Topical Coverage vs Topical Authority For SEO (Very Important Distinction)

With recent Google updates hitting some websites hard, one term that’s being used more and more to describe what’s needed in SEO going forward is topical authority

But another closely related term that needs to be fully distinguished from true topical authority is topical coverage. The difference between these two terms is actually a vital SEO distinction right now, and a lot of bloggers (including me until recently) are falling into the trap of mis-defining topical coverage as topical authority. So what is the exact difference between the two?

Topical coverage refers to having content on a site that comprehensively covers a certain topic or sub-topic. Topical authority however refers to the content which is actually drawing in traffic and user engagement via internal or external sources, and is a more important metric.

A lot of people right now in SEO/blogging are mistakenly labelling as “topical authority” what is actually only topical coverage. The latter on it’s own may not actually be useful if content “silos” are not actually driving any traffic, and can in fact be harmful to a site long term.

Let’s drill down more into the difference between these two terms to explain why.

What Is Topical Coverage?

This is an important distinguishing term that I discovered listening to Kasra Dash’s excellent recent interviews on SEO. He’s an expert at recovering tanked websites that have been hit in the 2022/23 Google updates, and so is worth listening to if you’re in this boat.

As he goes into, topical coverage is what many people are mistaking for topical authority.

Topical coverage just refers to having clusters or “silos” of content on a website that cover a specific topic or sub-topic within a niche.

For example, you might have website that’s broadly about bicycles, but you break it down into certain sub-categories:

  • Bicycle reviews
  • Bike maintenance
  • Bike safety
  • Bike repairs
  • Bike accessories

You then decide to produce batches of content covering each of these sub-categories in detail, essentially “boxing off” or pretty comprehensively covering that topic. If you publish a body of content on a specific sub-topic in your niche, you have got “topical coverage” on that particular sub-topic.

Having content clusters or silos is very useful on a website

This isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, and can be the start of developing topical authority, as long as this content is actually going to drive traffic. In fact, it’s no longer recommended to have just one or two random articles on your website that might be broadly related to your niche, but don’t really form part of a specific cluster or silo of content.

However, topical coverage can be massively gamed and isn’t enough in and of itself. Let’s demonstrate this by giving good and bad examples of topical coverage.

Bad example of topical coverage – Using AI to churn out a whole bunch of content on a certain sub-topic to try and “game” the Google algorithm into thinking you have topical authority. The content is mass produced, poor quality, not adding original value, and hasn’t been properly curated/edited before publishing. It’s been just been thrown onto a website for the sake of it to try and demonstrate “topical authority” without actually having it.

Good example of topical coverage – Mostly or entirely human written and edited content that does form a specific topical “cluster” or “silo“, but written with a quality over quantity mindset. The content is primarily aimed to be as complete and helpful as possible, and is also published with a realistic chance of actually driving traffic and engagement from external or internal sources. Not just sitting on the site for the sake of it.

When done the second way, topical coverage is really the pre-cursor to topical authority. But just churning out articles in a certain cluster in a lazy, clumsy way is not “topical authority”.

What Is Topical Authority?

Now let’s contrast topical coverage with what true topical authority is, since a lot of bloggers have been confusing the two.

Genuine topical authority refers to a cluster of content on your site that actually drives traffic and user engagement, and is the true metric that search engines use to determine a site’s authority on a topic.

More precisely, this refers to not just mass produced content on a certain topic/subtopic, but content that is also:

  • Authoritative
  • Is written by authors who actually have real life credentials/expertise/experience in the topic.
  • Honest/trustworthy and credible
  • Conscientiously researched and fact checked
  • Add original value/information/insights and doesn’t just summarize what’s already on the web.
  • Covers a topic or sub-topic pretty comprehensively.
  • Is “reader first” content, aimed specifically at being as useful as possible to the audience, not “affiliate” or “money” first.
  • Actually being engaged with by users, either via internal/external linking or from organic search, and displays strong metrics in this regard (also called topical relevance). Not just sitting on the site as a “dead” page.

Having a bunch of content on a site that covers one specific topic may not be much use for SEO or “authority” if no one is actually visiting those pages and engaging with that content. In other words, just having content silos on your site isn’t enough in and of itself. Users have to actually be engaging with that content in a meaningful way for it to be classed as “topical authority”.

Some bloggers have gotten lazy with this and fallen into the trap of using AI to churn out hundreds of articles covering the minutiae of one certain topic/sub-topic on their site, thinking that will give them “topical authority”. But if no one’s actually engaging with that content and it’s just sitting there with zero or next to zero pageviews, it’s not topical authority. In fact, doing this can even harm a site long term (more on this below).

Bottom line – Topical authority more precisely refers to the content or clusters of content on your site that are actually driving traffic and engagement, not just the content silos that exist on the site.

