Q4 2023 was an all-out battlefield for maintaining search rankings on Google, as there were a total of six back-to-back algorithm updates. 

That’s not to mention Google’s AI-powered Search Generative Experience (SGE), which has been setting the SEO world on fire since its reveal in May of last year. 

It’s now 2024, and digital marketers are changing the way they approach optimizing content for search engines for various reasons (the rise of AI content, Google SGE, Microsoft Copilot, and the list goes on and on).  

In particular, we’ve discovered that establishing topical authority is the best route a website can take to ensure peak online visibility in such volatile and uncertain times. 

What’s topical authority? Some sort of topical cream that makes your website rank higher? (if only!)

Topical authority refers to the credibility of a particular website with search engines (and users) regarding a specific topic (like SEO, gardening, or electronics). 

Websites can establish topical authority by creating engaging content that aligns with Google’s E-E-A-T (experience, expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness) Quality Rater Guidelines. 

Topical authority is extremely beneficial for SEO because Google will start ranking you in the top spots for keywords related to your topical expertise with minimal effort required on your part. Stay tuned to learn how you can establish topical authority in your industry. 

Understanding Topical Authority 

Whenever websites consistently publish thought-leader-tier content expertly written on a particular topic or subject, Google takes notice – and they begin to build topical authority. 

How does Google know which websites have topical authority?

There are a few ways websites can begin to accrue topical authority, including the following:

  • Adhering to Google’s E-E-A-T acronym. Google employs a team of human quality raters who judge the effectiveness of website content based on Quality Rater Guidelines. In particular, they use the E-E-A-T acronym. If your content demonstrates first-hand experience and expertise, you’ll gain trust and build topical authority. 
  • User signals. As we revealed when exposing Google’s magic, their algorithms aren’t able to understand content, only people’s reactions to it. Therefore, Google goes by users’ reactions to content via likes, shares, and comments to determine the quality of a piece of content. 
  • Backlinks from other trusted sites. Backlinks (links from other sites that point to your content) serve as ‘credibility votes’ on Google. You’ll build topical authority if you can build backlinks from related websites that Google already trusts. 

Building topical authority provides a huge ranking advantage, as Google will begin automatically ranking your content in top spots for relevant keywords. 

For example, if you Google anything related to medicine or treating illnesses, you’re bound to see results from the Mayo Clinic and Web MD, as these two websites have strong topical authority regarding medical topics.

Since Google trusts these websites for medical information, they’ve become Google’s go-to for medical queries, even if the sites haven’t created optimized content for every keyword. 

The Increased Importance of Topical Authority in 2024 

To be frank, SEO has become a bit of a hot mess as of late. Google’s been releasing extremely volatile algorithm updates, AI-powered everything is on the rise, and SGE stands to steal 25% of traffic from practically every website once it’s fully implemented. 

Despite all this uncertainty, websites with strong topical authority have been largely unaffected

That’s because search engines and users already trust their expertise, so they have nothing to prove on the SERPs (search engine results pages). Thanks to their credibility, users flock to their content and share their posts on social media and other platforms – generating even more backlinks and traffic for them. 

The good news?

You can replicate their success by establishing topical authority in your business’s area of expertise. 

We build topical authority for our clients all the time, so it’s definitely within the realm of reach, especially if you focus on niche topics not commonly covered by larger websites. 

Using topical authority to fight back against zero-click searches

The main reason why topical authority matters more in 2024 is due to the prevalence of zero-click searches

A zero-click search occurs whenever a user finds the information they need on a search engine results page instead of clicking through to another website. 

Have you ever taken to Google to quickly define a word or make a quick math calculation?

If so, then you’re familiar with zero-click searches. 

Since Google answers simple queries like this in bold at the top of the page (which is a SERP feature called a snippet), users find what they need and then click away without ever clicking on any of the organic results. 

