There’s a big discussion around topical authority in the SEO circles.
“What is it?” “How can you build it?” “Can you “measure it?”
That last question bothered our team for quite a while.
Even though we used topical authority as part of our keyword selection process, we were not really happy with the manual way we were using to insert topical authority for a given term, for a new or established website.
We needed another way that was closer to Google’s reality, and were surprised to see that the answer revealed itself right on the search engine results pages (SERPs).
So, if you’re interested in learning more about topical authority and how Topical Authority Ratio can be used as part of your keyword selection/evaluation process, keep reading.
Disclaimer: To our knowledge, the term ‘Topical Authority Ratio’ isn’t widely known or used by SEO professionals. We don’t claim to have invented the term; we’re just using it for practical purposes as a way to describe (what we believe is) an important term that’s included in our internal processes.
What is Topical Authority?
Before we explain what Topical Authority Ratio is, we believe it’s important to start from the basics. So, here’s a simple definition of topical authority, even though every professional may have their own definition of the term:
In very simple terms, topical authority is the extent to which Google has associated your website with certain topics.
Why is topical authority important? We believe that there are 3 main reasons why:
- Google is a search engine that works with semantic associations.
- It has to associate a website with certain topics. Then, it can be ranked for terms connected to those topics.
- For a website to rank high(er) in search, Google first has to associate it with the topic(s) it’s interested in.
Hypothetically, as per our definition and the three points outlined above, a website wouldn’t be able to rank for a term if the website hadn’t been associated with the broader topic that this term is included in (or, falls under - however you want to look at it).
To put this in perspective, assuming that we want to rank for the term “crm software” for a new website, logic would dictate to us that we need to create a page that targets that exact same term.
Most likely, that would be a feature page (AKA use case page) where we’d describe our product’s capabilities.
If only that would be enough.
Author’s Note: You can take a look at our software keywords study to get even deeper insights into what the SERPs look like for “software” keywords.
Chances are, we wouldn’t stand a chance ranking anywhere near Google’s top 100 search results for our target term.
Google hasn’t associated us with the topic of “crm software”, and thus can’t consider us as a resource that’s trustworthy and reliable enough to rank for terms that are included in the broader topic.
As you can see below, the website that ranks in the first position for that term is Zoho.
Author’s Note: Results may vary based on the day/time you send your request to Ahrefs’ web scraping API.
Taking this a step further and trying to understand why Zoho has the featured snippet for that term, we can see there are thousands of pages inside Google’s index (from Zoho’s website) that are associated with the term “crm software”.
Author’s Note: Credits for this process of discovering topical authority associations on a domain level go to Steve Toth and the SEO Notebook, one of the best newsletters for SEO professionals.
On a practical level, this means that what “awards” Zoho with the featured snippet for the term “crm software” isn’t just one page that we see in the SERPs.
Based on that, we (as a new website wanting to rank for that term) need to build topical authority for the term “crm software”, and then have a chance to rank among other results on the SERPs.
Author’s Note: Of course, there are many other factors that determine whether a page will be picked among the hundreds or even thousands of other pages, but for the purposes of this post, we’re going to focus exclusively on topical authority.
How to achieve that is a topic for another blog post; for now, we’ll focus on helping you determine how topically relevant your website is to certain terms, as well as help you understand how you stack up (on a topical authority level) against search and business competitors.
The way to achieve that is through Topical Authority Ratio.
Let’s delve even further into it to start understanding how it can help you.
What is the Topical Authority Ratio?
As we did earlier, let’s start by giving a simple definition of the term. So, what is the Topical Authority Ratio?
The Topical Authority Ratio is the ratio at which a website has been associated with certain topics.
So far so good, but how can you actually come up with this metric?
First things first, here’s how to calculate the formula of Topical Authority Ratio:
To make it easier to understand, we’ll look at some examples of different terms for the website SwagDrop.com.
Full Disclaimer: SwagDrop is one of our clients.
