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Optimizing Website Structure for SEO Topical Authority

The Importance of Website Structure for SEO

Website structure is integral to search engine optimization (SEO). A well-structured website allows search engine crawlers to discover, index, and understand your content more easily.

That means they can find what they need to rank your website. You have everything to gain by making search engines’ jobs easier.

It’s not just about the algorithms.

The way your human readers respond to your website structure informs search engines whether people find your website useful or not.

Long story short: investing in good website structure is essential if you’re serious about boosting your search engine rankings and visibility.

What is Topical Authority?

Topical authority describes the level of expertise and credibility a website or content creator has in a specific subject area or niche.

Establishing topical authority requires consistently creating high-quality, relevant, and valuable content that showcases your knowledge and expertise.

This tactic:

  • Builds trust with your audience.
  • Attracts more organic traffic.
  • Improve your search engine rankings, as search engines tend to prioritize authoritative content in search results.

It’s kind of important.

How Website Structure Affects Topical Authority

Website structure dictates how both users and search engines perceive the organization and relevance of your content.

For search engines, a clear structure helps display the relationships between various topics and pages. Crawlers can more easily recognize and distinguish your site’s expertise in your subject area(s).

For your readers, a user-friendly website structure offers a guided journey through your content. This drives engagement and reinforces your position as an authority in your niche.

To reach Google’s top spot, you need to impress the human reader AND the search engine.

Let’s take a deep dive into optimizing website structure for SEO topical authority.

Understanding Topical Authority

Topical authority describes your expertise and authority in your field. It describes how highly trusted you are by both search engines and your human readers.

Authority builds trust.

Trust helps you rank.

Ranking means increased visibility.

Visibility means organic backlinks and greater engagement.

Establishing your topical authority online is non-negotiable for experts in any field. It brings improved organic search traffic, higher search engine rankings, and a virtuous circle of engagement and reward.

Benefits of Establishing Topical Authority

  1. Enhanced search engine rankings: Search engines prioritize websites with established topical authority. This means higher SERP rankings and increased visibility.
  2. Increased organic traffic: As your website ranks higher in search results, you’ll attract more organic traffic from users searching for information related to your area of expertise.
  3. Greater trust and credibility: Building topical authority makes an impression on search engines and human readers. You’ll acquire a following and benefit from referrals as well as backlinks. Users will be likely to engage with your content, share it with others, and become loyal followers or customers.
  4. Competitive advantage: High authority helps you stand out from your competitors and position your brand as a leader in your industry.
  5. Improved conversion rates: Why should your buyers trust you? Answer: because you’re a leading expert in your field. Increased credibility helps convert website visitors into leads, subscribers, or customers.

Factors that Contribute to Topical Authority

  1. Content quality: Topical authority begins with content creation. You need the best-researched, most informative, most accessible content in your niche to start ranking.
  2. Content relevance: Your content should be relevant to your niche and targeted toward your audience’s needs.
  3. Consistency: Regularly publishing fresh and engaging content demonstrates your commitment to staying up-to-date with trends in your field. Search engines also value regularly updated content.
  4. Content organization: A well-structured website that organizes content in a logical, user-friendly manner helps search engines and users understand the topical depth of your content.
  5. Backlinks and social proof: Earning high-quality backlinks and social shares from reputable websites and influencers in your niche can signal to search engines and users that your content is trustworthy and authoritative.

Creating an Effective Website Structure

So how do you build a website that shows your readers and the search engines the full range of your expertise?

You’ll need to build a topical map. This lays out what you need to cover and where it should be categorized.

Before we show you how topical maps work, let’s outline some good practice basics for web design.

User-friendly Navigation

This covers how your human readers will experience your website.

Poor navigation is a leading cause of high bounce rates. Even if your site is attracting a lot of initial traffic, that’s no use if you haven’t laid signposts directing your clients to the next stage of their journey.

  1. Intuitive menu structure: Menus should be neatly categorized, easy to find, and clearly labeled. Group similar pages under appropriate categories and ensure labels are relevant to the target page.
  2. Breadcrumbs: Breadcrumb navigation guides users on a consistent journey through your website – and find their way back when they click a tangential link. Breadcrumbs also provide additional context for search engines, helping them better understand your site’s structure.
  3. Mobile-friendliness: Mobile optimization is essential for any website today. An ever-increasing volume of users browse using mobile devices. Search engines also recognize this and check for mobile optimization.

Logical Content Organization

Search engines attempt to crawl your website methodically. If your website is laid out neatly and methodically, it stands to reason that they’ll have an easier job – and rank you higher as a reward.

  1. Hierarchical structure: Organize your website content in a hierarchical structure with parent and child pages. This structure helps search engines understand the relationships between pages and enhances the user experience by making it easier to locate specific content.
  2. Topic clusters: Group related content into topic clusters centered around a pillar page. This helps with breadcrumbing and guides both readers and search engines on a consistent journey.
  3. Content silos: Content silos are a central component of your topical map. They group related pages within a specific section or category on your website. This enhances the user experience and helps search engines identify topical depth.

