‘Topical Authority’ Simplified: Demystifying SEO Concepts

In SEO, many find the teachings of topical authority (TA) to be intricate and challenging to grasp.

Here we look to simplify some of these complex concepts in a more digestible and actionable way, making them more accessible to everyone.

Let’s have a look.

1. Topical Authority

Imagine you’re seeking advice on a specific topic.

You’d likely turn to someone you consider an expert in that field.

Similarly, in the digital realm, Topical Authority measures a website’s expertise on a particular subject.

Websites with high authority are often seen as trustworthy sources and are more likely to rank higher in search results.

The essence of this concept is how efficiently a search engine can access, comprehend, and trust a site’s information.

Definition of Topical Authority

Topical Authority is:


Topical Authority = Topical Coverage + History


Not just covering every topic, but doing it for a long amount of time.

This is why new websites that simply “write about everything” on a certain topic will generally have trouble ranking.

They don’t have enough history for the search engine to trust them yet.

That takes time and takes quality production over years.

Write your core content first

TA recommends writing the core content that needs to be written first.

He calls this the “entity” – i.e., your website “entity” is what it’s all about.

This helps the search engine understand the central purpose of your website.

This might be 20 key articles on a site, such as pages with commercial intent.


For example, if it’s about musical instruments, you might write your core pages on pianos, trumpets, guitars, harmonicas, drums, etc.

Then information content might be written related to them (“How long does it take to learn how to play the piano?”), that interlink back up to the core page and funnel traffic back to it.

However, TA also talks about content that can get you “easy wins,” which are low-competition topics that can score you traffic.

TA also cautions against going too deep into that at first, however.

For instance, if you’re writing dozens of articles about low-competition piano topics, the search engine might think your website is just about niched-down piano topics rather than your broader goal of being about musical instruments.

This is why he recommends getting your cornerstone content out first.

2. Semantics

Semantics refers to the study of meaning in language, encompassing how words, phrases, and sentences convey meaning in specific contexts.

It goes into understanding the intent and nuances behind linguistic expressions.

3. Microsemantics

Microsemantics, on the other hand, narrows the focus to the meanings of individual words or small groups of words in isolation.

While semantics looks at broader contextual interpretations, microsemantics zooms in on the specific, often subtle, distinctions between closely related terms or synonyms.

Together, they provide a comprehensive understanding of language meaning at both macro and micro levels.

TA argues that semantics and microsemantics are used by the search engines to understand expertise behind content.


For example, think of something that you know really well.

When you read content about it, how do you determine whether the author knows what they’re talking about?

A lot of this has to do with semantics.

A real expert tends to use much more varied vocabulary and also cover a topic in more depth (because of understanding of the depth and breadth of the subject, as well as thorough conceptual understanding and nuances).

4. Natural Language Processing (NLP)

Imagine teaching a computer to understand human language, including the emotions and context behind words.

That’s what NLP does.

It’s a bridge between human communication and computer understanding, especially useful in SEO to match user queries with relevant content.

5. Holistic SEO

Instead of focusing solely on keywords, Holistic SEO looks at the bigger picture.

It’s about ensuring that every aspect of a user’s experience on a website is optimal, from its structure to the quality of its content.

Backlinks also enter into this.

While TA doesn’t focus a lot on off-page SEO, he certainly agrees that backlinks continue to be a big part of the algorithm.

6. Information Responsiveness

When you ask a question, you appreciate a quick and accurate answer.

Similarly, websites that can promptly provide relevant information to users are deemed more valuable.

This might include answering the questions right away.

This might mean short sentences highlighting the most relevant answer. It might mean bullet points. It could mean video or GIFs.

For example, if it’s a review on a pricey product, user generally want to read a lot and see thorough answers and comparisons.

If it’s “how to tie a tie” they generally don’t want to read anything but rather see short video clips.

It depends on the purpose and nature of the content.

7. Relevance Comprehension

It’s about ensuring that the answer provided matches the question asked.

In SEO, understanding the relevance of content to a user’s query is vital for delivering meaningful results.

8. Natural Language Generation (NLG) and Natural Language Understanding (NLU)

These are advanced areas of NLP.

While NLG is about creating human-like text from data, NLU dives deep into understanding the context and subtleties within the text.

TA recommends simplifying sentence structure to help machines and algorithms understand the content.


Let’s say a user types into Google “best temperature to cook chicken”.

