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How to Build an Authority Website for the Long Term

11 min read

Years ago, I did a show and tell on Being a Reporter with my son’s first grade class. The exercise was to have them write an article about the lunch menu. The first step was to find reliable sources. So I asked, who was more likely to be an authoritative figure on lunch nutrition — the teacher or another student? Every first-grader knew the answer. 

If people are asking a question — they are looking for someone credible to help them find what they are looking for. Which is why Google is emphasizing its E-E-A-T standard, which stands for Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness. That standard is applied to your website, your pages, and your authors. 

And it starts with having an Authority Website. 

As a brand, you need to be seen as the expert in your domain (no matter how niche). If someone is asking a question, Google wants to make sure they are returning search results to authoritative websites. Here’s everything you need to know on how your brand can exude authority.

What Is Website Authority 

Authority is one of the central pillars of Google’s updated Search Quality Rater Guidelines, in the context of E-E-A-T (Experience, Expertise, Authority, and Trust). The goal of the guidelines, wrote Danny Sullivan, public liaison for search at Google, is to make sure “Search is returning relevant results from the most reliable sources available.” 

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.

An authority website, then, is one that shows a mastery of any given topic. Mastery can be judged in several ways: 

  • The comprehensiveness of coverage of a specific topic, including subtopics, also known as topic clusters
  • The lexicon used in relationship to those topics
  • The backlinks to those topics from other credible sites
  • The credibility of the authors writing the articles
  • Be helpful

Let’s use each of these to build your authority website. 

Building an Authority Website

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

It might benefit you to take a page from Wikipedia’s book. While your site may never have the number of pages that Wikipedia does, the same principles apply.

Look at this entry on Content Marketing.

Wikipedia January 2024

The table of contents on the left-hand side, shows the depth of information about this topic. On the right-hand side — you can see additional topics and sub-topics for this term. Citations and other links to other pages within Wikipedia (internal links) and to external research papers and associations, is how it showed authority on the subject. 

This page is Wikipedia’s pillar page for content marketing. Think of it as a hub – and everything else supports it. But conversely, other topics on content marketing – would have a link to it. 

This is how you show Google and your readers the depth and breadth of content.

Best Practices for Building Authority Sites

You don’t need to create a site that is the size of Wikipedia to do the same thing. In fact, niche websites will have an easier time building authority as your content creation efforts are concentrated on one specific theme. 

Depending on the complexity of your product or solution, you probably have multiple personas that are looking for content on that topic. You can have an endless amount of articles if you stand in their shoes and think about what might intrigue them. 

Here are the best practices you need to consider whether or not it’s a niche website.

Comprehensive  Coverage, AKA Topic Clusters

To show depth or breadth of coverage, create multiple articles around a given topic, including subtopics. In general, by topic clustering, you are looking to be a one-stop shop of information on that subject. You want to have an entire collection of articles with ‌depth and ‌breadth on topics. 

For example, authority sites on Content Marketing will have blog posts on How to Create an ROI Justified Content Plan, Best Practices for Content Planning, and Tailoring Your Content Marketing to User Intent. All of these work to show command of your topic. 

And it goes without saying that these have to be high-quality, human-authored articles. Generative AI is a terrific tool for research, creating personas and helping you create outlines that meet the needs of a persona. But machine-generated prose lacks the Experience (one of the Google Es) that humans offer.

Creating high-quality content that users can trust will keep them coming back for more. 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). 

Part of creating quality content is making sure you use the proper HTML formatting tags. Your topic should appear in the H1, but think of the subtopics in the H2 tags. Make sure to use alt tags, as this factors into Google’s “Experience” standard.  

Finally, make sure you identify your pillar page for your topic cluster.

Lexicon and Semantic Associations

Another aspect of authority is having a deep and semantically rich vocabulary on any given topic. It’s not about stuffing the same keyword in an article a dozen times. It’s showing that you understand that topic and any semantic associations. 

It’s amazing how often we get locked into a specific vocabulary – particularly if we are adhering to the idea of “staying on message.” What are the synonyms used in your industry? If you only use the term ecommerce, and your customers are looking for digital commerce solutions – will they find you?

What are the adjacent topics? Yes, you might offer an AI solution, but an authoritative blog post would mention machine learning algorithms, training datasets, etc. At Coveo, an AI-powered search company, we wanted to win the term enterprise search. 

