Link Building

How Topic Authority Impacts SEO

Topic authority is recognized expertise on a given subject. A company, publication, or person can possess it.

In May, Google published an article in its Search Central Blog titled “Understanding news topic authority.” The article explains how Google assesses expertise for responding to News and Search queries.

Here’s what we know about topic authority and its impact on rankings.

Topic Authority, per Google

The May article listed Google’s prominent signals for topic authority:

  • How notable a source is for a topic or location. 
  • How original reporting is cited by other publishers.
  • A source’s history of high-quality reporting or recommendations from expert sources, such as professional societies.

In other words, the primary signals are:

  • A source’s location (e.g., a local news site) or evidence of expertise (a knowledge panel).
  • Links from other trusted publications.
  • Connection to other trusted entities — awards, professional associations, more.

Google’s Nov. 2023 edition of Search Quality Rater Guidelines (PDF) refers repeatedly to topic authority. For example, the Guidelines explain why “Marriott” ranks prominently for a query of “hotels”:

Page Quality. The Marriott website gives information on Marriott Hotels, a popular chain. Marriott has a good reputation and is an expert on hotels, making the information on this page highly authoritative. High+ to Highest is an appropriate rating.

The Guidelines also suggest checking the backlinks of higher-ranking pages.

Thus the Search Central Blog article and Quality Rater Guidelines both suggest Google’s requirements for top rankings:

  • Reputation as a trusted resource,
  • Recognizable brand or entity within that niche,
  • References (links) from trusted sources such as Wikipedia, professional news outlets, more.

In 2013 Google obtained a U.S. patent (PDF) called “System and method for determining topic authority.” It identifies key factors of any web page for assigning expertise on a topic, which the patent calls the “authority signature value.” The patent states that authors’ expertise grows as they publish more articles on that topic.

Searching Google helps understand topic authority. For example, a query of “ann smarty” produces my knowledge panel with associated entities (“People also search for”) and my “Articles” in Google News.

Screenshot of Google search results for "ann smarty"

Searching on “ann smarty” produces the author’s knowledge panel with associated entities (“People also search for”) and her “Articles” in Google News.

Google’s image search also reveals how it classifies a source. An image search for “ann smarty” reveals multiple associations, including:

  • “internet marketing,”
  • “seo analyst,”
  • “interview,”
  • “marketing ninjas,”
  • “blogger.”
Screenshot of image search results for "ann smarty."

An image search for “ann smarty” reveals the author’s associations, per Google.

Hence topic authority is a collection of signals (on-site and off) that help Google identify expertise and trust for a query.

Establishing Authority

To establish topic authority:

  • Publish consistent content on your area of expertise. Cover all angles, problems, and solutions. Use internal links to help Google find the pages and associate them with your company or authorship.
  • Obtain links to your content from trusted resources. Connecting with journalists and posting on social media can put your content in front of authoritative publications and personnel.
  • Deploy markup to assist Google in understanding your expertise. Use “knowsAbout” and “sameAs” properties in the “Person” or “Organization” types to point Google to relevant external channels, such as a Wikipedia page on your topic.

Overall, connecting with other known entities is a good way to become trusted by Google. For example, search for an event name when considering sponsoring or speaking at it. Does it trigger a knowledge panel? Perform the same search for a potential brand collaboration.

If you’re aiming for prominent rankings, Google’s assessment of authority matters.

Ann Smarty
Ann Smarty
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