Throughout this blog you will often see the phrases “topical authority domain” or “topically relevant domain”.

What is a Topical Authority Domain?

A topical authority domain is a domain, or website, that ranks very well for a particular topic due to the topically relevant content on the domain. Topics typically include places or things. Domains which have achieved this status rank very well and fast for their associated topic or niche.

topical authoirty domain

Table of Contents:

Is a topical authority domain the same thing as Domain Authority or Page Authority?
Do you have scientific evidence of Topical Authority Domains?
What are some examples of a topically authority domain?
When did this start?
What makes a website a Topical Authority Domain?
What does NOT make a topical authority domain?
Is this Semantic Search?
Actionable advice.
Do you need help creating creative content?

Is this the same thing as Domain Authority or Page Authority?

No. Many people would be taken aback by this but I never use these tools. They can be very helpful and I appreciate them; I just do not personally use them. Domain Authority, as defined by Moz here, is scored by dozens of factors including linking root domains, the total number of inbound links, the “quality” of those links, the “trust” of those links, etc. Please refer to the link above for a more detailed description as I am honestly not that familiar with DA rank. At present, topical authority domains also have nothing or little to do with social signals or authors.

Do you have scientific evidence for this?

Ranking above your competition in search for multiple key phrases is a phenomenon which I have witnessed time and time again on my own experimental websites, client websites, and even sites that I randomly monitor in a wide variety of niches. Sometimes sites which are topical authorities can rank for hundreds or even thousands of key phrases. Owning a website which is topically relevant or a topical authority domain is extremely valuable.

There are several commonalities that topical authority websites share and I will discuss most of them below. Often, once a website has achieved “topical authority status” any new content that is placed on the site typically ranks very well in search within 12 hours of being published.

I do not have a measurable metric of this, nor do I intend on creating one. I do however have a boatload of examples of websites that do not fit into the category of a valuable domain authority website which have achieved what I call topical authority domain status, and the key factor for obtaining this status is the content on the website.

What are some examples of a topically authority domain?

Below I will provide a few quick examples.

  • Example 1: Hypothetical Website A is 24 months old. It is an optometrist’s website and the doctor’s practice is located in Charlotte, North Carolina. This doctor has a blog and posts twice a week. There are approximately 25 other eye care professionals in his city. When he puts up content he does what I call taking his content one step further. He discusses how residents of Charlotte can use sunglasses to protect their eyes from UV rays found in central NC, how often patients should get eye exams, how eye issues can cause headaches, how the pollen count in Charlotte makes eyes itchy. He has a few inbound links from various Charlotte resources such as the chamber of commerce but otherwise has almost no inbound links. He does not use social media. His domain has become a topical authority for “eye care” and relevant to Charlotte. When he puts up a new post about routine eye exams he finds his post on page 1 of Google the next morning for “Eye Exams Charlotte NC”. The post contained absolutely no information, nor the text “Charlotte”. It was not stuffed with keywords; it simply explained why people should proactively get eye exams and how the process worked.
  • Example 2: Let’s look at I will go ahead and point out that this is not the best example in the world because this is a very aged domain with a ton of social signals and a leader in the candy distribution field that likely has a gigantic link portfolio (in other words, there are millions of variables in play). However, this domain is extremely relevant to candy. Search for Halloween Candy, Birthday Candy, or Wedding Candy, Purple Candy, and you will see the website right on the front page. They can easily jump on any current candy trend and blow away the competition if they nail it with their SEO copywriting. In fact if I were them I would start blogging on a daily basis. At this point in time it looks like they are happy with their (amazing) short tail keyword success but overlooking thousands of new long tail searches they could be showing up in. Why did I use this as an example if they are such a poor example? The point remains the same: while it varies from niche to niche, you can have a domain achieve topical authority domain status mostly via the content that is located on it.

When did this start?