An Example Of Topical Coverage vs Topical Authority

This important distinction can be demonstrated by giving a couple of examples.

Example #1 – This would be the way most bloggers intend. You start a blog primarily about bikes, and produce a batch of 30 articles on bikes, covering 3 separate distinct cluster or silos – bike safety, bike maintenance, bike cycle trails/paths in certain areas. 2 of these 3 clusters do rank well and drive traffic, so your site is deemed an authority on those two particular sub-topics. Authority is driven by what’s driving traffic, not just what’s been published.

Example #2 – A more odd example. You start a blog about mountain bikes, and produce 30 articles in 3 separate clusters or silos all about different aspects of mountain bikes. But none of them drive any traffic. But then you produce a couple of articles about cars just for fun, and these articles actually do pull in some traffic. Because all your traffic end engagement is related to cars, not bikes, your site is actually deemed an authority on/relevant to cars, not bikes, even though that wasn’t what the owner intended. All the pages on bikes that are not getting any traffic are considered irrelevant in Google’s eyes.

Hopefully, this contrast demonstrates that topical authority is given to the content that users are actually engaging with, not just the content that exists, on a site. This can produce some pretty strange outcomes if you test it out, and I’ve seen myself how really only very tangentially related content on a site can draw in traffic.

How To Generate True Topical Authority

Let’s summarize what’s been covered so far to draw out a strategy for developing real topical authority on site. Having topical coverage is still recommended, but only if it will lead to actual topical authority.

Here are some broad steps:

  1. Plan out some content clusters or silos you want to produce content on.
  2. Carefully research the keywords to make sure you can actually rank for them. Aim to pick at least 10 for each content cluster
  3. Produce high quality content, reader-first, with a quality over quantity mindset. Don’t churn out hundreds of articles just for the sake of it.
  4. As long as the content is high quality and actually ranks or draws in some kind of traffic or engagement, it will be considered “authoritative” on that topic.
  5. Engagement from internal/external linking is also fine, as long as there is some kind of engagement.

The point is, you need to actually get eyeballs on the content, not just publish it, for it to be considered authoritative. In competitive niches, this is hard, and means you have to drill right down into the smallest keywords, ranking for those first, and then build up slowly. But you need the engagement for real authority.

Dealing With Deadweight Pages On Your Site

Bloggers clumsily mass producing content on certain topics and sub-topics just to try and game “topical authority” may have created an additional problem for their sites. If these pages aren’t bringing in any traffic, they can actually harm the entire website if there are a lot of them that have been sitting there a long time, with no engagement.

So called “deadweight” pages on a website – pages that aren’t drawing in any impressions or views – are now considered “unhelpful” content by Google.

I sympathize with bloggers who might be offended by this term, as I’ve seen myself how very well written, useful content can still not get any traffic because of how search engines work, and also the competitiveness of some niches. But that’s how Google sees it. They also don’t want to be wasting their crawl budget continually crawling pages that no one ever goes to.

Therefore if you’ve got a lot of these pages on your website, they can actually be harming it, especially after the 2022/23 Google updates.

“If you have a lot of pages that Google keep crawling, and it’s not providing any value, people aren’t visiting it, then you’re wasting Google’s crawl budget. And Google doesn’t like that…..

(Google wants a newly published page to) rank, and get clicks, and get traffic and provide value. If you’re not doing any one of those things, and you’ve just uploaded that page because Ahrefs or SEMRush told you it’s getting search volume, but in reality it’s not, then you’re probably going to want to do something about that.

Yes, it’s topical coverage, (but) it might not be topical authority….A lot of people get those two things mixed up”.

Kasra Dash – SEO Expert – see here.

That’s why, if you’ve got a lot of this kind of content on your site (perhaps a load of mass produced content silos designed to try and build “topical authority”), it’s time to do a spring clean of your website and get rid of deadweight content.

Here are some steps to do this:

  1. Go through your Analytics/Search Console and check all articles that are old (18 months – 2 years) and not pulling in any impressions or pageviews.
  2. Any articles where there is clearly traffic and you’re ranking, just not high enough, consider improving those articles if you want to and have time to. OR:
  3. Get rid of these articles off your website if there’s no traffic, or no engagement and they’re not serving any use.
      1. Delete them altogether and redirect them to the homepage
      2. Delete them and redirect to another relevant page that is getting traffic.
  4. If you have certain pages that don’t get traffic from search engines, but you still want to keep as internally linkable articles, use a plugin like RankMath to add a “no index” tag to the page, which tells Google not to focus on that page and remove it from it’s index.

In general, you’re looking to “prune” your website’s content and minimize the number of pages that don’t actually get any views or engagement, and only build topical clusters that will actually drive real traffic. That’s what real “topical authority” looks like going forward post 2023.


I like to draw on my own experience to help new bloggers and other digital marketers solve common problems encountered when working and making your money online

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