Topical Authority in SEO: How to Do Topical Optimization?
by Ismail Yusibov · Updated Spt. 12, 2023
This is a brief introduction to the Topical Authority concept. For the unconventional, Topical Authority refers to the level of expertise, credibility, depth, and specificity a website has regarding a particular topic. In my presentation, I explained how to optimize a website in order to increase the level of topical authority on any topic.
The concept I call Topical Optimization involves more than the traditional SEO approach. With entity-oriented keyword research and usage, website-wide usage of E-E-A-T guidelines, orientation to specificity and depth in content writing, topical backlink acquisition, and more, it is possible for new websites to gain traffic & rankings faster in search engines. Considering the changing (and getting harder) nature of search engines, I think the best available approach for now is Topical Optimization.
You can access the presentation via the link.
Topical authority is the level of depth a website builds around a particular main theme. The more relevant, specific, and inclusive content a website publishes around a given main theme, the more authoritative it becomes on that topic.
When we talk about topical optimization, it’s common for people to think about things like creating topic clusters, using internal links, and writing relevant content. These techniques have been well-known in the SEO community for a while. However, the process goes beyond just these aspects. Therefore, topical optimization should not be limited to a content strategy or content planning process.
The most effective and natural approach to establish authority for your website or enhance the authority of an existing site involves utilizing modern keyword research techniques, developing a content strategy that emphasizes authority, acquiring topical backlinks, and adhering to Google’s guidelines, such as the E-E-A-T.
Once a website attains a strong authority in a particular main theme, it becomes more likely to attract higher traffic and achieve better rankings in search results.
The presentation I’ve prepared outlines the steps that can be taken to increase the level of topical authority for a website. In my article, I aim to provide a more comprehensive explanation of the topics covered in the presentation.
How does Google understand words?
Google is a structured search engine that possesses the ability to comprehend the intricate meanings of words, as well as their intricate connections and associations with other words.
A structured search engine, also known as a semantic search engine, has the ability to organize information into distinct entities. This approach allows for a better understanding of the connections between keywords or entities. Google’s Knowledge Graph is a prime example of how these relationships are showcased, with relevances highlighted in its search results.
The Knowledge Graph can be useful in showing you the relationships between entities. For example, the entity “J.R.R. Tolkien” can be identified as an “author.” Similarly, the “name” “J.R.R. Tolkien” can be associated with the entity “The Lord of the Rings” “book”.
Google’s Knowledge Graph functions like an encyclopedia, storing entities on the entity plane in a way that machines can understand and utilize. When a user performs a search, they can input just a few keywords instead of long phrases, and still find relevant search results. This is because the Google Knowledge Graph analyzes the entities associated with each word and creates meaningful connections.
The working principle of the Google Knowledge Graph is similar to that of the human brain. It remembers information in a manner similar to how you remember people in real life. For example, you don’t need to know every detail of your school teacher’s life to recognize and remember them. Knowing that they are a teacher at your school is sufficient. The Knowledge Graph also remembers connections between entities based on metadata.
What Google has achieved with the Knowledge Graph is the ability to create a network of interconnected entities, akin to a giant map, which can be presented to the user. This allows users to explore and understand the relationships between various entities more effectively.
Genesis: Hummingbird’s impact on the topical authority
Prior to 2013, Google lacked a comprehensive understanding of the connections between different entities. Consequently, users had a tendency to construct longer sentences when formulating their search queries. In response to this, Google introduced an update known as Hummingbird, which aimed to facilitate users in finding relevant information more easily.
The implementation of the Google Hummingbird update involved a complete overhaul of the underlying core algorithm utilized by the search engine.
By virtue of the Hummingbird update, Google began to place more emphasis on understanding the purpose and different meanings and connections behind a search query, rather than relying solely on specific keywords to generate results.
Hummingbird introduced several innovative techniques, including the expansion of search queries, the identification of similarities between different search queries, and the establishment of connections at the entity level.
For instance, the concept that multiple search queries could be consolidated into a single query was not widely accepted until the release of the Hummingbird update. Following this update, users gained the ability to locate desired information using a single search. Additionally, the use of synonyms in search queries became more prevalent as a result of the Hummingbird update.
