Topic Authority, a ranking system for news

Tempo di lettura : 5 minuti

Priority for local and regional publications, and preference for original reports from news groups that are familiar with the geographical location and topic of news and interest: in a nutshell, these are the main features of Topic Authority, Google’s ranking system expressly dedicated to evaluating and ranking news-type content online, and thus mainly affecting news sites, especially on a local basis. This is not completely new, official Mountain View sources explain, because the mechanism has been in operation for years, but only now do we have a bit of information and details about this important system.

Google’s Topic Authority for news ranking

Describing the Topic Authority system is a page from Google Search Central, which first explains that the system aims to “better surface relevant, expert and informed content in Google Search and News” by helping determine which expert sources are useful for a user’s news query in certain specialized subject areas, such as health, politics or finance.

As Jen Granito, Group Product Manager at Search, continues, usually major news events are covered by a wide range of news sites, and this can present “a challenge for Google users looking for publications with particular expertise on a topic,” such as “a financial news outlet for a query about the impact of an economic report or a local publication reporting on a disaster in their area.”

Such informed and useful work can be overwhelmed by more general coverage, which brings up other content, and Topic Authority helps Google avoid this situation.

How the Topic Authority system works

Active now for several years, as later explained by Danny Sullivan, the Topic Authority appears to be something more specific than Google’s other news-focused ranking sytems, such as the “Local News System” or the “Original Content System.”

At the moment there are no explicit details about how this system works-whether it is reserved only for news sites or also for sporadic news providers, whether it operates at the page or site level, whether it is active only in the United States or also in other versions of Google around the world, such as Italy, and so on-and we only know what Granito tells us, which is that the “Topic Authority System” looks at a variety of signals to understand a publication’s degree of expertise in particular areas.”

These are the “most important signals.”

  • Importance of a source to a topic or location: Google’s systems include publications that seem particularly relevant to topics or locations. For example, they may say that people looking for Nashville high school football news often turn to a publication like The Tennessean for local coverage.
  • Influence and original reporting: the system looks at how original reporting (e.g., the publisher who first broke a story) is cited by other publishers to understand how influential and authoritative a publication is on a topic. In 2022, Google added the Highly Cited label in SERP (not yet available in the UK) to give people an easier way to identify stories that have been frequently cited by other news outlets.
  • Source Reputation: the system also looks at a source’s history of high-quality reporting or recommendations from expert sources, such as professional societies. For example, a publication’s history of doing original reporting or its journalism awards are strong evidence of a positive reputation for news websites.

The impact of the system on news research

The Topic Auhority is an important signal to “better serve local news requests, offering readers around the world more useful local and regional content in both Top Stories and other News features,” the article further clarifies.

Granite also focuses on a practical example of how this system can help a user in a search, assuming “there was a flood where you live.” The Topic Authority signal helps Google identify content from publications in that region that regularly cover topics in the specific city or country and show them at the top of search results. The underlying assumption is that “these are likely to be familiar publications that are considered trustworthy in the community,” which therefore should be prioritized and highlighted “even though even major national newspapers might cover the flood news.”

Google’s emphasis on topic auhority means that it is also able to serve up original reporting from journalism teams that are deeply familiar with the location and topic, which makes it more “likely that local publishers will appear more often for news events that affect their area,” just as “publishers with specific expertise are more likely to emerge when their content is most useful for understanding a news story about a specific topic or field.”

In general, then, this system starts from a common challenge that Google users face when looking for authoritative coverage on specific topics, wanting to go beyond the classic generalist news sites to read something more in-depth, written by those who are knowledgeable about the subject or follow the situation closely (even in a geographical sense). As the examples say, if a user is looking for expert commentary on an economic report or local news about a disaster in their area, they will often find a mix of general coverage articles in SERPs, potentially obscuring the more professional work done by publications with specific expertise in these areas, by journalists or scholars who only (or mostly) cover these issues.

And so, the Topic Authority system allows Google to provide more results from local or specialized news sites, helping the search engine prioritize relevant, expertly written, original, and well-documented content so that readers are provided with more appropriate coverage.

Tips for news sites: how to write content in line with Google’s guidance

The final part of the guide is devoted to setting out some advice for publishers or news site operators: to be in line with Topic Authority and increase your opportunities to gain visibility with your news you need to “keep doing what their publications would normally do.”

In a more practical sense, what is needed is to “provide broad coverage of the areas and topics that publishers are familiar with,” because this kind of work “should naturally align with what the Topic Authority System measures,” and also with Google’s general guidance on creating useful, people-centered content – i.e., the Helpful Content System, which has a more general focus.

Topic Authority and SEO: not just EEAT and YMYL topics

Topic Authority adds another layer to the strategic mix that SEO professionals dedicated to managing news sites must attend to, because the system also influences normal search results and thus generates changes in news discovery and distribution and ranking dynamics.

Google says this ranking system is designed to ensure greater visibility for two specific categories of publishers and news outlets:

  • Local news sites, which benefit from increased visibility for news events covered in their area.
  • Industry sites with specific expertise, which benefit from increased visibility when their content is relevant to a news story in that specialized field

Expanding on the reasoning, between the lines (but not only, if we consider at the attention placed on the term “experience”) Google again pushes towards the concept of EEAT, and thus to the absolute centrality that precisely experience, expertise, authority and trustworthyness have for organic success, not only in the sensitive topics that fall under the YMYL topic umbrella. In addition, with specific reference to news, the importance of a publication’s influence and reputation is also emphasized, which aligns with Google’s ongoing efforts to promote quality content.

What seems to emerge, basically, is Google’s call for excellent coverage of the areas and topics in which a site (journalistic, but not only) specializes, moving away from the days of generic, one-size-fits-all content strategies that apply to everyone indiscriminately. The future of news search in SERPs is – should be, at least in intention and “on paper” – made up of articles that provide local and expert coverage, a renewed focus on in-depth reporting and the resurgence of specialized journalism, and only those who invest in the development of authoritative content in their areas of expertise will achieve good rankings.