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  • Topic Cluster ≠ Topical Map ≠ Topical Authority - Issue 158

Topic Cluster ≠ Topical Map ≠ Topical Authority - Issue 158

Two Google Updates Done; Master Product Comparison Posts; AI Fact-Checking; Backlinks to Build Now; Local Marketing Guide; and Much More!

Topic Cluster Topical Map Topical Authority


Yep. They’re all interconnected concepts in SEO, but the terms are not interchangeable. Let’s define each one.

What is a Topic Cluster?

A topic cluster is a group of related content pieces that revolve around a central topic or pillar page.

Think “Healthy Breakfast Recipes” as your pillar page and a variety of healthy recipes for breakfast as articles.

What is a Topical Map?

A topical map is a strategic tool used in SEO to:

  • Organize all the website's content into a clear and structured hierarchy of main topics, subtopics, and keywords

  • Map out the internal links and anchor texts

  • Allow for a logical flow of information, significantly improving user experience

  • Give search engine bots a friendly experience with improved navigation for quick and easy understanding of the site

Think “Healthy Eating” as the theme of your site. How many main topics and subtopics are there? "Nutrition," "Healthy Recipes," "Meal Planning," and "Dietary Restrictions" to start. “Healthy Recipes” will then include the “Healthy Breakfast Recipes".

You can see that topical maps are not just an unorganized list of clusters. There’s a topical hierarchy that needs to be in place because that will help show you understand your topics through and through as an expert.

What is Topical Authority?

Topical authority refers to the expertise and relevance of a website on specific topics. Topical authority is achieved by:

  • Creating a well-organized topical map

  • Building an audience

  • Establishing relevant links

  • Publishing quality content

  • E-E-A-T (Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness)

  • Establishing social media presence

  • and a couple more things

See the differences?

A topical map is one of the most important building blocks to topical authority because of its impact on all the others.

But having a topical map does not mean you’ll achieve topical authority.

The most common mistake I see people doing is bulk generating AI content - based off a list of keywords that they got from AI - after having asked AI to generate a “topical map” - oh boy.

That’s as good as throwing spaghetti against the wall to see what sticks. But instead of throwing a pot of spaghetti all at once, you’re throwing one noodle strand at a time because you’re also waiting for AI to finish generating your topical map, keywords, and content.

Take users and bots on a journey with a topical map.

When a user visits a site, they are looking for specific information. If the site is well-structured and organized (thanks to your topical map), the user can easily navigate through the main topics, subtopics, and related content.

This logical flow of information not only enhances the user experience but also keeps them on the site longer, reducing bounce rates and increasing the chances of them returning to the site in the future. Building trust in your brand.

When a search engine bot visits, a well-structured site is easier to crawl and index. The bots can understand the hierarchy of information and the relationships between different pieces of content. This understanding helps the bots to index the site accurately, improving the site's visibility in search engine results.

As the website consistently provides high-quality, relevant content in a user-friendly structure, it starts to build topical authority. The site becomes a go-to source for information on those topics.

This authority not only improves the site's rankings in search engine results but also increases the site's credibility and trustworthiness among users.

Got all that?

Let’s try another example:

Think of a topic cluster as an apple tree in an orchard. The pillar page is the trunk, and the related content pieces are the branches and leaves. Each apple tree in this orchard represents a different topic cluster.

Now, the entire orchard layout, showing which trees are close together, which are farther apart, and how they're all connected, that's your topical map. You wouldn’t just plant trees haphazardly; you'd plan where each one goes, considering sunlight, soil quality, and access.

That planning is what ensures your orchard (your website) is user-friendly, bot-friendly, and has a clear theme. It’s an orchard that produces the juiciest, tastiest apples that will have bots wishing they could eat food 😄 

So, in a nutshell:

Many Topic Clusters help create a Topical Map.

A Topical Map helps create Topical Authority.

Last Call to Secure Your Spot for FREE!

It all starts on Oct. 24th. Learn from 23+ Niche Site Maestros!

I cover how to find content gaps on your site with a topical map.


The overlapping the Google October 2023 core update and spam update are both over now.

Barry Schwartz emphasizes the sheer magnitude of the core update, noting that it's been tumultuous for many SEOs and websites.

An interesting tidbit, he also noted on Twitter that Google's dropped the "broad" from "broad core update". Google says “No particular reason. Core seems to cover these types of updates enough.”