One of the major benefits of Hummingbird for SEO was its ability to rank content based on the relevance of the search query. Prior to Hummingbird, search engine results pages (SERPs) determined content ranking primarily through factors like site speed, quantity of content, number of keywords, backlinks, social media shares, and the quality of inbound links. However, Hummingbird changed the game by discouraging black hat SEO practices such as purchasing links, keyword stuffing, and hiding keywords.
Hummingbird placed a strong emphasis on content quality and relevance as key ranking factors. This approach has been consistently reinforced by subsequent algorithm updates following the introduction of Hummingbird.
In fact, the impact of the Hummingbird update was significant, affecting more than 90% of all searches.
After Hummingbird Update
After the introduction of the Hummingbird algorithm update, it appears that Google has placed greater emphasis on delivering relevant and accurate content in patent applications. Furthermore, Google has initiated a revamp of its search engine to incorporate a semantic understanding. This implies that Google now aims to be the primary destination for users to find precisely what they’re searching for with just a single query, rather than burdening themselves financially and technically with numerous similar queries to locate desired information.
To accomplish this, Google adopted a model known as Entity Connections, which involves establishing links between associated terms. As a result, Google consolidated all these links into a centralized hub called the Google Knowledge Graph. Within a matter of weeks, the Google Knowledge Graph expanded to immense proportions, shaping Google into the renowned search engine we are familiar with today.
If you wish to gauge the impact of the Hummingbird update on the Google search engine, you can refer to the test provided below.
After Hummingbird, Google released the Medic, YMYL and EAT (2018), and Bert (2019) updates.
In all algorithm changes, Google prioritized information, context, specificity, authority and reliability on the general website and pages linked to the website.
Google cares about whether the information a website provides is reliable and truly expert information.
That’s why today Google prioritizes useful, quality and user-oriented content created by expert content creators. This brings us to the main theme of this presentation, the age of topical authority
The places I marked in the article are the E-EA-T signals. These signals are effective in demonstrating the credibility and usercentricity of a website. Especially if you have a large website.
Thanks to the Google MUM (Multitask United Model, 2021), Google allows people to find the information they want with less searching. In this context, we can see that Google’s goal is to get people to search less.
The aim of all the renewals after MUM has reinforced the logic of rewarding web pages based on expertise, authority, relevance, reliability and individual-orientedness.
The SEO community has called it topical authority.
Topical authority was included in Google’s guide posts on 23.05.2025 and officially recognized as a ranking factor.
The rise of topical optimization
As Google advanced its search engine and made significant strides in understanding context and meaning, the development of SEO strategies aimed at enhancing the overall authority of websites gained momentum.
While the central concept revolves around achieving greater “depth,” there exist various methodologies to accomplish this objective. For instance, employing topic clusters, utilizing internal links, conducting semantic keyword research, and devising content plans are among the effective approaches.
In my presentation, I introduced the concept of topical optimization, which entails a set of steps to enhance the overall authority of a website. These steps can be categorized into five main pillars:
- Optimization at various levels, including topics, categories, pages, sub-topics, pillar themes, clusters, and keywords.
- Site-wide optimizations to align with the E-A-T guidelines (Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness).
- Content optimization to ensure high-quality and relevant information.
- Internal link optimizations to enhance website navigation and connectivity.
- Building topical backlinks to acquire external validation and authority.
While many of these concepts are familiar to traditional SEO practices, there are a few key distinctions. Let’s delve into how we can effectively apply these concepts to achieve Topical Optimization.
In topical optimization, keywords form the core of every SEO process, as they are at the core of it. What I focused on while preparing my presentation was what we should do differently.
In the past, almost all SEO strategies were about stuffing content on the website targeting certain keywords. However, these strategies are no longer used. Many SEOs have realized that Google places more emphasis on specialized websites than on hybrid websites. That’s why today, websites only establish and implement a content strategy around their main themes.