That means if you’re ranked in the #1 spot for a keyword that triggers instant answers like this, you’ll see a negative impact on your traffic and click-through rates (CTR). 

Unfortunately, zero-click searches are becoming increasingly common due to SERP features (knowledge bars, calculators, snippets, etc.), voice searches through virtual assistants like Alexa, and generative AI-powered searches like SGE and Microsoft Copilot. 

Yet, if you’re a domain with strong topical authority, you’re far more likely to appear in featured snippets and SGE’s AI Snapshot – which will boost your brand awareness and generate lots of traffic. 

That’s because Google only cites its most trusted sources in SERP features and AI Snapshots, which is why building topical authority is the way of the future for SEO. 

The Difference Between Topical Authority and Topical Relevance 

SEO lingo provides a deep enough rabbit hole to warrant several college courses, so we’ll keep things brief here. 

In digital marketing circles, you may hear the term ‘topical relevance’ thrown around, which some confuse with topical authority. 

Topical relevance is another important concept for SEO, but it refers to how relevant your content is for a given search query. For example, a blog post entitled Top Digital Marketing Strategies for 2024 would be topically relevant for the keyword ‘digital marketing strategies.’

In other words, topical relevance deals with matching the right content with the intent behind a search keyword. 

Topical authority, on the other hand, is about establishing your brand’s expertise on a topic (or cluster of topics, but more on this in a bit). 

There is a relationship between the two, though. If you want to establish topical authority, then the content you produce must be topically relevant. Otherwise, it won’t provide any value to your target audience. 

Picture if searching for the keyword ‘digital marketing strategies’ brought up pasta recipes instead of digital marketing tactics. The results wouldn’t be topically relevant, and Google’s reputation would take a hit as a result. This is why you need to combine topical authority with topical relevance to find true success.

What Will Building Topical Authority Do for Your Business?

Now that you’re familiar with what topical authority is, why should you bother trying to build it?

After all, it takes a lot of hard work and consistency to establish authority on a subject, so the rewards better be worth it. 

The good news is that the benefits of topical authority drastically outweigh the work it takes to build it. 

Here’s a look at all the ways becoming an authority on a topic will benefit your brand. 

Organically acquire referral traffic and backlinks 

Establishing topical authority isn’t just about appealing to Google’s algorithm for more keyword rankings. 

It’s equally about providing lots of value to your target audience through your content. If your audience views you as a thought leader in your field, they’ll flock to your content whenever there’s a new development in the industry, a breaking news story, or if they want to learn something new. 

They’re also more likely to share your content with their networks on social media, netting you lots of referral traffic and natural backlinks. 

This creates a compounding effect, as the more natural backlinks and traffic you acquire, the easier it’ll be to rank for more keywords related to your products and services. 

It’s been proven through research that long-form content generates more natural backlinks than short-form content, so aim to produce longer articles that explore topics in-depth. 

Content like infographics (especially if they contain relevant statistics), how-to’s, guides, videos, and webinars are essential for building topical authority, and they attract lots of natural backlinks as a bonus. 

Better keyword rankings 

One of the biggest benefits of topical authority is that Google will start ranking you higher than your competitors, even if they have better SEO metrics. 

You’ll also start ranking for more keywords related to your business, even if you haven’t targeted them outright. As stated previously, Google favors sites with topical authority over those without. 

Why is that?

It’s because trusted, authoritative websites are always a safe bet for meeting a user’s needs while providing a pleasant search experience. 

Therefore, if you’ve built topical authority on a subject, you can outrank larger websites that have more web pages and links. 

For example, the website Strings and Beyond outranks Guitar Center for the keyword ‘guitar strings.’

Screenshot of Google search result for guitar strings

Despite the fact that Guitar Center is the largest music store chain in the United States, Strings and Beyond has topical authority related to stringed instruments. 

Looking at their website, it’s easy to see why that is. They have a blog chock-full of articles, guides, and how-tos related to guitar strings and other stringed instruments, which is how they built their topical authority. 