Consistent URL Structure

URLs only matter to search engines, right?


When other sites consider linking to you, an uncomplicated, naked URL is vastly preferred. It lets their readers identify what they’re about to click on and helps search engines crawl these backlinks more easily.

Want to get backlinks? Your URLs can help. Here’s how.

  1. Descriptive URLs: Use descriptive and human-readable URLs that reflect the content of the page. Descriptive URLs are more likely to be clicked on by users and provide additional context for search engines.
  2. URL hierarchy: Your URL structure should reflect your website’s content hierarchy – it’s a secondary map. This helps search engines understand the relationships between pages and makes it easier for users to interpret the content of a page based on its URL.
  3. Consistent URL formatting: Maintain a consistent URL formatting style throughout your website, e.g. using hyphens or underscores to separate words. Avoid unnecessary capitalization or special characters where possible.

Consider a supermarket where the overhead signs are alternatively in all-lower case (pet food), heading case (Fresh Produce) and all-caps (FROZEN VEGETABLES AND PIZZA).

It’s all technically accurate – but it’s distracting and unnecessary. That’s how a search engine experiences disjointed URLs. It views your website as sloppy and haphazard.

As ever, consistency is everything.

Implementing Topic Clusters and Pillar Pages

Your topical map should be structured from the top down.

Don’t think up abstract topics first and figure out where they go later – a top-down website structure ensures you’re covering every subject you need to rank for and keep your content organized.

What are Topic Clusters?

Topic clusters are an essential part of topical mapping.

This strategy groups related content pieces together around a central topic. This helps search engines and users understand the depth and breadth of your expertise in a specific subject area.

What are Pillar Pages?

Pillar pages are comprehensive, in-depth resources that cover a core topic in detail and guide a reader to deeper, more specific posts.

Pillar pages serve as the main hub for a topic cluster, linking to and from related subtopic pages (cluster content) within the cluster.

Benefits of Using Topic Clusters and Pillar Pages

  1. Improved SEO: Topic clusters and pillar pages are like an expanding table of contents. They help search engines understand the relationships between your content pieces. This makes it easier for them to recognize your site’s topical authority – the first step toward consistently improving your SERP ranking.
  2. Enhanced user experience: This model is intuitive for human readers. It simplifies navigation and makes it easier for users to find relevant information. User experience and reader retention are both increased.
  3. Streamlined content creation: Topic clusters provide a clear content creation roadmap, enabling you to identify gaps in your coverage and plan future content pieces more effectively.

Using your website’s design to build a content roadmap is highly recommended. This lets you understand the kind of budget, timescale, and resources you’ll need to set up a high-performing website that fully establishes your topical authority.

How to Create Topic Clusters and Pillar Pages

  1. Identify core topics: These should marry your expertise with your client’s needs. Learn your users’ broadest and most pressing concerns and search queries. Show why you’re the right source to learn more about these subjects.
  2. Create pillar pages: Develop comprehensive, in-depth resources for each core topic. These pillar pages should provide a thorough overview and link internally to related subtopic pages within the topic cluster.
  3. Develop cluster content: Further demonstrate your expertise by producing well-researched, comprehensive subtopic content related to each core topic. These pieces should provide valuable information and insights while linking back to the relevant pillar page to improve navigation.
  4. Optimize internal linking: Establish a strong internal linking structure by connecting the pillar page to its associated cluster content and vice versa. This helps search engines and users navigate your content more easily – it’s recognizing what “users also ask” and showing that you understand their information need.

Optimizing Internal Linking for Topical Authority

The Importance of Internal Linking

Internal linking creates  a web of interconnected content within your website.

But not all internal links are created equal. Haphazard internal link structures make your website look less like a gossamer spider web and more like an unraveled ball of wool.

As ever, your approach needs to be accessible, methodical, consistent, and relevant.

Effective internal linking is essential for establishing topical authority. It helps search engines understand the relationships between content pages and showcases topical depth.

Best Practices for Internal Linking

So how do you do internal linking that search engines and users will find helpful? It’s actually quite intuitive – see below.

  1. Use descriptive anchor text: Use clear, descriptive anchor text that accurately reflects the linked page’s content. Don’t try to hide links by attaching them to one word – this is a promotion for your content and also helps search engines identify whether the link is relevant!
  2. Link to relevant content: It’s not just the anchor that should be relevant – there needs to be a reason for the link to be included. This makes for a more valuable reading experience for your users and confirms to search engines that you’re not spamming.
  3. Balance internal linking: Links should lead to both older and newer content, and all content should be marked for internal linking. Keep track of which pages link to which and plan this ahead. Don’t make one page the hero – you’re trying to establish authority on numerous topic clusters.
  4. Avoid over-optimization: Descriptive anchor text is good. Anchor text that repeatedly uses long-tail keywords is excessive and damaging. Turning half your page into clickable internal links also indicates manipulation to search engines, and you’ll be penalized.
  5. Update broken links: Broken links make a site look derelict to search engines and they’ll downgrade it accordingly. Regular audits help identify and replace or redirect broken links.