In topical optimization, keyword research goes beyond merely creating content for a single keyword. This is because no single piece of content can cover every aspect of a given topic, just as a single website cannot encompass all the topics in the world.
Google’s engineers noticed this before the Hummingbird update and believed that a search engine based on context rather than keywords would produce more precise results. According to Google, a website’s ranking should be determined by the context, extent and depth of its content rather than solely based on the presence of keywords (and the number of backlinks).
The patent (US9449105B1) considers specific keywords in terms of their contextual significance and meaning. This leads us to target not just a particular keyword, but the overall context in which that keyword is situated.
Such an approach may push websites to target multiple clusters of topics so that they specialize in their main themes. It may be necessary to touch all the topic clusters found around the main theme to demonstrate expertise.
Google’s John Mueller on authoritative sites:
In any case, the Google algorithm measures the depth of the parent theme and takes this into account.
Let’s consider the keyword “home renovation”.
This keyword may be good for your website. However, by targeting only this keyword, you will not be able to show Google that you dominate this topic. The reason for this is that a single content does not meet the criteria of expertise, reliability, inclusiveness.
Instead, we find the following scenario more ideal:
The website structure you see in the screenshot is an example of semantic SEO, and in its simplest form, it shows how the site weaves context around the main theme.
Such a structure is a positive one, as it contains most of the information about the main theme that users will want to find, and provides users with a resource website.
- The main theme of the website is clear
- The categories of the website are clear
- The website has an understandable structure
- The contents are distributed correctly
- The contents are reated to the main theme of the website
- Each category acts as a “hub” for the content listed under that category.
- Therefore, the website has several hubs that are relevant to the main theme
- Each hub contains Googe searched queries reated to that hub, which gives it authority.
What is the rationale for topical keyword optimization?
- Do keyword research based on main theme, sub-theme and pillar pages
- Try to cover everything that is relevant to your site’s theme.
- Link all content collected under sub-topics
- Think of each category as a separate website.
Topic clusters are an effective SEO approach that focuses on organizing your website’s structure based on topics rather than solely relying on keywords.
The concept of topic clusters involves grouping related content under a central cluster known as “pillar pages.” These pillar pages serve as comprehensive guides to the main topic, offering a broad overview of the topic matter. Moreover, they act as the central hub where all the valuable and relevant content you offer can be found and accessed by your audience. By implementing topic clusters, you can enhance the organization and discoverability of your website, ultimately improving your SEO strategy.
Content clusters are connected to the pillar page through hyperlinks or internal links, and vice versa. They serve to offer a more comprehensive and in-depth exploration of a specific subtopic that is related to the main theme. Essentially, content clusters are like groups of information that are linked to the main page and provide a thorough coverage of a particular aspect associated with the main theme.
What are the benefits of topic clustering?
- Reinforcing topical authority: Separating your site on the scale of main theme, sub-themes, micro-themes and collecting every sub-theme related to the main theme in its own hub increases the depth of the site about the main theme.
- Enhancement of user experience: Streamlined site framework makes it easy for users to navigate the website.
- Internal links: Internal links are the most important factors needed to build topic sets. Internal links also have positive effects such as authority transfer, time spent on site, and easy navigation.
- Reducing confusion: Using topic clusters allows you to focus on content related to the main theme.
It is possible for us to add an unlimited number of (relevant) micro-topics to our website for topical authority. For example, you can create secondary clusters for your content that targets very specific queries.
How can I understand the relevance?
Topical optimization appears to be a model that depends entirely on relevance and depth. Therefore, determining relevance is a key step in the SEO process.
To understand the relevance, note the following:
- Keyword results with all the volume, competitiveness and bidding data provided by Google Ads.
- Google Suggested Search Results
- Google-related questions results (PAA)
- Results of related Google queries
- Results of the questions of interest
- Entity results
- Trend results
Related entities & related queries
To gain topical authority, your website needs to cover the entire topic. So where are all the topics located? On the Google Knowledge Panel. Understanding how topics are structured in the Google Knowledge Panel is important in topical keyword research.
