I’ve been in the SEO world for over a decade. Needless to say, things have changed a lot over the years. Of course, certain principles are timeless:
- You need great content
- You need good on-site SEO
- You need high-quality links
While the foundation of SEO remains the same, Google makes small algorithm tweaks that can have profound impacts on your traffic. It’s important to pay attention to trends and run your own experiments.
Every search marketer knows that data is the holy grail of SEO. We don’t act on feelings nor do we react to single instances. We test, measure, analyze and repeat. While many components of SEO are quantifiable, there are other ranking factors that are more difficult to measure.
Today, I want to discuss one of those factors. We will refer to it as “topical authority.”
I am a serial entrepreneur. I launch multiple websites and businesses every single year. My focus is and always has been aimed at creating strategies that scale across multiple businesses.
It’s a growth mindset.
If I can build a wildly popular website in the health niche, why wouldn’t I do the same in the sports niche?
I’m focused on processes and I have access to a large amount of primary data at my disposal. I’m always looking for new insights and patterns.
Recently, I’ve become intrigued by a pattern I’ve noticed across a few of my web properties. It’s a phenomenon in which certain pieces of content get a “fast pass” to Google rankings. They skip the line and jump right to the top 5 organic positions.
While some of my other posts take months to rank, these “fast pass” posts may rank in a couple of days. This has major implications for my business operations since I can almost guarantee rankings on certain sites.
So, what causes this phenomenon? Topical authority.
What is Topical Authority?
Over the past couple of years, Google has become more focused on the source of content. Since so many people rely on Google for answers to their questions, it’s important that Google only shows credible information.
In the past year, we’ve been introduced to the “E-A-T” acronym. E-A-T stands for expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness, and it’s become apparent that these are all factors in Google’s ranking algorithm.
Here is the explanation straight from Google:
This is good news for writers who are actually well-informed in their fields, and it is a step in the right direction for search marketing in general. If you look up “best supplements for muscle growth,” you want to learn from a nutritionist who has done the research, not a Filipino VA who has rounded up a few supplements from Amazon.
The question becomes – how does Google determine who is authoritative and who is not? Whereas I can tell the difference between a credentialed nutritionist and a bro-science major at the gym, Google doesn’t have this same luxury. Google has to rely on technology.
This is where topical authority comes in. A website with “topical authority” is equivalent to a person with expertise in a specific field. Whereas individual expertise is derived from credentials and track records, website authority is a product of content volume and focus.
In other words, topical authority is gained by writing a lot of content on a specific topic.
Becoming a Topical Authority
We now know that authoritative websites should provide a lot of high quality content on a specific topic, but this description is a bit broad. What exactly is “a lot of content” and what defines a “specific topic”?
Keep in mind, we are now using a qualitative metric and there are no absolute rules. We can’t say with certainty that writing 100 articles on dog training will make you an authority. What we can do, is narrow our definitions a bit.
The first term we will expand on is, “specific topic.” There are two obvious considerations here:
- Focusing on a topic that is too narrow
- Focusing on a topic that is too broad
We’ll start to define these at the human level.
A topic that is too narrow is one that it wouldn’t make sense to be an expert on (and therefore, wouldn’t require it’s own website). Tying back to our supplement example above, it wouldn’t make sense to be an expert on “Brand X Protein Shakes.” A micro-niche site on Brand X Protein Shakes has limited potential.
A topic that is too broad is one where it would be difficult to acquire expert-level knowledge. For example, fitness. We may call someone a fitness expert, but in reality, we mean they are an expert in a certain field of fitness. Fitness encompasses a lot of different topics, including different types of exercise, different types of supplements, healthy routines, and much more.
So, where do we find our middle ground? Once again, this is more of an art than a science, but a combination quantitative research (keyword research) and qualitative research (common sense + industry knowledge), can lead us to a good starting point.
Let’s continue to build off of the supplement example. Here are some of the niches and sub-niches organized by audience size:
- Protein Supplements
- Vegan Protein Supplements
- Pea Protein Supplements
- PeaBulk 3000X Shred Protein Shake
It would be incredibly difficult to become a topical authority on niches at the top of the list, and it would be a waste of time to become a topical authority on niches at the bottom of the list.
The sweet spot is in the middle: protein supplements. This niche is big enough to build a business/website around, but small enough for us to assume we can viably become an authority in the space. You can definitely write 100-200 articles on the topic and build your authority.
Topical Authority is Highly Specific
As you pursue topical authority, you need to be as specific as possible. Google has become eerily astute in their ability to determine topical authority.
For example, a site focused on interior design may rank really well for posts related to “classic design” and have a difficult time ranking for posts on “modern design.”
I noticed this firsthand on one of my sites. Posts in one of the blog categories would rank in a few days, whereas posts in another closely related category would take months and require additional link building.
Take some time to think about what your site can truly specialize in. Here are some quick examples to get the brain juices flowing:
- Dog training is NOT highly focused. Golden retriever training IS.
- Smartphones is NOT a highly focused topic. iPhone hacks is.
- Fitness is NOT highly specific. Powerlifting routines IS.
- Investing is NOT highly specific. ETF investing IS.
Think there’s not enough traffic in these specific niches? Think again.
Here’s one site getting over 36,000 visits/month just by focusing on golden retrievers:
Not good enough? Here’s a site getting over 375,000 visits/month by focusing on iPhone hacks.
Why Does This All Matter?
As a business owner, you want to yield the greatest results for the least amount of effort. Time and money are limited, and we need to find ways to leverage both.
As a content marketer and SEO practitioner, I produce hundreds of thousands of words of content every year (with the help of my writers). Those words are not all created equally. Their value lies in their ability to rank, drive traffic, and convert.
Before writing 1000 words or paying for an article, I need to decide how to get the most value out of the efforts. This can be tricky when you run multiple websites and continue to launch new ones.
I see many new marketers launch multiple sites or enter niches that are far too broad to compete in. This misstep dilutes their efforts and hinders their profitability.
The solution? Focus!
I’ll leave you with one thought. To get the most value out of 100,000 words of content, make sure it is focused on a specific topic on a single site. If you split it across multiple sites, you are diluting your efforts. If you write about a broad topic that may require 1,000,000 words to signal authority, you are diluting your efforts.
Best of luck as you pursue topical authority.