Essentially, building topical authority lets you eat at Google’s table during lunch. You’ve built their trust, so you get to be a part of the ‘in’ crowd. 

Meme of Mean Girls talking about Topical Authority

It provides a sustainable future 

The words ‘volatile’ and ‘uncertain’ have been married to SEO lately, which aren’t the best adjectives to hear if you want to build a long-lasting online presence. 

Establishing topical authority is truly the best way to forge a sustainable future for your brand on search engines like Google. 

Despite changing trends and AI this-and-that, topical authority will always remain a constant. 

Let’s put it this way: Google will always value trusted and authoritative websites, as they help match users with the highest quality and most relevant results online. 

Therefore, topical authority will always translate to favorable SERP rankings and citations (like in the SGE AI Snapshot). 

With topical authority on your side, even zero-click searches won’t affect your traffic generation. That’s because you’re more likely to appear in featured snippets (which will always contain a link to your site and your brand’s name). 

Video snippets are even more beneficial, as you get the chance to entice viewers with the thumbnail. Moreover, watching a branded video will leave more of a lasting impression on users instead of briefly viewing your brand’s logo on a blue hyperlink. 

Higher click-through rates 

If you’ve established topical authority for both Google and your target audience, you’ll see a positive impact on your click-through rates. 

That’s because your core audience members will start to recognize your brand, and it will have a way of popping out to them on the SERPs. 

You’ve likely experienced this phenomenon if you have a favorite brand you follow on a particular topic. For instance, let’s say you’re an avid reader of The Washington Post

As a result, whenever you search for a news story, links from The Washington Post will instantly stand out from the rest in your mind’s eye (especially news sites you don’t recognize). 

This rings true even if The Washington Post isn’t ranked in the #1 spot, which is a testament to the power of building topical authority. 

Your goal should be to become your audience’s go-to resource for everything related to your topic of expertise. Fostering this type of brand loyalty will literally make the other search results disappear in your audience’s minds, as they’ll be on the hunt for your content every single time. 

More user engagement 

In addition to generating more traffic, the visitors who do come to your site will engage with your content more if you’ve built topical authority. 

You’ll be able to confirm this with longer dwell times, comments, more newsletter sign-ups, and more conversions. 

Getting users to engage with your content and landing pages is one of the most challenging aspects of SEO, and building topical authority makes it a whole lot easier. 

How You Can Start Building Topical Authority Today 

While topical authority isn’t something you can establish overnight, it’s never too late to start laying the foundation for your eventual success. 

Here’s an overview of what that process looks like:

  • Select a maximum of two niche topics  
  • Identify topic clusters (AKA entities and child entities) 
  • Develop multiple content formats (blogs, videos, infographics, how-to’s, guides, free tools, etc.) 
  • Create pillar content 
  • Develop an in-depth link-building strategy 

There’s a lot to unpack here, so let’s take a closer look at each step. 

Step #1: Select a maximum of two niche topics to focus on 

The first step is to decide which niche topics you want to build topical authority for, and you should select no more than two. 

Why only two? Can’t you build authority for lots of topics?

You should limit yourself to two due to how much time and effort it takes to establish topical authority. While you could theoretically target more than two, it would cost you thousands of marketing dollars and countless hours to achieve the desired results. 

The key word here is ‘niche’ topic, as targeting broad, highly competitive fields is not wise. At the same time, your topic must directly relate to your business, or it won’t make sense. 

For instance, let’s say your online business sells accessories for automotive detailing. Car detailing is a huge subject, so you need to narrow things down and get more specific. 

Side hustles are all the rage, and young people are more eager than ever to find ways to earn money independently. After doing some brainstorming, you decide that your niche topic will be starting a freelance car detailing business for total beginners

A related topic you could also target is advanced car detailing tips for seasoned professionals

Now you have two topics that you can create original, highly detailed content for – and they both relate to the products you sell. 

