Building Authority in Google's New Algorithm

Ever since March 2018, appearing on Google search result pages has been a challenge for digital publishers. This was partly because Google’s old preference of ranking articles based mainly on keyword density made it difficult to compete. The keyword-heavy ranking factors meant that often, low-quality articles were ranking higher over articles with more value. This forced many publishers to focus on making sure all articles were keyword-heavy, even if that came at the detriment of the overall article quality.
These factors combined led to Google becoming a less attractive strategy for boosting reach, leading to many publishers choosing to focus more towards social strategies to maximise brand exposure instead.
But as Google has evolved, recent changes to their ranking model have put a new emphasis on value-based content. Google’s “helpful content system”, which launched in August 2022 (and was updated December 2022), rewards people-focused articles. This uses factors such as niche expertise, user engagement, and trustworthiness to determine what counts as valuable content for readers. In Google’s own words:
The helpful content system aims to better reward content where visitors feel they’ve had a satisfying experience, while content that doesn’t meet a visitor’s expectations won’t perform as well. Any content on sites determined to have relatively high amounts of unhelpful content overall is less likely to perform well in search. For this reason, removing unhelpful content could help the rankings of your other content.
[For a full list of all the algorithm ranking factors, see Google’s guidelines here.]
Understanding Google’s emphasis on value-based content is crucial for publishers seeking to rank higher on Google’s search results. One of the ways publishers can do this is by focusing on topical authority.

What Is Topical Authority?

Topical authority refers to a website becoming a recognised authority on one or more specific topics. To achieve this, publishers will aim to produce a substantial amount of content around a topic within their chosen niche, not just one well-performing article. A depth and breadth of content across subject areas are necessary to establish topical authority in Google.
As such, succeeding in building topical authority will now rely on publishers creating a significant volume of content across a particular niche. Jake Sheridan, an Ahrefs writer, explains this with an example search for ‘Mountain Bike Gifts’:
While we might still expect to see sites like Amazon on the first page of the results list, a specialist site with multiple articles on specific mountain bikes might appear above it, in second place compared with Amazon’s number seven spot. A site like Amazon, while obviously a site with very strong SEO metrics, is also a generalist site. The second-place site is exclusively about bikes and has created pages dedicated to content about ‘Mountain Bike Gifts’”.
From this example, we can see that when a site has a substantial amount of value-based content around a subject, it demonstrates site-wide authority in that area and strengthens its reputation as a trusted source in the eyes of Google.

The Benefits

While many strive to rank top on Google’s search result pages, there are several other benefits to establishing topical authority that especially appeal to publishers:
  1. User experience: Offering a breadth of in-depth and helpful content provides users with much more value than they could get elsewhere, offering better satisfaction and user experience overall. More satisfaction and perceived value from a site in this way is likely to foster greater retention and encourage subscription sign-ups.
  1. Organic acquisition: As Google begins to prioritise high-value content, publishers can gain  exposure to new potential users. This helps publishers drive customer acquisition costs down as they increase free reach.
In the economic climate we’re seeing, both acquisition and retention will be key to the success of any revenue model, and are understandably hot topics for publishers right now. It comes as no surprise then, that the new Google algorithm is considered by some as a big opportunity.

How Can Publishers Capitalise on Topical Authority?

Google’s calculation of topical authority is not entirely clear, but relevancy has become a key ranking factor. In addition to this, pages and websites with high levels of E-A-T—expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness are considered the highest quality. E-A-T comes from Google’s Search Quality Rater Guidelines—a document used by human quality raters to assess the quality of Google’s search results. This document was published to help SEO specialists understand what Google looks for in a web page.
In short:
  • Expertise refers to the knowledge and skill of the content creator in the field in which they are creating content. E.g. Mentioning the biography of the content creator for an article for instance (job title/profession, previous experience).
  • Authority refers to the quality and quantity of external links that point to the website, as well as the authoritativeness of the website in the eyes of its users. 
  • And trustworthiness refers to the reputation of the website and the trust that users have in the information presented on it. This can be affected by factors such as privacy policies, transparency, and the accuracy of the information on the site.
With search engines placing increasing emphasis on expertise, authority, and trustworthiness, digital publishers must prioritise building comprehensive, relevant content that demonstrates their deep knowledge and authority within their niche. By doing so, they can establish themselves as thought leaders, earn valuable backlinks, and ultimately, rank higher in search engine results pages – driving more traffic, subscribers and revenue as a result.” Marisa Espada, Senior Digital Marketing Manager, Zephr, A Zuora Company
So how can publishers build relevance and ensure high levels of E-A-T? It all starts with understanding your audience. By collecting data on content topics, user preferences and feedback, publishers can gain a competitive edge to appeal to audiences and create value-rich content.
One way to collect this data is by adding fields in registration forms where users can select the types of articles or topics they like. With a solid understanding of what users want to read, and content that matches those needs, publishers will then be primed to become experts in that niche.
In addition to collecting first-party data from users, it’s also beneficial to think about page experience. Google’s page experience system evaluates how a user interacts with a page. For instance, how easy it is to use, how quickly it loads, and how intuitive it is for visitors. Essentially, tailored, personal, and easy user experiences will win over those with poor experience e.g. slow load times and lots of irrelevant advertisements.

What about the future?

In conclusion, establishing topical authority as a digital publisher can now have a more significant impact on search engine rankings and overall reach than it did before. By following the steps outlined above, publishers can position their brands as authorities in their space, driving more organic traffic and boosting user satisfaction overall.
Unfortunately, Google does release updates regularly, and the frequency at which they do so is quite unpredictable and often goes unannounced. Therefore, it’s useful to regularly check SERP volatility sensors such as the SEMrush sensor which show the days when changes in SERPs are observed.
The good news is, even with changing search ranking updates, publishers won’t regret learning more about their audiences and making user experiences tailored and valuable.

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