Referring Domains" and "Backlinks" widgets in Backlink Analytics overview report

Quantity won’t tell the whole story, however.

Check the report’s Authority Score for a general measure of your site’s quality, including the quality of its backlinks.

The full Backlink Analytics report also contains a wealth of helpful data.

Authority Score section from Backlink Analytics report

Further reading: Guide to backlink analytics.

Position Tracking

Topical authority helps you rank higher in Google search results. So monitor your position for target keywords.

If you’re gaining visibility for a few related terms, it could be a sign you’re building trust around that topic.

Semrush’s Position Tracking report has all the data you need here. To use this feature, first add some keywords to track.

Upon opening, you’ll land on the Landscape tab. 

Scroll down to see the top-performing keywords for your domain and keywords for which your domain’s visibility increased (Positive Impact) and decreased (Negative Impact) in the selected period.

"Positive Impact" and "Negative Impact" widgets in Position Tracking report

You can change your selected period using the button at the top right of the report.

Changing a selected period in a calendar in Position Tracking report

Note: If you don’t see your target keywords in the Landscape tab, ensure you’ve properly configured the position tracking tool using our guide

Combine Topical Authority with SEO and Content Marketing Strategy

Weave topical authority into your long-term content, social media, and SEO strategies to build unstoppable momentum. 

It’ll help you grow traffic, increase sales opportunities, and reduce marketing costs.

Check out our Ultimate Guide to Content Marketing Strategy to learn more.

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