Authority vs. SEO Relevance – How They Influence Your Chances of Ranking

03 May 2021
| Last update: 11 May 2021

When it comes to successful SEO, it’s not enough to do just a few things right.

There are many pieces in the SEO puzzle that need to fit together to create an image of success.

And considering that there are more than 200 ranking factors that Google takes into account to rank your pages, doing the work necessary to get every piece of the puzzle right can take up a lot of time and effort.

However, not all ranking factors are equal in Google’s eyes.

Certain factors might influence Google’s algorithm more, and some you can use to compensate for the ones you still haven’t checked off your list.

You can make up for the fact that you haven’t had time to build strength in certain “muscles” of your site by being smart with how you craft your strategy.

You can get Google’s attention even if you’re competing with bigger sites that have more authority than you.

You just need to know what to focus on.

To learn how to do this, you need to familiarize yourself with two main pillars of SEO: 

1. Authority;

2. Relevance.

By understanding these key concepts and how they influence your chances of ranking, you’ll be better equipped to come up with a ranking strategy. One that takes into consideration the level your site is at right now.

In other words, you’ll know which path to take and what to focus on to achieve the best results.

Okay, so let’s get to it then and start with the first one from our list: Authority.

1. Authority

The best way to explain what Authority refers to in an SEO context is to use an example.

Let’s say you want to learn more about Impressionism, the famous 19th-century art movement. You could ask your next-door neighbor about it.

But unless your neighbor is a knowledgeable art teacher with years of experience, chances are that you are not going to learn much this way.

Another thing you could do is go to an art university.

You could talk to one of the professors there; someone who specializes in Impressionism and whose knowledge has been vetted by an authority in this domain (the art university which employs him).

Or you could go to the library and buy some books on this topic who have been recommended by other readers who are interested in this art movement.

Which will you choose?

Would you rather get your information from your next-door neighbor who doesn’t know much about art? Or from an authoritative source, like an art professor or an insightful book which many others have bought?

The answer is obvious – and authority plays a key role in how you’ve made your decision.

Search Engines also take Authority into account when figuring out which results to serve their users.

Remember, their top priority is to make their users happy (you can learn more about this in our Ultimate SEO Beginner’s Guide).

Therefore, search engines like Google want to provide the most authoritative (relevant) results that perfectly match their users’ search queries.

Now, the question is: how do search engines evaluate authority? We’ll answer that next.

How Do Search Engines Determine which Site Has How Much Authority?

There are several things that Search Engines look at to determine Authority, but the two main categories that take center stage are:

1. Content (which is also part of the relevance pillar)

2. Links

📑 Content

A search engine will read and analyze the content as well as other elements like the page language, the structure, and more to determine how well the page covers the topic – and how useful it might be to a visitor.

🔗 Links

After the search engine understands the content of the page and indexes it, it will move to external signals to determine the level of authority of the page for its intended topic.

To do this, it will take a look at the links that pages have received from other websites.

It’s not just the number of links that counts, though.

The quality of those links matters as well.

Getting relevant, trustworthy sources to link to your content is what you want.

So, you shouldn’t just focus on link quantity to build the Authority of your site. If you are solely focusing on quantity with no regard for quality, you may be sabotaging your SEO efforts.

Why?

Google might penalize you if it looks like the links you got were obtained in an artificial way instead of an organic way.

It’s better to focus on quality and have relevant domains linking back to you.

For example:

Say you’ve published an ultimate guide on dog food, and you receive two backlinks, one from Bob’s Dog Training School website and one from Jay’s Nails and Bolts eCommerce store.

Which one of the two do you think is more valuable?

Ding!Ding!Ding!

You got it!

It’s the one from the dog training school, as it is more RELEVANT. It tells Google that your guide is pretty good, as others in this niche are recommending it by linking to it.

Remember that the relevance of the linking page and site impacts how valuable the link really is.

Now that you know more about what authority is, let’s move on to Relevance – the second pillar of SEO we’re talking about today.

2. Relevance

 There’s a whole lot of content being published every second. We’re talking millions of new pages every single day. 

In fact, for every search query a user makes, Google has to choose from about 22 Million pages that it can display. 

So, it needs a way to assess which websites in their index are best able to meet the user’s requirements.

It needs to figure out which of the pages it can display are actually relevant (when we talk about relevance, we talk about how appropriate a specific page is for a specific query).

The better a text or the content of a page matches a search query, the more likely it is that it will achieve a good ranking.

To sort the wheat from the chaff and provide relevant results to their users, search engines such as Google use complex algorithms that analyze the content on your page, how that content is structured, and more.

Optimizing your pages for keywords is the best tactic you can use to create search relevance.  You can learn more about this here.

In the old days of SEO, it was often enough to just use the exact keyword as the search query in the body of the content numerous times to rank for that keyword.

Now, the algorithm is a lot more sophisticated.

You have to make sure you are using the right SEO keywords when optimizing your title tags and meta descriptions, as well as the content.

Then, you need to pay attention to the website architecture, inner linking, proper rendering, and indexability, among others.

As you can see, improving your website’s search relevance can take a bit of work. But if you’re using features from Squirrly such as the Live Assistant and the Focus Pages, it’s not that complicated.

Plus, the benefits are considerable.

Work on Your Search Relevance to Compete with Sites with Higher Authority

  • How Did We Reach this Conclusion?

Data from our study suggests that one can compensate for having pages with low authority by working on optimizing their content.

This is most evident for sites that are in the 40 to 49 SEO score segment in our study. (SEO score is a metric calculated by our content analysis tool: ContentLook).

In ContentLook, an SEO score of over 40 indicates that the sites which received it are investing a lot of time and resources into optimizing their content for SEO.

That said, let’s get back to our 40 to 49 SEO segment.

To make it easier to see the relationship between Authority and SEO relevance:

  • We sorted out the list according to how many keywords sites have optimized for (the average for 100 pages)
  • We created a segment starting with the site that optimized for the smallest number of keywords (check out row 4 in the image below) and ending with the site who optimized for the largest number of keywords (row 13 in the image below)

If you take a look at the image above, you can see how the metric: SEO Score per article is influenced by the metric: Number of keywords Article is optimized for per 100 pages.

The metric: SEO Score per article is directly proportional to the: Number of keywords Article is optimized for per 100 pages. 

What does this mean?

It means that the sites that are optimizing for more keywords are also paying closer attention to on-page SEO; making sure they are optimizing their content by incorporating keywords in strategic places across their pages.

Now, by looking at the Page Authority per article metric, we can see that the site that has optimized for the largest number of keywords has the lowest authority, but is still able to compete with the rest of the sites included in this study.

That’s because the owner of that site is focused on improving his page’s search relevance.

Of course, the pillars we talk about in this article are connected to one another. You can influence one by focusing on the other and vice versa.

By working on improving your search relevance, you also improve your chances of becoming an authoritative source of content.

Having a website full of well-researched and optimized content that is relevant to your niche will help Google see you as an expert in the industry.

This will help increase your authority and your chances of ranking among the top positions in Google.

In Conclusion

Now you know more about two key pillars of SEO:

  • Authority is linked to perceived expertise and relevance is all about matching your content to a specific search query.

By optimizing using the SEO Live Assistant to create search relevance, you can compete with other domains with much bigger authority than yours. If you want to see how we managed to outrank Amazon (yes, the Amazon) using this method, you should read this.

That said, it’s also true that by being a more authoritative site, you have a better chance to rank for more keywords (without having to work as much to create search relevance as sites with lower authority).

Which of these two pillars of SEO are you focusing on right now?