What you might write on the page is:

“The best temperature to cook chicken is between 350-450 degrees Fahrenheit (177-232 degrees Celsius).”

You are writing in an NLP-friendly way and expressing an appropriate range, not an inappropriately precise answer relative to the query made.

A bad way to do it would be:

“When you’re going to be cooking, especially when doing chicken, is to keep the heat maybe at somewhere around 527 F, which is what I’ve found to be best.”

The problems with this are:

  • This is written far too indirectly. It’s hard for search engines to parse.
  • It gives a precise and incomplete answer out of the standard range, which most experts on the subject would likely disagree with.
  • The semantics are too imprecise.
  • It should match what the user wants and be direct and accurate right away in the article.
  • The rest of the article can be used for topical depth and adding breadth to help interlink it (associate it) with other related articles.

9. Cost of Retrieval

From a search engine’s perspective, the Cost of Retrieval pertains to the computational effort and resources required to fetch and display relevant search results.

Search engines aim to minimize this cost by trusting and prioritizing certain authoritative websites for specific topics.

By recognizing and relying on these trusted sources, search engines can quickly and efficiently provide users with easy, accurate, and trustworthy answers.

This not only enhances the user experience by delivering prompt and reliable results but also optimizes the search engine’s performance, ensuring that it operates swiftly and conserves resources.

In essence, by building trust in authoritative sites, search engines streamline their retrieval process, benefiting both users and their own operations.

Your goal is to build your websites into one of these trusted authorities.

When Google runs its Core Update about 3 times per year, they are re-ranking websites for this purpose.

10. Helpful Content Update

Think of this as a quality control system.

Using advanced math and machine learning, this approach evaluates the usefulness of web content.

It’s like a filter that promotes valuable content and demotes less beneficial ones.

11. YMYL (Your Money or Your Life)

Certain websites have a significant impact on our lives, especially those related to health, finance, and safety.

Google places these sites under the YMYL category and holds them to higher standards.

It’s like ensuring that the advice you get on crucial life matters comes from trusted sources.

FAQs – Topical Authority Simplified

What does “Topical Authority” mean in SEO?

Topical Authority in SEO refers to a website’s level of expertise, trustworthiness, and influence over a specific subject or topic.

It’s akin to viewing a website as an “expert” in its niche.

The higher the topical authority of a site, the more likely it is to rank favorably in search engine results.

This concept is rooted in how efficiently a search engine can retrieve, understand, and trust the information presented on a website.

In essence, if a search engine believes that a site provides valuable and trustworthy information on a topic, it’s more likely to rank it higher for related queries.

How does the “Helpful Content Update” algorithm work?

The “Helpful Content Update” is an algorithmic approach that employs machine learning and mathematical models to evaluate the usefulness of web content.

Think of it as a sophisticated filter.

Its primary goal is to promote content that provides genuine value to users while demoting or filtering out content deemed less helpful or irrelevant.

By analyzing various factors and patterns in web documents, this algorithm can discern which pieces of content are more likely to satisfy user queries and which ones might not be as beneficial.

What are YMYL websites?

YMYL stands for “Your Money or Your Life.”

These are categories of websites that Google and other search engines consider to have a significant impact on a user’s well-being and life decisions.

Typical sectors that fall under YMYL include health (like ophthalmology), finance, safety, and others.

Given the potential implications of the information these sites provide, they are held to higher standards of expertise, authority, and trustworthiness.

In other words, search engines want to ensure that when users seek information on critical life matters, they receive accurate and reliable advice.

How does Natural Language Processing (NLP) impact SEO?

Natural Language Processing, or NLP, is a branch of artificial intelligence that focuses on the interaction between computers and human language.

In the context of SEO, NLP plays a pivotal role in understanding the semantics, context, and intent behind user queries and the content on websites.

Instead of merely matching keywords, NLP allows search engines to look deeper into the meaning of words and phrases, ensuring that the content presented to users aligns closely with their intent.

This results in more accurate and relevant search results, enhancing the user experience.

What is “Holistic SEO”?

Holistic SEO is an all-encompassing approach to search engine optimization.

Instead of focusing solely on individual elements like keywords or backlinks, Holistic SEO considers the entire user journey and experience on a website.

This means looking at everything from the site’s architecture, design, and speed to the quality, relevance, and trustworthiness of its content.

The idea is to create a seamless and valuable experience for users, ensuring that they find what they’re looking for and are encouraged to stay, explore, and engage.