Step #2: Do keyword research and identify topic clusters 

Now that you have a topic in mind, it’s time to start doing keyword research to inform your content strategy. 

In particular, your goal is to find interrelated keywords with desirable SEO metrics to base content around.

What do we mean by interrelated?

It means that the keywords share a common topic, so you should ‘cluster’ them together. These clusters form subtopics that you can explore in more detail. 

On Google, topics are called ‘entities,’ and they all have parent/child relationships. The parent entity represents a core topic, and the child entities are all related subtopics. 

Here’s how you should arrange your keyword clusters:

  • Seed keyword/parent topic: Freelance car detailing 
  • Related keyword/child entity: Interior detailing 
  • Related keyword/child entity: Mobile detailing business card
  • Related keyword/child entity: Car detailing business equipment 

As you can see, all the child entities directly relate to the parent entity, which is how you stay focused on the same topic without deviating too far. Your content must follow this type of structure if you want Google to eventually identify you as an authority on the topic. 

Keyword research tips 

How can you find keyword clusters?

One of the best ways to find related keywords to a parent topic is to use Google. Run a basic search for your primary keyword, and take note of any SERP features that appear. 

Here’s what shows up when we search for ‘freelance car detailing’:

screenshot of search result for freelance car detailing

These products are all related to freelance car detailing, and they could spark content ideas for your website. 

You can also find success using Google’s image search, as child entities sometimes appear beneath the search bar, as in this case:

 Google's Image Search result for freelance car detailing

Once again, these are viable cluster keywords. Also, don’t forget to pay attention to the ‘People Also Ask’ section, as it’s a goldmine for topic ideas:

People Also Ask section of Google search result for freelance car detailing

Before creating content for these topics, run each keyword through our free keyword planner tool to ensure they have viable SEO metrics. 

Step #3: Determine which content types you’ll use 

Blog posts are great, but they shouldn’t comprise 100% of your content efforts. If you truly want to build topical authority, you’ll want to utilize multiple content formats, including:

  • Videos 
  • Infographics
  • Ultimate guides
  • How-to posts 
  • FAQ sections 
  • Free tools (if applicable) 

You’ll need to review your marketing budget and content creation capabilities before diving in, as there’s no use planning for content that you can’t realistically pull off. 

Once you’ve figured out the logistics, develop an editorial calendar that plans out several months’ worth of content. 

Step #4: Create pillar content that exhibits E-E-A-T signals 

Now, it’s time to get down to the nitty-gritty and start producing content. 

Instead of targeting topics at random, you should create pillar content for all your most important subtopics.

For instance, you could create an Ultimate Guide for Creating Mobile Detailing Business Cards to act as a resource for budding mobile detailers. Then, you could put together a comprehensive video teaching your audience how to operate a pressure washer properly. 

The idea is to populate your website with lots of varied pillar content that informs, educates, and entertains your audience. 

Include E-E-A-T signals wherever possible, such as including first-hand experiences that demonstrate your unique expertise. 

Step #5: Develop link-building strategies 

Outstanding content accounts for only half of the topical authority equation. Google also values websites that have backlinks from authoritative websites, which is something every domain needs to find success on the SERPs. 

If you have lots of backlinks from credible websites in the car detailing industry, Google will be twice as likely to identify you as having topical authority. 

Here’s a glimpse at the link-building tactics that we find the most effective:

Once you have lots of pillar content and the links to back it up, developing topical authority becomes inevitable. 

SEO Success Made Simple with Topical Authority 

Despite rapidly changing search trends, establishing topical authority will ensure the survival of your online visibility. 

Once Google identifies your topical authority, you’ll rank for more keywords, generate more referral traffic, and build more links without lifting a finger. 

Do you need help building topical authority for your website?

Check out HOTH X, our managed SEO service that lets you put your digital marketing on autopilot. We’ll handle the heavy lifting while you focus on growth, so don’t wait to contact us today.