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Topical Relevance in SEO

In SEO, topical relevance is the measure of how topically relevant backlinks to your website are.

topical relevance seo

A website and all of its individual web pages are ranked by search engines using hundreds of ranking signals. Yet, a handful of these signals are making up most of the results. Topical relevance in SEO focuses on building and optimizing topical backlinks that are coming from topically relevant sources (websites, and web pages).

Search engine optimization (SEO) is about improving facets of your content strategy in order to increase your organic traffic. Since the Hummingbird algorithm update by Google, keywords have been relegated in favor of semantic search algorithms and topically relevant backlinks. Indeed, in this day and age, topical relevance cannot be forgotten in any backlinking strategy.

Keywords can be gamed too easily, and searchers can use slight variations that would have no match despite a plethora of relevant content published. Therefore, today, search engines focus a lot less on the literal words used in order to understand the meaning behind the words as well as the intent. The context in kind whenever somebody starts a search!

topical relevance seo definition
Definition of topical relevance in search engine optimization.

Using new models and methods of indexing topics, links, and pages such as the Reasonable Surfer patent, Google can make a link more relevant based on its position on the page, its context, and both target and source pages discussing related topics.

What is topical relevance in SEO?

Topical relevance, or topic relevancy, is a computed score used by search engines to measure how relevant a web page is from the topical quality of the backlinks pointing to it.

PageRank is the original algorithm used by Google to score web pages, and root domains. The more a website is linked to, the more authoritative it is, and the more value links from this domain to others will hold. This algorithm has been revolutionary in search and most search engines still use their own modified version of PageRank.

Topic-sensitive PageRank (paper) is an example of algorithm adding topical relevance and topical authority to the original PageRank algorithm founded by Google’s Larry Page. It extracts each indexed page’s relevant topics, and once a user enters a search query, assesses what topics the terms pertain to, and then finds the most topically relevant results.

Why does topical relevance matter?

Topical relevance matters because it makes gaming search engines nearly impossible over time. The energy you would need to cheat algorithms is way more than the energy you would actually need to become a genuine authority over your specific domain(s).

Without topical relevance, search engines can be very easily cheated. Black-hat SEO was incredibly easy to put in place for a long time since any page linking to your “money website” was valued more or less the same. It is easy to create a private blog network and get decent links to your main website.

With the use of topical relevance, not only your own money website should show topical authority, but your backlinks should come from websites that are also topically relevant. And because topical relevance trickles down, these websites too must have backlinks that come from topically relevant sources. And it goes on and on.

Obviously, topics are abstract concepts expressed through the use of literal terms (key phrases and keywords). They are also mutating over time and the keyword universe of each topic changes constantly. Topical relevance is constantly moving so you should always keep your backlink profile on-topic.

How to compute topical relevance?

Topic relevancy is not an easy parameter to compute as there are so many tasks going into it. Let’s review the main stages of a modern topical relevance algorithm:

  1. Crawling — extract the raw content of a web page
  2. Body parsing — find the main part of the entire web page
  3. Key phrase extraction — list the phrases found in the article’s body
  4. Topic extraction — list the topics within the content’s body
  5. Ranking — score all the phrases and topics
  6. Indexing — add the page to the index

So far, we only know what a web page talks about on a macromolecular level (i.e. topics) and micromolecular level (i.e. key phrases). But the concept of topical relevance does not even start here.

In order to measure topical relevance, an algorithm needs to take into account inbound backlinks and how topically relevant each individual source is (both the source page, and source domain). And then, anchor texts as well as the context of the link obviously matter in weighing how much value to give to the backlink.

How to increase topical relevance?

The main steps to increase your website’s topical relevance include:

The truth is search engine optimization tactics are nearly the same pre and post topical shift in algorithms. The only difference is that everything you have been doing should now be done with topical relevance in mind: get backlinks, get social mentions, and get high-quality articles published, but all have to pertain to your actual subject matter.

Favor fewer backlinks, mentions, and articles, in exchange for a lot more domain-specific ranking signals.

Optimizing your topical SEO strategy is required in the long-run. No one tactic or trick will get your the evergreen high SERPS all topical content marketers work hard for.

Top Tips for Topical Optimization

In order to get important pages to rank higher through topical relevance, content strategists must focus on their overall topical optimization strategy. Let me remind you that keywords should not be your primary focus.

Pick a narrow topic for each article

Each blog or company’s website talks about a few topics (i.e. the brand’s core focus topics) using a whole bunch of specific blog posts (i.e. a blog post per keyword related to a focus topic). Well, this is how it used to be done.

Depending on how broad your core topics are, you should now focus on picking one subject matter and dive deep into it with a single article, or a handful. Surely, you have noticed the shortcut page links on a Google results page: they bring you to the right spot within the article itself.

google page links shortcuts
Example of shortcut page links on Google.

So now, your article can be as long as you want them to be, as long as your break them down properly with heading tags (H1, H2, H3, H4, H5, etc).

Guest post on blogs within your space

Guest blogging has always been hard. A lot of outreach for very few results. And most blogs happy to publish your guest posts are somewhat unauthoritative blogs that hold very little SEO juice.

Well, the task now got even harder. And it’s a good news.

You will now have to work twice as hard for half the returns in terms of how many blogs will post your content, but the SEO impact will be a lot more interesting. Fatally, if you need to stay in your own space, the number of candidate blogs to outreach to will shrink. But the impact on your topical relevance will be huge.

Start with low hanging fruits, newer blogs, and communities, to then slowly build up your own reputation. Once you have hit a certain notoriety, you can apply to more established websites and portals within your domain.

While most SEO experts have been searching for the right anchor text formula, nobody found it. However, a Google patent called phrase-based indexing has given away a lot of tips about anchor texts.

For years, SEO marketers cheated algorithms by using specific anchor texts. Google and other search engines now decided to account for related phrases found within the article to give more or less weight to a given outbound link and the page it targets.

Therefore, there is no real need to put all of your focus on the actual anchor text. Think more holistically about the article and get more topically relevant the closer you are to the actual link (e.g. the sentence itself, the paragraph it is in, and other related phrases within the rest of the article).

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