I first noticed this on a business that I owned for over a decade. I began blogging on the domain around 2003 and at one point the site dominated key phrases worldwide by 2007. This is nothing new, although I will give one post in particular that I just bumped into a huge thumbs up for discussing topical authority content focused sites and the Panda 4.0 update. I will go ahead and admit I did not read this post in full detail. I am sure it is a brilliant piece as I have seen other outstanding content from the author and I encourage people to read it; I personally get extremely distracted reading other people’s content. I could easily spend 120 hours a week doing so but I have clients to take care of and a wife who will put me down like an old horse if I get too carried away. It was indeed the above post which prodded me into finally writing this little article, and some sites I was working on did jump in rankings as recently as May 26, 2014 just after the Panda 4.0 update, but these were sites that were about to be “discovered” at any moment anyways. Side note, I wrote an article on recovering from a Panda 4.0 “penalty” on Wojdylo Social Media here.

What makes a website a Topical Authority Domain?

I am sure there are a variety of factors, including factors which I am not aware of. I have made many clients a topical authority while performing SEO copywriting on their website and performing other typical on site and off site SEO duties. Again, I have no intention of getting any more scientific about this- I would love to, but I am paid to rank websites. If someone were to hire me to just to experiment in a more controlled environment I would be thrilled although that would cost much more money that it would generate up front and the people I work with typically want a monetary return on their investment as soon as possible. Anyways, here are the factors which I believe are the most important in achieving topical authority domain status:

