This AI generated image shows a hand holding a smart phone in which someone is providing a rating of something, which represents the idea of "external validation:". This is relevant to the idea of "topical authority".
This entry is part 8 of 44 in the series Topical Authority

The lead post in this series is Mastering Topical Authority: A Comprehensive Guide to Boost Your SEO.

The importance of external validation

The story about the importance of external validation to topical authority started way back in 1998.

At that time some really smart people figured out (accidently as it happens) that using links between webpages as a measure of how important webpages are, allowed them to create what was immediately seen as a better search engine.

Yes, the Google origin story is all about links.

Which initially was THE form of external validation used by Google to rank webpages in a Search Engine Result Page (SERP).

In fact, the research project that later became Google was called “backrub” because that’s how Larry Page thought about the project.

Since then, external validation has expanded beyond links to include brand signals, which includes branded anchor text for links, branded searches, etc.

While links are no longer THE source of external validation, they very much still matter.

Topical authority and HIGH-QUALITY backlinks

But, not all backlinks are of equal value.

Main content vs supplementary content

Per the Google Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines, the instructions provided to the humans who help Google determine what “better” SERPs and “high-quality” content look like to their software:

Main Content is the article or blog post itself with the HTML of the webpage.

Supplementary Content is everything else on the webpage. The stuff in the header, the footer, the sidebar, any related posts widget, ads, etc.

Links from main content are more valuable than links from the supplementary content.

The reputation of the website the link is from

This is probably not a surprise to anyone, but Google says “After identifying relevant content, our systems aim to prioritize those that seem most helpful. To do this, they identify a mix of factors that can help determine which content demonstrates aspects of experience, expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness, or what we call E-E-A-T.”.

In other words, different websites have different “reputations” as far as Google is concerned, and sites with a higher reputation for EEAT are prioritized (rank higher) than sites with lower reputations.

How can you know a sites EEAT reputation? Google doesn’t say.

But that doesn’t stop Search Engine Land and others from publishing articles whose speculations seem useful.

Such as (yes, this one predates EAT becoming EEAT): 14 ways Google may evaluate E-A-T.

Topical authority and low quality backlinks

Now a little rant about how “link building” can cause issues.

Some people push quantity of links over the quality of those links,

As we saw above topically relevant links from the main content of websites with strong reputations will help in your pursuit of topical authority and website rankings.

This does not mean that ALL other types of links have zero value, but by definition if the stuff above provides you with higher value, other types of links provide lower value.

And in some cases, depending on the reputation of the site the link comes from, some links may actually be harmful.

So, let’s be careful out there.

Topical authority and internal links

I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “topic cluster”. What makes a topic cluster a cluster? Internal links.

When you have a topic that lends itself to 50 different blog posts due to various aspects, nuances, perspectives, etc, you have what you need to create a topic cluster.

We used to use the phrases “pillar posts” and “snippet posts“, but topic cluster IS a better name.

Basically, you link down, up, across, in whatever ways make sense to help you string concepts together for your readers.

The main thing is to do this with your readers in mind. When you make it easier for them to move from idea to idea, you build a good topic cluster, through internal linking.


While topical authority can likely be obtained without being proactive about earning external validation in the form of links and brand mentions, your journey is shortened when you are.

If you’re publishing quality stuff (and if you’re not, what’s the point?), let others know.

Promote it. Try and earn some early links to help speed your way.

Series Navigation<< Topical authority requires comprehensive and in-depth contentExplanation of the difference between topical authority and domain authority >>

Kevin Carney
Kevin Carney

Kevin "fell into" SEO by accident, like many others. The SaaS platform to help writers boost their topical authority came years later after various SEOs said it was something they would like to see.

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