What are the Best Tools for Analyzing and Improving Internal Linking?

Here’s a rundown of the best DIY tools for managing your internal linking.

  1. Google Search Console: Simple but effective. Google Search Console can identify and fix broken internal links. It’ll also review your overall internal linking structure.
  2. Screaming Frog: The Screaming Frog SEO Spider tool identifies broken links, reviews anchor text usage, and reports website design issues that are affecting your SEO performance.
  3. Ahrefs: Ahrefs’ Site Audit tool identifies broken links, orphaned pages, and over-optimized anchor text.

By optimizing your internal linking structure, you can enhance your website’s topical authority, improve search engine rankings, and create a better user experience for your visitors.

Internal linking is intuitive. Search engines treat your website like an encyclopedia – they want all those “see also”s.

They want those glossary references.

They want those short passages that outline further reading on tangential topics.

Your topical map should include an internal linking structure (including desired anchor text) before you start creating content. It’s so much easier to get it right the first time.

But what if you need to make changes?

Let’s explore that.

Monitoring and Adjusting Your Website Structure for Topical Authority

Regularly Review Your Website Structure

As your website grows and your content expands, you’ll need to regularly review and adjust your website structure. Why?

Search engines love fresh content. An encyclopedia both grows and adjusts to recent developments. Outdated information is purged, fresh information is added. Internal links and topic clusters are updated.

You may also find that a “niche” subject becomes one of your highest-traffic subjects. You may wish to expand this to a broader category if readers are engaging with it.

Assess Content Performance and Relevance

When your client base signals that they want to know more about a specific subject, it’s your job to respond.

Likewise, if your core service is underperforming compared to less specialized areas, it’s not because nobody is interested in your core service.

It’s because it’s not being displayed or explained properly. Time for an update.

Here’s how you know when it’s time to respond – and how to do it.

  1. Analyze website analytics: Use website analytics tools to assess the performance of your content. Google Analytics is a good start. Many paid tools deliver more in-depth information. Identify high-performing pages, as well as those with low engagement or high bounce rates, to determine areas for improvement.
  2. Revisit keyword research: Regular keyword research helps you to stay up-to-date with current trends and user interests. SEO keyword research tools can show you how your highest-performing competitors are performing and adjust keyword inclusion accordingly. You need to answer your audience’s main questions – this is what keywords are for.

Update and Refresh Content

Outdated content doesn’t do your topical authority any favors, even if it’s currently performing well. Search engines and readers catch on when a webpage is behind the times, and its authority will diminish over time.

But you don’t need to abandon a valuable page with great backlink performance.

Update the page’s information, or have the old page’s URL redirect to a new page to retain its accumulated authority.

Sometimes content performs poorly because it’s simply too niche to capture much traffic. Consider consolidating several poorly-performing blog posts in a similar category into a comprehensive guide to a more frequently searched query.

Adjust Internal Linking and Topic Clusters

Does your topical map still make sense after 6 months? Has a pillar page become bloated or started covering too many categories?

Subdivide the page into several, more relevant pillar pages. Adjust URLs and internal linking as needed.

You should also routinely assess your topic clusters. Update them as needed to reflect new content or changes in your subject-matter.

Monitor Search Engine Rankings and Traffic

Back to basics.

The best way to monitor your topical authority performance is by keeping an eye on… how your website is performing.

This should inform your decision-making as you continue building your website. Future content creation, website organization, and internal linking strategies can all be aided by keeping an eye on overall and page-specific performance.


The Importance of Optimizing Website Structure for Topical Authority

Developing and implementing a topical map guides both users and search engines on a curated journey.

For users? That means an effortless journey to discovering the best source available for their search query.

For search engines? That means recommending a well-maintained, cogent website as the most authoritative source on your niche.

You want to be both these things.

Key Takeaways

  1. Be accessible. Develop a clear and intuitive website structure with user-friendly navigation, logical content organization, and consistent URL formatting.
  2. Be methodical. Use topic clusters and pillar pages to guide users and search engines through your expertise. Showcase your topical depth.
  3. Be consistent. Pre-plan internal linking to keep your readers engaged and help search engines understand the relationships between web pages.
  4. Be relevant. Monitor and adjust your website structure, content, and internal linking routinely according to trends and user searches.

You can’t be an authority on a subject if nobody can hear what you have to say.

Establishing yourself as a topical authority relies on your content being presented, received, and understood in the most coherent way possible.

This starts with website structure.

Optimizing your website’s structure lets search engines and your clients discover you and learn why you should be the go-to source whenever they have an information need.

Becoming a topical authority in your field starts with getting the basics right. Start drawing the map now.

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