Therefore, in order to identify topics that are relevant to your website and include those topics on your website, you should consider the following:
- Related Entities
- Related Topics
- Related Queries
Related queries are found in Google’s Autosuggest, Also Ask, and Related Searches features. Google determines other queries related to the original search query based on user’s behavior.
Related entities are different from queries. These are not keywords. Relevant entities are hard to find by keyword research. At least, in the traditional sense. Instead, you need to find entities on Google that are related to the main entity.
For example, one of the main entity of “Justin Bieber” (artist, human) could be “Selena Gomez” (human, actor, artist). Because they once had a relationship, and Google has evidence to support that fact.
Let’s look at another example.
Let’s say you are looking for other entities which have an entity connection with the “Turkish March” composition.
As you can see, Google realized that the composition “Turkish March” belonged to Mozart, but that other composers also composed this composition.
Evelyne Dubourg and Mozart were related entities. Because both of them are composer and person in their own way. But the fact that they both composed the same composition resulted in the creation of another related entity between them.
Entity connections are where we want to go in topical optimization. Entity connections are connections that connect two different entities. For example, although America and Afghanistan are two different entities, the atmosphere of war between the two countries once tied them together. This is reflected in the SERP.
Enhance your content through related-queries and related-entities.
To summarize, related queries and related entities refer to how a user interacts with Google. These queries and entities are all user related.
The way to extend this already existing main theme is to find other themes related to this main theme and host it on the website. The way around this is through related queries and related entities.
Site-wide optimization for E-E-A-T guidelines
E-E-A-T stands for “Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness.”
- Experience: Users should know if the content creator has real-life experience on the subject.
- Expertise: Users should know whether the content they read is written by real experts.
- Authoritativeness: Users should know your competence and reliability on the subject.
- Trustworthiness: Users should be sure of the accuracy and reliability of the content.
Website-wide optimization for the E-E-A-T guidelines will cause the content on your website to be evaluated by Google as high page quality.
In any case, E-E-A-T isn’t a ranking factor, but it does reinforce your topical authority. A good article + a good optimization + strong E-E-A-T signal will give you a good ranking.
Optimization of content can be listed under several main headings. For example, (1) content depth, (2) cross-content links, (3) content authority, (4) specificity, (5) relevance, (6) E-E-A-T guidelines compliance, and more. Many of them are familiar from traditional SEO.
Unique Information Gain Score
Unique Information Gain Score, or simply Gain Score, is another concept that adds depth to the content. Content gains more depth thanks to the specific information it has.
Update Score A term I came across in Koray’s article. So far, we’ve all talked about the importance of keeping content and general websites up-to-date in SEO. We can attribute this terminologically to the Update Score.
Google cares about the freshness and timeliness of the content and scores.
The length of the content is important for covering a topic comprehensively. There are 2 things that affect content length in topic optimization: (1) Entity matching and (2) Named Entity Recognition. Although these two factors do not seem to have a direct impact on content length, they decide what the scope of a content will be.
Entity type matching
Entity Type Matching is a process in natural language processing and information extraction that involves identifying and classifying entities mentioned in text based on their semantic types or categories. The goal is to determine the appropriate type or category of an entity mentioned in a sentence or document.
Named entity recognition
Named Entity Recognition is a natural language processing task that involves identifying and classifying named entities in text. Named entities are specific objects, people, locations, dates, organizations, and other well-defined concepts that have names or labels. NER aims to locate and classify these named entities into predefined categories, such as person names, organization names, locations, dates, and more.
Both NER and ETM show what the content is about and how each entity specified in the content is in a semantic hierarchy.
While writing content, checking which entities a word is associated with at the entity level and including these links in the content creates a positive effect.
The last point I want to draw attention to about content optimization is the main nuance we target with topical optimization; topical scope. One of the main goals is for a website to gain topical coverage and be able to show it to the search engine.
Topical coverage is a website’s proficiency, depth, expertise, and level on a particular topic. Think of your website as a resource base, and if your website isn’t proficient enough to be a comprehensive resource on the main theme, it lacks topical scope.