  • Unique content. This is hands down the most important factor – taking your content deeper than your competition. In a city with a few dozen personal injury attorneys, you will likely see several who explain that they are great at what they do. Some will then display their areas of expertise, such as amputation injury. Most leave it at that. If one has an active blog being updated that takes the content a step further it may discuss amputation in ways which the other attorneys have ignored, such as: What is the value of a pinky? How do people lose their feet? How long does an amputation lawsuit take to complete? A recent settlement and case study of someone who was awarded money for the loss of their big toe. Which jobs cause the most amputations? All of these articles should be a minimum of 5 paragraphs and also naturally link back to the “money page” of “amputation injury”. While we’re talking about article size- a domain that has reached this status can actually put up relatively small articles. Initially the quantity of articles appears to be the most important factor, however, this depends entirely on the niche. In competitive niches posts will need to be in the 1,000 – 3,000 word range. Another note: I never keep track of the amount of words on a page as I write for people, not for machines (this happens to be what the machines want, so I guess I do write for both). If I can explain the value of a pinky in 4 sentences, I will, but if the age of the person matters and their occupation is a factor and how they lost the pinky is a factor I will elaborate.
  • Content placement. My best examples are websites which have a properly configured blog right on the domain, such as appears to be just as effective. I highly recommend one of these 2 configurations. Exceptions I have seen mostly include blogspot blogs where a business owner set up a blog over on blogspot because their website did not include blogging functionality. I have a lot of examples of this as well- one quick one would be a local air conditioning repair company located a few miles from me. The owner puts up great content on his blogspost blog where he explains gas furnaces vs heat pumps, R22 refrigerant, noises heat pumps make, etc. It is just a helpful, informative blog. All of his posts link back to his “money pages” as well. For whatever reason, other than WooCommerce, many big box eCommerce solutions completely fail at having a good blogging solution built in to their platform. It is amazing to me that in 2014 this is the case. If you have a website like this and rebuilding it is not an option then go with Blogspot for your content. Another option may be a secondary website, that way you retain full control of the domain, I have however seen many great cases where Blogspot was the source of the blog.
  • Content frequency. On the sites I have personally worked on the best results come from an active blog. If you are putting out fresh content multiple times each week in combination with a topical authority domain that content will almost always hit the front page within 48 hours, and often within 8. Less competitive niches like people selling polka dotted spaceships in Tibuktu do not need much content at all- in fact a little splash page would probably be fine. For example, I recently mentioned polka dotted spaceships in Timbuktu in a blog post and I was #1 in Google for it a couple hours later.
  • Content images. I always use images so I can’t be certain how much of a role this plays. Of course, I optimize all images for search as well as just out of habit.
  • Content crawl-ability and accessibility. Over the years I have forgotten to add a sitemap to Google Webmaster Tools on many occasions. I do now, out of habit, but do not feel it is necessary. When I was first online people used a text based browser called Lynx. I have yet to stop! Yes, I still browse my sites in Lynx still and make sure they are crawlable. A good blog will have a recent posts section, a category list, and an archive. You can navigate to it- it is not inaccessible. Also, the content is good enough to be read by someone with a vision impairment. Some of my favorite clients I have had in the past were born 100% blind. They use websites and a good website’s navigation system is designed with them in mind.
  • Internal links. As I’ve mentioned in this article a few times now, linking back to your money pages is important. Of course, if someone just lost their foot they’re going to want to know more about your amputation lawsuit procedure, so linking back to this page is natural, and of course it funnels the prospective client in to your sales page. Are internal links as important as external (inbound) links? I place a very high value on my links.
  • Domain Age. I wish I could rule this one out. In competitive niches the best topical authority domains are always over 1 year old, or older. In less competitive niches I have seen them rank in weeks. When researching a niche I manually google around to determine who is ranking, how they did it (as there many ways to rank), and try to come up with some sort or idea of how long it will take the new site I am working on to rank. Some people circumvent the age of their domain by purchasing aged domains or domains which have recently expired although there is a very fine line while doing this. This is a common tactic in the black hat world and I know people that have used this method to rank for well over a decade now.
  • Link Age. The longer a link exists to a site the more trusted it becomes. This has to be a factor. If I drop a link on Wikipedia and it is deleted 24 hours later it may be worthless. Of course, there is something to be said about fresh links and all links in between. I do not place as high a value on links as many people do. Links are a factor in search engine algorithms and will be for a very long time IMO.
  • Link portfolio. I really place a low value on inbound links. That said, I know of niches where the entire first page of search is dominated by sites which are full of thin content, have no blog, and have a very spammy backlink portfolio. One industry is personal injury, where the top slot in one city that I monitor is occupied by a guy that has links from termite websites, websites consisting of one page, links from pages that discuss the human nose, and so on. That said, the best links are from geographically relevant websites, or other trusted websites. I know, I know, this sounds like SEO 101 and is probably very similar to domain authority. Now, how important are these links? It depends on the niche. I place much more emphasis on the content than I do the links.

What does NOT make a topical authority domain?

  • Backlinks. Again, this is not scientific, but, I have pages that are destroying the competition with a small backlink portfolio. Then again, I have great examples of websites that are complete spam that are destroying websites with great content, but, search engines hate spam and want to connect people with resources they are looking for, so hopefully future algorithm tweaks will help bury these websites.
  • Social Signals. Some of my best performing sites have absolutely no presence on social media. They have very few natural inbound links coming from Pinterest, Google Plus, forums, etc. Could this change in the future? Sure! Then again “social popularity” would be extremely easy to manipulate.
  • Author. The author of a post currently has little or nothing to do with where the post will display in search engine result pages. Microsoft has a very good read on how they attempted to discover topical authority people here. A local friend of mine, Mark Traphagen, passionately awaits the day “Google Author Rank” might become a factor in Google search, you can read one of his articles about Author Rank here. I admire his ideas on this subject and it is definitely something I would treat as a factor now even if author rank never happens, as the idea is mostly about creating great content about a topic that you are an expert in.
  • Structured Data. Now this can absolutely help for placement in some niches. I will use a snippet on this article so that you can see it in action at the bottom of this page- it will be a little “summary” box with a brief description of the article. I rarely use these on this website though, and at this point in time I do not feel that it plays any or much of a role in a topical authority domain.

Is this Semantic Search?