Using MarketMuse’s heat map of competitors on the same subject, we found we hadn’t used the term information retrieval. We quickly added a section on that and saw our position rise. We also created a new page on information retrieval – and its role in enterprise search. So adjacent terms can easily be part of your topic clustering strategy.

This article on Authority Websites should include semantically related words like backlinks, domain, page rank, topic clusters, etc.

Backlinks From Credible Sites

Quality backlinks have long been a criteria for establishing domain authority – if those links come from credible sources. A link from high-authority websites like Wikipedia or the Wall Street Journal to your domain is more important than a link from, 

If you don’t have a Wikipedia or Wikimedia page, you should look to start one now. Wikipedia has a high domain score rank, and a link from a site like that back to you’ll go a long way to helping establish authority. 

Make sure you take advantage of listing your company or product names in resource directories that trade shows, associations and media outlets might offer. If you publish an industry report, the media will often offer a link back to your site (they won’t for standard PR.) 

Another idea is to create case studies with your vendors to get coveted backlinks. Use social media to showcase your content – and hopefully create backlinks to it.  

Focus on Internal Link Building

Show those pillar pages you are creating love. Link internally to pillar pages, greater explanation pages, and in the funnel pages. Internal links tell search crawlers there are more articles related that can answer a search query. Here’s a terrific blog post on scaling your internal linking strategy.

Link names are called anchor text. Crawlers associate the words in the link to the page itself.

In the sentence above, notice how we used a description about the page, versus putting the link on “Here’s” or “blog post.”

Internal linking also increases 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. 

Remove Toxic Links

But not all backlinks are helpful. Spammers create link farms – to try and game the system and show authority, and might be linking out to you. 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.


The credibility of your writers plays a part in establishing authority, too. 

According to Matt Souther at Search Engine Journal, while Google’s Quality Rater Guidelines don’t explicitly state ‘you need an author bio page,’ “it would be a highly effective way to communicate to Google’s quality raters who an author is. The more information you can provide about an author, the more proof you’re providing to Google that your content is high quality.” 

On the author bio page, include links to professional associations, like LinkedIn, or to knowledge bases. Talk to your IT team about implementing an author schema as well. 

Be helpful

Last, but becoming increasingly important, is making sure your authority site is helpful. This might sound a bit vague, but make sure your content is helpful. Sure you are in the business of selling, but just like when you speak at a tradeshow, it can’t always be a sales pitch. Top of funnel pieces are about education and understanding the intention of the customer. If they aren’t ready to buy — don’t try to sell to them. 

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.

To understand intention, use MarketMuse’s Research tool, and see the questions people are asking. You can answer all the questions in one article – and then do a deeper dive in subsequent ones. This helps form that important topic cluster. 

List of questions associated with the term authority website.
MarketMuse Topic Navigator shows questions related to the term authority website

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. Cultivate good backlinks – and cull the toxic ones. And, most of all, group your content into topic clusters to demonstrate thoroughness and authority.

Checking Your Authority Website Score

There are many ways for you to gauge the strength of your website’s authority. Use MarketMuse to check your Topic Authority for individual topics. For a more general analysis, look to Moz as they developed the original domain authority score (DA). There are several others, including Ahrefs, and None of these are a direct Google ranking factor, but they are a good barometer of how you are doing. 

You can use these to check your domain authority score (DA). In addition to a domain rating, these tools give you ranking keywords, spam score, backlinks, internal links, etc. You can even check the domain rankings of your competitors — to see how you are faring. 

Establishing an authoritative website isn’t easy, nor does it happen overnight. If you follow all the best practices above, you have a lot of different skill sets necessary — strong writing and editing, content planning, and keyword research, HTML formatting, understanding author schemas, and cultivating backlinks. 

But as your website authority rises, you should see the payoff in your Google Analytics (GA4) as your organic visitors increase.

What you should do now

When you’re ready… here are 3 ways we can help you publish better content, faster:

  1. Book time with MarketMuse Schedule a live demo with one of our strategists to see how MarketMuse can help your team reach their content goals.
  2. If you’d like to learn how to create better content faster, visit our blog. It’s full of resources to help scale content.
  3. If you know another marketer who’d enjoy reading this page, share it with them via email, LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook.

Diane Burley has three decades experience creating high-impact content at scale. As a published author and seasoned technologist, she translates complex concepts into clear, engaging messaging that connects with audiences. She can help you build a content factory that drives results.