Content Inventory
May 11th 2021

Content Inventory Optimization and The Importance of Topical Authority

5 min read

Understanding the relationship between Topic Authority, Competitive Advantage, and Personalized Difficulty will help you determine the optimal path to improving the value of your content inventory. Let’s take a look at what these three metrics mean and how they work together.

Topic Authority

If you’re not familiar with topical authority, this is something Google has been pursuing for about the past decade. The company has been granted numerous patents over the years concerning different ways of determining topic authority, including ones on Author Signature Values and Topic Authority Scores and Website Representation Vectors to Classify with Expertise and Authority.

In a post late last year, Google said that for topics where information quality is important, they  “place an even greater emphasis on factors related to expertise and trustworthiness.” Furthermore, they build their “systems to identify signals of those characteristics,” and it’s something they have “been investing in for many years.”

At MarketMuse, we estimate your site’s topical authority based on the amount of content published around a particular subject and how well it has performed. In simple terms, if you have a lot of content on a topic and those pages perform well, then you have high topical authority. If the amount of content is more modest but still performs well, you can still have a good amount of authority. Maybe not as high as the first situation, but still respectable nonetheless.

Content Quantity vs. Performance divided into four colored squares.
A simple view of topic authority

On the other hand, you can find yourself in a situation where you have negative topical authority. For instance, you’ve published a few articles on a subject, and they perform poorly. In a worst-case scenario, you could have a large amount of content with poor performance across the board.

Yes, this does happen for several reasons. Often when content is created for the sole purpose of getting links, the editorial standard is quite low.

Have you ever read a case study where someone says they pruned a whole bunch of content, and it did wonders for their rankings? Resorting to such drastic measures may have removed the drag of negative authority caused by all those poorly performing pages.

Competitive Advantage

Your topical authority is what determines your competitive advantage. In those cases where you have a strong advantage, you are most likely to succeed when publishing additional content around the subject or updating existing pages.  

Think of it this way. If you’ve already successfully published content on a particular subject, chances are you will continue to prosper by publishing more content in the same vein. By the same token, if you’re site is full of poorly-performing content on a subject, chances are good that another piece of content in that series will perform just as badly.

So, Topic Authority / Competitive Advantage represents the predictability of the level of investment dictated by Personalized Difficulty. Let’s move on to the last metric so I can explain this in further detail.

Personalized Difficulty

If you’ve done any keyword research, you’re already familiar with Keyword Difficulty. It’s a generic metric, which in MarketMuse is represented as Difficulty. It applies to everyone with no consideration for their content.

On the other hand, Personalized Difficulty is a way to quantify how much work is required to achieve success in Search. That predictive ability is contingent on your Topic Authority/Competitive Advantage. The more authority you have, the more accurate and predictable Personalized Difficulty will be.

Here are the corresponding ranges for Personalized Difficulty in MarketMuse along with the required investment.

  • Below 10 – should only have to update one page if you have one that is appropriate for that intent.
  • 10 to 20 – write one page, update semantically related pages.
  • 20 to 30 – write a couple of pages, update semantically related pages.
  • 30 to 50 – write a cluster, update semantically related pages.
  • 50 plus – multiple clusters to create a foundation, update semantically related pages.

So, let’s look at two cases where both have a Personalized Difficulty of 18.

In the first case, there’s an Authority Score/Competitive Advantage of 50. That big competitive advantage changes a topic with a Difficulty Score of 68 (hard) into a Personalized Difficulty score of 18 (Easy). It’s quite likely all that’s required is writing one page while updating those that are semantically related.

Two lines each overlaid with a green bar. One is wider than the other signifying a competitive advantage.
Competitive Advantage Comparison

In the second case, there’s no competitive advantage whatsoever, so both Difficulty and Personalized Difficulty are the same. In this case, it’s less like that you can get away with just one new page plus updating the others.

Use Personalized Difficulty in Conjunction With Topic Authority

It’s best to use Personalized Difficulty along with Topic Authority. Look for topics where you have high Topic Authority and low Personalized Difficulty. Those will be the most predictable and the easiest.

Personally, I prefer to use Competitive Advantage as it combines Difficulty, Personalized Difficulty, and Topic Authority into one display. Once you understand how to read it, you’ll appreciate how wonderfully it conveys all the information you need.

Here’s how to read it.

Competitive Advantage uses a display similar to that of a Japanese Candlestick. The grey line represents the value 0 to 100, from left to right. On this line, we plot Personalized Difficulty and Difficulty, and the width of the bar represents your Topical Authority.

Two examples of competitive advantage where Personalized Difficulty and Difficulty are plotted on a graph and the color of the bar is determined by their position.
Two examples of Competitive Advantage in MarketMuse

If Personalized Difficulty is lower than Difficulty, then the bar is green because it’s easier. If Personalized is the higher value, then the bar is red because it’s harder for your site to perform for this topic.

Wider bars are better because they indicate a significant advantage and greater predictability. Look for those skewed to the left because those will be the easiest to achieve success.

Last Words

Focusing on topics where you are most likely to succeed reduces the time required to increase your site’s value while making the process more predictable. Combine that with another metric called Potential Value, and you’ll be on fire. But we’ll leave that for another post.

Written by Stephen Jeske stephenjeske