Possibly. Semantic search is another one of those topics that I just haven’t dove head first into. What I do works. In a full blown marketing campaign a website will have it’s own unique content. It will be promoted on social media and discussed. I personally, and for most of my present clients, we crank out unique content and leave it at that. It works, and they’re all thrilled. There are entire books dedicated to the semantic web and different people describe it differently but for a very brief overview of what semantic search, google it, or read this article.

Actionable advice:

  • DIY content. If you do not have an SEO copywriter and want to DIY this, thoroughly examine your competition. Get a sneak peek at their links through sites like Open Site Explorer. Read their blog if they have one. Look at the same niche in other cities. Look at Google Analytics, Adwords campaigns, and Webmaster tools to see what people are actually looking for, how much time they are spending (or not spending) on a page. Talk to your customers and ask them how they found you and what is important to them. Befriend other professionals in your field. If you sell hot dogs in Durham NC do NOT just put up a post that says “Hot Dogs Durham NC” and expect results. Depending on your competition you might want to lead up to the “home run” post by discussing hot dogs. Do you have locally made hot dogs consisting of Angus beef, or mechanically separated chicken and beak hot dogs purchased in bulk from China?  Do you have a unique hot dog experience? When are they the freshest? Have you sold them at a baseball game? Do you have a special chili, and what is made of? What does your cart look like? Does your about page talk about you, have your picture, and your contact information? you dream of selling hot dogs as a child? Discus topically relevant areas where you have sold your hot dogs in the Durham area, or other food related businesses in Durham that you love, such as your favorite BBQ dive. In a competitive niche I might put up 20 posts on the thing, and 20 posts on the place before I start to go after my “money keywords”.
  • Get natural backlinks. My favorite thing to post about is the opposite of what I am selling. In the case of the hot dog man, it would be a detailed post about how to make your own hot dogs. Too time consuming? Put up a post on how it is done, dissect a YouTube video, add your own images and input, and embed a relevant YT video into your blog post. But keep in mind, original, unique content usually wins.

Do you need help creating creative content?

Not all professionals are aware of what people are actually searching for. Some of the best attorneys I have met are a rockstar in the courtroom but reading a sentence off of their website will put you to sleep for the entire winter. Some companies need content as part of their Internet marketing package, SEO package, or need something to promote on social media. If you fall in to one of these categories, contact us. We have plenty of examples of websites that have achieved this status of an authoritative, expert, trusted domain. It does not happen overnight but we can make it happen, and make no mistake it increases sales for almost every niche out there. It is cost effective and can grow a business by leaps and bounds. If you are a potential client, contact us and we can give you examples of domains that we manage that are ethically dominating search engine result pages and are extremely powerful. Even in the SEO industry there are some real experts out there much smarter than I am that have trouble coming out with creative content.


Final notes / disclaimer:

There could very well be bad information in this article. On my own site that I say was a topical authority in the 2007 era- it was loaded with detail, text, and images of I.T. related content. People linked to it. Maybe the combination of excellent on site SEO, backlinks, and the constant trickle of content coming from the site is why it performed so well. Regardless, there are not many changes I will make in my approach to SEO anytime soon. Just Friday, July 25, 2014, someone gave me multiple proposals from local SEO firms that they had received. It was unfortunate that each one of them had major flaws that may even be detrimental to a business owner’s success. Tactics suggested were everything from blog commenting, forum spam, press releases, outsourced content writing consisting of multiple 400 word articles, etc- it is amazing how many companies portray themselves as being able to “beat” the search engines as if it were a game. Sure, it can be done, and it is done every day, but if your intention is to grow a business and not sell 50 bottles of illegal medication, putting out unique content IS going to help you. A quality SEO copywriter is additionally going to place great call to actions in the content, break up the text with images and so on and so forth, but that is another topic for another day.

  1. Great article, thank you

  2. You can see here your topical ranks:


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