Michael King discusses the potential threat level of SGE on your site traffic and insights into the likely changes to the search demand curve and CTR model.

With Google's SGE and the concept of retrieval-augmented generation (RAG) at the forefront, the way we perceive and interact with search channels is evolving. RAG functions as an adept research tool, pulling relevant documents based on queries to enhance language model outputs.

My Take: It gets a bit technical, but a worthwhile read. Here’s one section that really supports the claim for you to do your research and create topical maps for your audiences.

Effectively, searches become multidimensional, and the onus is on content creators to make their content fulfill multiple stages to remain in the consideration set.

Michael King

SEO Ripples

  • Marie is currently inviting website owners to submit their sites for analysis of the October 2023 Core Update. Although you won't get individual feedback, she promises a general summary of her findings.

  • If someone’s pushing keyword density/stuffing to you, give this Semrush article a read to understand the history of why it was once a major ranking factor, but not anymore.

  • Martin Splitt from Google Search Central highlights the live URL inspection tool in Google Search Console as the go-to for checking if a page is indexed by Google. He emphasizes that while other methods exist, the rendered HTML in the Console provides the most accurate insight into how Google views and indexes content. He says the 'site colon search operator' isn’t always the trustiest method.

  • Barry Schwartz reports that Google has updated its documentation to specify that when Googlebot crawls from within the US, it uses the Pacific Time zone.


source: getlasso.co

Jamie I.F. dives deep into the art of crafting compelling product comparison articles, emphasizing their potential for high conversion. These articles not only help readers decide between products but also provide an effective strategy for affiliates and e-commerce sites to drive sales.

Drawing from personal experience, Jamie shares a systematic approach to creating these posts, ensuring they resonate with the audience's needs and preferences. Some of the key takeaways:

  • Effective Title Crafting: Titles should not only be SEO-optimized but should also address readers' pain points. For instance, understanding the primary use-case for a product can guide the title choice.

  • Intro Significance: The introduction should quickly build trust, address reader pain points, and provide a clear value judgment on which product stands out and why.

  • Call-to-Action (CTA): An impactful CTA, positioned right after the introduction, can drive significant conversions. It should feature side-by-side specs, audience segmentation, and contrasting buy buttons.

  • In-depth Feature Comparison: Delve deeper into each product's specs and features, explaining their implications on user experience.

Bruce Clay dives into the ever-persistent question: Does Google require a minimum word count for optimal SEO performance?

Contrary to popular belief, Google doesn’t prioritize word count but rather the quality of content. However, if you want to rank effectively, there's a practical consideration to word count, since you're competing against top-ranked webpages.

To get a grasp on the ideal word count, analyze the search results for their particular query and try to be at least on par, if not better, than the competition. The top 10 ranked pages for a specific query might average 2,000 words, while another could average only 800.

My Take: I get asked this question all the time from topical map clients and I tell them the same thing. Take a look at your competitors and be a little better than them.

Sydney Go discusses automated content, and its increasing use and relevance on the Semrush blog. Automated content, as Sydney explains, isn't about replacing writers or marketers but empowering them to enhance efficiency, minimize errors, and make data-driven decisions. With the right tools, teams can automate several content marketing processes, ranging from keyword research to content analytics.


Jonathan Gillham and Originality.ai get into the world of AI fact-checking with their new Fact-Checking Tool in beta. It was built for Content Editors to assist in the fact checking process and to help reduce the likelihood that a hallucination will make its way into your content.

They pit several AI models against each other in a fact-checking showdown with a dataset of 120 recent facts (60 true, 60 false). Those facts were fed to each model to test accuracy.

  • The article compares 6 AI models for fact checking: Originality.ai, GPT-4, GPT-3.5, CodeLlama-34b, Llama-2-13b, and Llama-2-70b.

  • Originality.ai’s Fact Checking Aid has the highest accuracy at 72.3%. GPT-4 was second at 64.9%.

  • GPT-4 and CodeLlama-34b had high rates of returning "unknown", making them unreliable for fact checking.

  • Originality.ai stood out with 0% "unknowns" and low error rate, indicating reliability.