By adopting a Holistic SEO mindset businesses can ensure that their websites are not only optimized for search engines but also for the actual users they aim to serve.

Why is “Information Responsiveness” crucial for websites?

Information Responsiveness pertains to the ability of a website to provide the information users are seeking quickly and accurately.

In today’s digital age, users expect instant gratification.

When they pose a question or search for information, they want answers immediately.

Websites that can meet this demand by promptly delivering relevant and accurate information are deemed more valuable.

This not only enhances user satisfaction but also signals to search engines that the website is a reliable and efficient source of information, which can positively impact search rankings.

What does “Relevance Comprehension” entail in SEO?

Relevance Comprehension in SEO is about understanding how pertinent a piece of content is to a user’s query.

It’s not just about matching keywords; it’s about ensuring that the content genuinely addresses the user’s intent and provides meaningful answers.

With the evolution of search algorithms and the rise of semantic search, understanding the context and nuances of both queries and content has become paramount.

Search engines now strive to deliver results that truly resonate with the user’s intent, making Relevance Comprehension a vital component of modern SEO.

What are the roles of Natural Language Generation (NLG) and Natural Language Understanding (NLU) in SEO?

Both NLG and NLU are specialized branches of Natural Language Processing (NLP).

  • Natural Language Generation (NLG): This involves creating coherent and human-like text based on data. In the context of SEO, NLG can be used to generate content, product descriptions, or even reports based on structured data. The goal is to produce text that is not only readable and engaging for humans but also optimized for search engines.
  • Natural Language Understanding (NLU): While NLG is about producing text, NLU is about comprehending it. NLU delves into understanding the context, nuances, and subtleties within a piece of text. For SEO, this means grasping the intent behind user queries and ensuring that the content matches that intent. It’s about making sure that when a user asks a question, the search engine provides a result that genuinely addresses the query’s underlying intent.

Both NLG and NLU play crucial roles in enhancing the interaction between users and search engines, ensuring that content is both generated and understood in a way that aligns with human language and intent.

How can businesses and website owners apply the teachings of topical authority to improve their online presence?

TA’s teachings emphasize a comprehensive and nuanced approach to SEO, advocating for a Holistic SEO mindset.

Here’s how businesses and website owners can apply his teachings:

  1. Adopt a Holistic SEO Approach: Instead of focusing solely on individual metrics like keyword rankings, consider the entire user experience. This includes site architecture, content quality, user engagement, and more. A well-rounded strategy ensures that all aspects of a website contribute to its overall SEO success.
  2. Prioritize Topical Authority: Work on establishing your website as an authoritative source in your niche. This can be achieved by producing high-quality, in-depth content that genuinely addresses user queries and needs. Regularly update and refresh content to maintain relevance.
  3. Leverage Advanced NLP Techniques: With the increasing importance of semantic search, understanding and implementing NLP techniques can give websites an edge. This includes optimizing content for context and intent, rather than just keywords.
  4. Focus on User Experience: Ensure that your website is user-friendly, fast, and mobile-responsive. A positive user experience can lead to longer site visits, lower bounce rates, and higher conversions—all of which can positively impact SEO.
  5. Stay Updated with Algorithm Changes: The “Helpful Content Update” and other algorithmic approaches evolve over time. Stay informed about the latest changes and adjust your SEO strategies accordingly.
  6. Prioritize YMYL Standards: If your website falls under the YMYL category, ensure that your content meets the highest standards of expertise, authority, and trustworthiness. This might involve collaborating with experts, citing reputable sources, and regularly reviewing and updating content.
  7. Invest in Continuous Learning: The world of SEO is dynamic. Regularly educate yourself and your team on the latest trends, tools, and best practices. Consider attending workshops, webinars, or courses to stay ahead of the curve.
  8. Implement Feedback Loops: Regularly gather feedback from users and analyze website metrics to identify areas of improvement. This iterative approach ensures that your website continuously evolves to meet user needs and search engine standards.

In essence, applying the teachings of TA involves a blend of technical optimization, high-quality content creation, and a user-centric approach.

By integrating these principles, businesses and website owners can enhance their online visibility and establish a strong digital presence.


While the teachings of TA and the world of SEO might seem daunting, breaking down these concepts makes them more digestible.

By understanding the basics, one can better appreciate the nuances of optimizing websites for both search engines and users.

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