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Linking Strategies That Build Topical Authority

9 min read

You know you need to create in-depth, authoritative content that attracts your audience and keeps them coming back. You also know that creating that content can help you rank on SERPs.

But there’s more to gaining topical authority than quality content. A lot of your perceived authority also comes from the number of quality backlinks your site earns.

So let’s talk about what topical authority is, why it’s essential and how backlinking and internal links can help you garner that authority.

What Is Topical Authority and Why Is It Important?

When your content has topical authority, it means both search engines and users consider it the best and most trusted source on a topic or topic area.

Content with topical authority satisfies user intent. It signals to search engines and users that you’ve thought about your audience and what they’re truly searching for. The content covers a topic completely, addressing sub-topics and semantically related concepts, as well.

By doing so, your content has picked up quality backlinks. Credible sites, perhaps with their own topical authority, have sourced your material, which signals to Google and other search engines that yours is reliable content that people and other sites find valuable.

You can do that by creating one big post that covers an entire topic completely. For example, if you’re a travel site writing about the city of San Juan, Puerto Rico, you’ll probably break your post into several subtopics, like where to eat, where to stay, beaches, rainforest tours, and Old San Juan.

In that case, you may include a menu at the top of your post that allows users to jump to the section in which they’re most interested.

You could also tackle the subject by creating a topic cluster, where your central (or pillar) post is a general guide to San Juan. You would then write separate posts to cover each of the topics I mentioned above and link out to them through your pillar piece.

Either way, the next step after you’ve created your end-all-be-all piece about San Juan is to get quality backlinks from other travel sites and travel blogs. That will signal to Google that you’ve got the blog post on traveling to San Juan and push your post up in the SERPs.

How Topical Backlinks Influence Topical Authority

To understand why backlinking is important, you have to know how search engines like Google index and rank pages.

Google actually made a video to explain it.

When you enter a query or search term into Google, it uses programs called spiders to find the best match on the web to answer your query. The spiders crawl sites and then crawl all of the links contained in those sites, which leads them to other pages on other sites.

They compile a whole bunch of pages on the topic, but they don’t stop there. Google spiders then look at over 200 factors to determine which of all those pages is best to answer your questions.

Those factors include whether or not your content contains keywords and synonyms for those keywords, whether the material is quality content and whether you have quality backlinks from other sites.

Those backlinks signal to Google and other search engines that others trust the content you provide. Now, notice I used the word quality when I described the kinds of backlinks Google is looking at.

It’s not enough to have a bunch of random links pointing back to your content. Those links should come from reputable sites with their own domain or topical authority.

The higher-quality the links, the better the chances you’ll rank. If a site is linking to you, but using a nofollow tag, which essentially tells a search engine not to follow the link, then that doesn’t do much good for your page or domain authority.

Topical Outbound Linking Strategies

The sites to which you link are just as important as those that link to you. Therefore, outbound links should only go to semantically relevant pages on high-quality sites.

Just make sure you don’t link to the competition. It’s a mistake that many content marketers inadvertently make. Frequently, they link out to a page against which they are competing in the search engine results pages.

In the eyes of Google, a link is like a vote. Why would you tell Google that the competition has a better post than you?

Instead, look for quality links around concepts that are tangential to the main topic for which you are trying to rank.

Link quality and semantic relationship are factors MarketMuse takes into account when suggesting external links to appropriate, yet non-competitive, content.

MarketMuse external linking suggestion

Topical Backlink Strategies

Now, you can build a whole library of quality posts and topic clusters and post them to your site, but that doesn’t mean you’ll automatically start collecting quality backlinks. If your keyword strategy is solid, you may get a few from writers researching their own posts and looking for reliable sources.

But being proactive about your backlinking strategy is more likely to help you succeed in your link building. To do that, you’ve got to seek out the sites that are likely to give you backlink and reach out.

Yoast outlines just how to do that:

  1. Go back to your audience research. Who are they and what are they looking for online? What sites do they frequent or use to find answers to their questions? 
  2. Make a list of websites that appeal to your audience. If you run a knitting pattern site, for instance, what other knitting sites are similar to yours? Which ones are popular with your audience?
  3. Match your content to those websites. Choose the posts and topic clusters that best match the content on those sites. You might even find some posts on their site that could benefit from a refresh using you as a source.
  4. Reach out to the site owners. Contact those sites, but don’t just ask them to include links to your site. Point out how your content can improve their own. Sell your content as something that will help boost their own posts by providing authority and expertise.
  5. Use social media to amplify your content. Post your content in the social media channels your audience frequents. Chances are, other sites will see you there and check you out. And once you’ve gained a backlink, use your social media channels to boost that post.

Now, we’ve talked about how to gain quality backlinks, but what happens if you pick up some backlinks from spammy or questionable sites?

Google advises that you have negative backlinks removed. And if you can’t, you should disavow it. To do that, you need to upload to your Google console a list of URLs to disavow. Google will then recrawl and process that information.

Optimizing Internal Links for Topical Authority

So far, I’ve talked about external backlinks to boost your topical authority. But did you know your internal link building strategy can also help you?

I talked a little bit about using topic clusters to create quality, in-depth content that draws in your audience and keeps them coming back to you as a reliable source of information. When you create a topic cluster, you are linking a pillar piece to other, smaller pieces that address subtopics as well as related topics.

Make sure to use an appropriate anchor text for your internal links, for two reasons:

  1. It provides a good user experience – much better than “click here.”
  2. It helps Google understand the relevance of the link within the context of your post.

Optimizing your internal links help keep people on your site as they delve deeper and deeper into a topic. You prove to your audience that you are the ultimate authority on San Juan, or knitting, or whatever it is you’re writing about.

MarketMuse internal linking suggestion

Even if you’re not writing a topic cluster, it’s still a good idea to link to related content within a piece. It serves the same purpose: to provide more information and more context to users as well as to Google.

I’m thinking about a site like Investopedia, where their blog pieces link to definitions for key financial terms, as well as to other blog posts that delve into other topics more deeply.

Whether you use topic clusters or individual posts, internal linking to related content is a signal that your content is thorough. It helps to increase the number of pages visitors read per visit and the time they spend on page. These are additional quality signals that Google may use to determine your posts are worth ranking high.

A solid internal linking has even greater impact on larger site as they typically have more backlinks and anchor text associated with internal links. This provides more data from which Google can draw upon to understand the relevance of a page for a particular topic.

Kevin Indig offers a good example of creating an optimization model for internal linking. It’s definitely worth reading for those who are interested. But keep in mind that it’s a very complicated process– definitely not for the faint of heart.

Fortunately, MarketMuse provides internal linking suggestions that are already optimized.

Creating topical authority through backlinks and internal links is a key part of your content strategy. As you plan your content calendar and write your briefs, think beyond your audience to the kinds of websites that might be interested in your content, too.

Getting them to create that backlink gives you more authority in the eyes of search engines and might just boost their credibility, as well.

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.

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.