For example, let’s look at the topical coverage of “hair transplant”:
As you can see, there are more than one topic related to “hair transplant”. Although it seems unlikely that a website will cover all these topics (and considering that these topics are formed as a result of user searches and behaviors), understanding which topic is more closely related to the main theme still requires understanding user intent.
Internal links are important for the distribution of backlinks to a website across all pages of the website. More importantly, you can link together contents collected under a particular cluster via internal links and show Google that the topic cluster is authoritative on a particular topic.
The important thing here is the internal links between the content collected under topic clusters. Irrelevant internal links can distort the meaning and scope of a topic cluster.
Another rule of thumb about internal links is equality. It’s important to keep your internal links in check and prevent one page from getting too many internal links and another getting too few internal links.
Topical backlinks to increase topical authority
The authority of a website on a topic is created by bringing together all the information the user is looking for and turning the website into a resource on the main theme. However, it may take a long time for the search engine to consider the website as a whole and accept that it is authoritative on the main theme.
In order to speed up this process and to register the authority of the website on the main theme, it is necessary to use backlinks. In contrast, the types of backlinks significantly influence authority transfer.
The backlinks a web page acquires differ according to their types. Transferring authority is related to link quantity, link location, link text, link source, link frequency, link relevance, link distribution, and link strength.
During topical optimization, backlink campaigns yield more effective results by focusing only on topical backlinks. The main theme, site structure, site categories, content relevance, use of the same entities, and high traffic should be the main factors that we should pay attention to when acquiring backlinks.
In addition, extending the topical backlink campaign over a long period of time, and periodically acquiring the same amount (or more) of topical backlinks will produce more beneficial results.
Takeaway: what should we do?
It is possible to further expand the topic of topical authority and SEO optimization for topical authority, to examine some concepts in depth. Since topical authority is a subject that can spread to every field of SEO, I chose to include only the points that I consider important in this article.
In this context, I evaluated topical optimization in 5 main processes. These are (1) keyword research and usage, (2) content optimization, (3) compliance with key Google guidelines such as E-E-A-T, (4) internal links, and (5) external links.
When it comes to topical optimization, it is important to establish the foundation of a website correctly. Semantic content clusters structured on a correctly categorized website play an important role in gaining topical authority for the website. Apart from this, it is possible to talk about topical optimization for large web sites that already exist. Major websites that already exist have already gained authority due to social media signals, domain history (historical data), backlink profile, content history and more. However, supportive contents can be added to the existing contents of the site to show this authority and the expertise of the website on the main theme to Google. Generally, helpful and relevant content that links to the main content increases the depth of the main content. Of course, this is just one of many examples. Thanks to the concepts I explained in my content and presentation, you can gain a broad perspective on what can be done.
To summarize, the steps that can be taken for topical optimization can be listed as follows:
- If you are managing a website with a competitive main theme, determine your topic clusters well. Think of each topic cluster as a separate website.
- Pay attention to internal links. This is the only way to connect the contents accumulating under a topic cluster to the pillar page and the pillar page to the main page. In this way, you can semantically associate the aggregated contents under the website.
- It is difficult to talk about topical authority without backlinks. Although it is possible to get high rankings and traffic without backlinks, you should not deny the importance of backlinks and try to gain topical backlinks.
- Plan your content well. Do not deviate from the content angle. Focus on the main idea and increase the depth and specificity of the content as much as you can without cluttering the content.
- Make a good connection between your topic clusters. If you have created a content cluster for a particular sub-topic, do not link to that cluster from irrelevant content. This will lower the relevance of the cluster.
- E-E-A-T is important, but only for large sites. If you’re starting a new website, your focus is on topic clusters and content.
- Social links give topical authority. Google does not consider social links as ranking factors, but sees and evaluates them.
- Use new tools. Today, keyword research tools like Semrush and Ahrefs focus on specific metrics. But Google is changing. Use tools that you can plan at the entity level. InLinks is one of them.
- Do not publish your content instantly. Tools like MarketMuse do a good job of optimizing content. You can never be sure that the content is successful without having a robot audit your content.
- User intent is everything. Do not present informative content on a commercial topic.