SwagDrop is a branded merchandise and swag company for fast-growing tech companies and enterprises.
Example A: Employee onboarding
The first term that we’re going to use is a term that’s relevant to SwagDrop and one that the website already has some visibility for.
Here’s what we see on the SERPs when trying to identify topical associations for the website with “employee onboarding”.
As you can see, there are 26 pages Google has associated with that particular term for that particular domain.
Divide that by 96, which seems to be the total number of pages in Google’s index for that website…
… and you’ll come up with the Topical Authority Ratio - which, in this case, is:
26 / 96 = 0.27
Let’s take a look at a second example.
Example B: Promotional products
The second term we’re going to look at is one that’s tightly related to the company’s capabilities and overall identity as a business.
Here’s what we see on the SERPs when trying to identify topical associations for the website with “promotional products”.
As you can see, there are 93 pages Google has associated with that particular term for that particular domain.
The Topical Authority Ratio in this case is…
93 / 96 = 0.96
As is evident, the website has a much stronger topical authority for “promotional products” than for “employee engagement” since the ratio is significantly higher.
This means that it is relatively easy to rank for terms that are semantically associated with the topic, “promotional products”.
Let’s move on to the next example.
Example C: SEO
As you can imagine, the term “SEO” isn’t exactly relevant to a company that sells branded swag.
Is this something that our Topical Authority Ratio will tell?
Here’s what we see on the SERPs when trying to identify topical associations for the website with “SEO”.
It may be unexpected, but Google has actually associated 1 page with the term “SEO” for SwagDrop’s website.
The Topical Authority Ration in this case is…
1 / 96 = 0.01
The Topical Authority Ratio is really low - which we expected because we know that as a topic, SEO isn’t related to SwagDrop.
An example like this is a strong indication that our Topical Authority Ratio works.
Let’s see one last example that will help us further prove the impact Topical Authority Ratio has on helping us understand the level of topical authority a website has for specific topics.
Example D: Audience intelligence
Is the term “audience intelligence” relevant to a website like SwagDrop?
The answer is simply “no”.
Of course, we’d like to trust the Topical Authority Ratio to tell us how irrelevant (or not) the term is to a website in the eyes of Google.
Here’s what we see on the SERPs when trying to identify topical associations for the website with “audience intelligence”.
As expected, the term “audience intelligence” isn’t relevant at all to the website we’re using as an example.
In another case, the topical authority of “audience intelligence” would have been much different for a SaaS like SparkToro.
And, as a matter of fact, they are…
But, in SwagDrop’s case, the Topical Authority Ratio is…
0 / 96 = 0
On a practical level, this means that if we wanted to rank for “audience intelligence” for this website, we would essentially start from zero as it isn’t associated with the topic in the eyes of Google.
There’s one last case that we haven’t covered above.
That is when a completely new website with no indexed pages wants to rank for a new term.
We can all agree that in this case, Topical Authority Ratio would also be 0 as our website is a blank canvas on which we have to make many drawings before being able to witness the first results.
Now that we’ve covered all possible cases of calculating the Topical Authority Ratio of a website, we can develop a scale.
The above chart can help you understand how you stack up against your search and business competitors.
Of course, there are other factors to consider when building or calculating your topical authority gap against your competitors (e.g., the number of pages, regardless of the Topical Authority Ratio).
However, this whole process can definitely help you get a better understanding of how close/far you are when it comes to topical authority for certain terms.
Let’s wrap this up and close with some final thoughts.
In many cases, we examine things on an organic search level from the wrong perspective.
This means there’s much more to ranking than just creating a single page that targets a term we’re interested in.
The Topical Authority Ratio can help you understand the level of topical authority your website has on certain topics and set expectations, but also assist in making well-informed decisions rather than taking a shot in the dark.
We’ve seen different cases and have presented examples of actual terms based on real websites to show you that the Topical Authority Ratio works.
Now, it’s your turn to use it as part of your content and SEO strategy and make decisions based not just on logic and business biases, but on the associations that Google has made for your website.