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How to Build an Authority Website for the Longterm

10 min read

Have you ever wondered why, in nearly every set of search results, a Wikipedia entry ranks on the first page, usually near the top?

That’s because the site has gone to great lengths to build authority at the domain, site and page levels. Google recognizes the value of Wikipedia’s rich content that links out to well-documented sources.

To create website, or domain, authority for your own site, it might benefit you to take a page from Wikipedia’s book. While your site may never have the hundreds of thousands of pages that Wikipedia does, the same principles apply.

In fact, niche sites have an easier time building authority. By restricting themselves to one niche, content creation efforts are concentrated on one specific theme.

What Is Website Authority?

Before I get into how Wikipedia has mastered website authority, let’s go over what it is and clear up any confusion.

When discussing website or domain authority, we’re not talking about the metric created by Moz. To be clear, Google does not use Moz’s domain authority to determine ranking.

However, we know site authority is important to Google. They mention it 186 times in their Search Evaluator Guidelines, in the context of E-A-T (expertise, authority, and trust).

Whether Google employs an authority signal in its ranking algorithm is pure speculation. But we do know human site evaluations, conducted using Google’s 164-page guide, are used to refine their search algorithms.

There’s strong evidence that quality content affects ranking. Since its release in 2013, Google’s Hummingbird algorithm has been using semantics and AI to match search results more closely to the intent of a query.

Instead of relying on keywords on a page, the search engine seeks to match a search query with the most relevant content.

Google’s web crawlers look at links, too, both external and internal. As it crawls a site for relevancy, it follows links on those pages. If it finds related content, that paints a better picture of a site’s offering.

What does that mean for websites trying to rank?

It means that the more time you spend creating comprehensive content that feeds into holistic topic clusters, the better your chance of ranking well.

One site has absolutely mastered topic clusters in their content strategy. Can you guess which it is?

Wikipedia: The Authority Website Example

Just take a look at this page about the Jewish holiday Purim.

If you scroll down to the table of contents, you’ll see content on every aspect of the holiday, from its history to its customs, to its various versions around the world.

At the bottom of the page, you’ll find 102 authoritative and reliable sources cited and linked, where possible. Google now knows that this page includes a key component to its ranking assessment: EAT (expertise, authority, and trustworthiness).

But Wikipedia provides more than just rich content on each topic it tackles. It builds topical authority by creating comprehensive topic clusters that address all subtopics.

Look in the right rail of this page, and you’ll see this:

This article is part of a more extensive series on Jews and Judaism. The Purim page is actually a subtopic of a subtopic.

Click on Religion, and you get Holidays, where the Purim page appears. All of the other subtopics drill down further and further until you get to individual pages, as well.

All of these pages link together and point back to the pillar pages: Jews and Judaism.  

Building Website Authority for a New Site

If you have a brand new site, building website authority from scratch is going to take some time and some patience. But a lot of what goes into creating that authority has to do with your content.

Your Overall Site Authority Strategy

Before you create any content, make sure you’re keeping in mind everything you need to do to create site authority. Plan your content using the following steps to ensure it’s automatically working toward your ranking goals:

  1. Address User Intent: Make sure your content matches the intent behind the search term you are targeting. If, for instance, your keyword is baking a cake, most likely people want to know how to do it. Your content should match that intent.
  2. Create Quality, Linkable Content: Closely related to user intent, creating quality content that users can trust will keep them coming back for more. Content on baking a cake should have step-by-step directions, helpful tips, and images. The more reliable the material, the more likely your users will enjoy it, increasing the chance other sites will link back to you (more on that in a minute).
  3. Link Out to Quality Sites: Your content should have external links to authoritative sites. That signals to search engines and users that you’ve done your homework and you’re offering the most reliable content out there.
  4. Gather Quality Backlinks: Start link building once you have some content up on your blog. Reach out to sites similar to yours that might be interested in linking to your content. Promote your content on social media to attract attention to yourself and increase your chances of getting links. Guest posting is another way of garnering quality links. The more quality backlinks you have, the more Google and other search engines understand that your content is authoritative. Wherever possible, use relevant anchor text in your link (or close to it) as that provides additional relevancy to the link.
  5. Remove or NoFollow Toxic Links: If you find questionable sites linking to your content, do your best to get those backlinks removed. Websites with bad reputations will hurt your reputation, too. If you can’t remove them, consider disavowing those links.
  6. Create Relevant Internal Linking: Linking internally connects your content to one another. That gives web crawlers more to look at when they’re determining whether or not your content answers a search query. It can also increase pages per session as users click from one page to another. Make sure to include relevant anchor text for each link – it’s good for both your audience and search engines.
  7. Focus Less on Individual Page Traffic: The goal is to create the ultimate resource on a specific topic. While some articles will have little traffic, they’re still a necessary part of the information resource that defines you as an expert in that topic. The overall increase in organic traffic to the cluster (or site) as a whole will more than make up for individual page performance.