My Take: One thing that I didn’t see was how Originality.ai performs their fact checking too. If they do any web searches, that’s an advantage over all the models, which I assume did not have use of the web. But then again, that’s a big benefit to using Originality’s Fact-Checking tool 😅 

Big news for the visual creatives out there: ChatGPT, powered by DALL·E 3, is now allowing Plus and Enterprise users to generate bespoke images simply by describing their vision in a conversation!

source: openai.com

AI Ripples


Matt Diggity sheds light on the backlinks he uses to deliver three crucial signals: relevance, trust, and power. Some of the key takeaways:

  • Link Diversity is Crucial: No single backlink type covers the three signals, hence a mix is essential.

  • Relevance for Google: To ascertain a page's topic, Google looks at the relevance of the links. For instance, a protein powder page with links from other related pages will rank higher.

  • Trust is Paramount: Earning Google's trust often means gaining links from high-quality 'seed sites', like New York Times or Forbes. These links help in boosting the E-A-T (Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness) signals.

  • Power of Backlinks: The concept of 'link juice' suggests the importance of securing powerful links with a high number of internal links and minimal outbound ones.

  • Digital PR & Guest Posting: Digital PR focuses on attracting backlinks from authoritative sites through captivating studies, while guest posting, an immensely popular technique, allows control over link relevance and positioning.

Charles Floate shares a great, simple image of how you can structure your site, content, and backlinks to power up your money pages.


Rand Fishkin from SparkToro dives into AI-centric search and what it might mean for marketers in the future. As the landscape shifts towards more AI-driven answers, Rand envisions a world where traditional search results may morph into AI-generated responses, similar to how ChatGPT and Google's generative search experience operate.

The key for marketers? Ensuring their brands are mentioned in places where large language models might derive their answers from. No matter what the AI-centric future will look like, he emphasizes the importance of being present where your brand is discussed today.

Tristen Taylor at Hubspot discusses the growing trend of AI avatars on YouTube. But AI avatars are just the tip of the iceberg. She also looks into the history of faceless YouTubers and introduces the concept of AI VTubers.

These content creators harness AI to produce videos, animating their avatars in real-time. Tristen explores why people opt for AI avatars, from self-expression to inclusivity, and ponders the future of this technology in content creation.


Miriam Ellis of Moz has unveiled "The Local Business Content Marketing Guide" – a comprehensive resource tailored for local businesses and marketers.

Ellis has packed this guide with actionable advice, covering everything from foundational content strategies to nuanced promotion methods. It’s not just Local SEO, it includes a lot of marketing and starting a business.

From Basics to Advanced: Topics range from foundational content assets (like USP creation) to advanced strategies (like AI considerations and consumer behavior shifts).

Subdomains may appear simple at first glance, but as Brody Hall reveals, they play a pivotal role in how a website is structured and how it interacts with search engines. Some of the key takeaways:

  • Subdomains are independent sections of a website, aiding in content organization and user navigation.

  • They can be used for geo-targeting and personalization, serving different regional audiences.

  • Subdomains are seen as individual sites by search engines, which can be beneficial or challenging for SEO.

  • They provide room for experimentation without affecting the main site.

  • Choosing between subdomains and subdirectories depends on your website’s specific needs and goals.

Bruce Clay also has a Subdomains vs Subdirectories article this week…coincidence? Both are good to read to cover your bases so you don’t need to wonder anymore in the future.


Jon Dykstra is the first interview for the new Click Wars Podcast with Jamie I.F. and Sammie Ellard-King. Jon highlight the importance of Pinterest for driving traffic. Unlike Instagram, which can be a challenge to drive direct site visits, Pinterest is a goldmine for bloggers and niche site publishers aiming for website clicks.

Nathan Gotch spills the beans on his decades-worth of SEO experience with Jared Bauman on the Niche Pursuits podcast. He gets into keyword research, advocating for updating existing content before churning out new pieces. His approach to keyword intent and his outlined scoring system for evaluating keyword relevance are all interesting.

Nathan emphasizes the significance of link building, content quality, and the importance of genuinely understanding and engaging in the niche you're writing about. With a wealth of knowledge to share, it's a great listen.


If you’re enjoying niche surfer, I’d love it if you would share it with your friends! I’ve put together some rewards as well:

  • Refer 3: Get a Twitter Shout-out

  • Refer 5: Get featured in an issue

  • Refer 10: Get One Ask Me Anything Question

  • Refer 50: Get 50% Off the Topical Maps Unlocked Course

  • Refer 100: Get a Free copy of Topical Maps Unlocked

  • Refer 150: Get a 1 hour SEO 1-1 Coaching session with Yoyao


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