Let’s take a look at another example from Wikipedia to give you an idea of how that works.

Here is Wikipedia’s page on economics.

First of all, user intent has been addressed completely. The page defines the concept thoroughly, discusses micro- and macroeconomics, delves into its history and covers other subtopics having to do with economics.

This page is clearly the pillar piece. In the right rail, the same box with related cluster topics appears, just as it did on the Purim page. It leads you to other pages having to do with economics: its theory, famous economists, etc.

So, it’s safe to say that user intent has been covered, no matter what a user might be searching for.

Second, this is quality content pulled from trustworthy sources. And while maybe ten years ago, an editor would never dream of linking to user-generated content, Wikipedia has proven that with a little verification, their content can be trusted and linked to.

You can tell by the source information, where authoritative sources are linked to, the third element in our checklist.

Finally, Wikipedia is famous for its internal linking. Every post, including this one, includes dozens (if not scores) of links to related Wikipedia pages.

It’s so easy to get lost in the rabbit hole of Wikipedia pages as you click link after link to read more about related topics. Imagine how easy it is for Google crawlers to see how much rich content a site like this has and push it up to the top of results pages.

Using Topic Clusters to Create Site Authority

You’ll notice I called Wikipedia’s economics the pillar page. That’s because it’s part of one of thousands of topic clusters Wikipedia has created to pull content together.

Creating clusters of content around a central topic gives you the opportunity to cover that topic fully using various sources and formats, not only blog posts but infographics, videos, white papers or other pieces.

Each piece addresses a different aspect of your pillar topic. You can even bring in influencers to create content and divert authority to your site.

Wikipedia keeps it simple and sticks to encyclopedia-like entries, but they create amazing topic clusters, nonetheless.

Like the page on Purim, Economics has a box in the right rail that lists the entries within this topic cluster.

When planning your own content, think about how you can frame it in topic clusters, rather than disparate pieces that cover a range of topics.

To do that, walk through the use journey for each topic. What are the questions that led a user to you? What are the related topics they may search for in their journey?

Tools like MarketMuse can help you research those related topics. For example, plug in baking a cake, and you get a list of related topics.

Improving Website Authority for an Existing Site

If you already have a good library of content, you can still use the steps outlined above to enhance your website authority.

In this case, the focus will be on auditing your existing content. Look through each piece to shore up your linking strategy. Run your content through MarketMuse semantic analysis to determine if there are any topic gaps within each piece itself.

Any substantial improvement in an article is a good reason to reach out to gain additional authority backlinks.

Then, look at your content holistically to see if there are any opportunities to create topic clusters. Group pieces together by topic and create a pillar piece they can all link back to. Create content for any gaps within your clusters.

Wikipedia has mastered the art of authority when it comes to search engines. You can do the same by following their lead. Create in-depth content pieces with strong internal and external linking. See out those backlinks. And, most of all, group your content into topic clusters to demonstrate thoroughness and authority.

Laurie is a freelance writer, editor, and content consultant and adjunct professor at Fisher College.  Her work includes the development and execution of content strategies for B2B and B2C companies, including marketing and audience research, content calendar creation, hiring and managing writers and editors, and SEO optimization. You can connect with her on Twitter or LinkedIn.