How to Get Unstuck by Establishing Topic Relevance

Along this continual road as a student of SEO, there have been a handful of breakthrough techniques that I’ve picked up which helped me rise to new level.  Actually, I hesitate to call them techniques, since some of them are so simple, they really could be coined as “tricks” or “hacks”.  Nevertheless, before I had these breakthroughs I was stuck with a particular problem, and after I had integrated them into my knowledge-base, my entire suite of client and personal money sites experienced huge gains.

Some examples of these breakthroughs can be found in my past posts on:

The particular hack I’ll be discussing in this article is how to create “On-page Topic Relevance”

2 - conceptIf you have any of the following issues, this article is especially for you:

  1. Trouble ranking a niche micro-site
  2. Couldn’t rank a new silo/product/review page on an authority site
  3. Had a client who wanted to rank in a new city and you couldn’t get past page 2

Each of these issues has the same root problem: not enough pages on a specific topic.  Google doesn’t like thin content nor thin sites.  This isn’t the old days where you could rank single landing pages.

Here are the two key takeaways that you must understand:

  • Google now prefers to rank domains that have multiple pages on a given topic.
  • When you try to rank a specific page on a particular topic, Google expects to see that there are other supporting articles on the same site using it as a reference (i.e.: linking to it).

This is called ‘establishing relevance’ on a topic. Understanding this concept, you can know the bare-minimum page count requirement that you’ll need to rank plus you’ll have full control over which page ranks by using contextual inner-page linking.

Here’s some real life client examples of how this plays out…

Example #1: Authority site won’t rank for anything new

A client of mine had a massive authority site related to fitness.  Each day, for the past 6 years, he’d personally post a handwritten workout-related article.  The client had built up so much authority and topic-relevance on fitness, he could toss up any brand new article about ‘crossfit’ (highly competitive) and it would rank in less than a week.

This client wanted to make more money from affiliate commissions by writing a ‘Top 5 Protein Supplements’ article.  He’d wrote a killer page, with perfect onsite elements and it simply wouldn’t rank, even after hitting it with backlinks.  Google knew his site was about fitness (there was no doubt about that) but he was an amateur on the protein supplement topic.

To resolve this, I simply created at 4 random articles about supplements and linked them contextually to his review page.  It ranked in 2 weeks without the need for additional backlinks.

3 - example 1

Example #2: Local SEO client wants to expand into a new city

Establishing relevance often comes into play in local SEO. I have a surgeon client in San Francisco, CA that was ranking fine in San Francisco. He came to me because he was having trouble ranking in the neighboring city of Oakland.   Despite having an excellent Domain Authority (DA) of 33 and 20+ PBN links pointed to the Oakland page, it simply wouldn’t break into page 1.

All I did was throw-up 4 (random-ass) articles that talked about Oakland and linked them to his landing page.

  • Oakland Nightlife Review
  • Best Restaurants in Oakland
  • Budget Hotels in Oakland
  • Famous People from Oakland

Google knew his site was about his particular form of surgery.  They also knew his site was all about San Francisco because of the Schema, Title tags, About and Contact pages which all discussed San Francisco.

His site just didn’t have enough to do with Oakland, so I gave them what they wanted.  Even though the articles had nothing to do with his service, that didn’t matter.  He needed to establish topic relevance for the city of Oakland and that was all.

The Tech: How to set up your site for topic relevance

Step 1: Create at least 4 Supporting articles for a topic on a site

Generally, I’ve found that Google wants to see at least 5 indexed pages of a site, in order to establish enough topic relevance.  This would include your landing page that you want to rank, plus 4 additional supporting articles (500 words+) that you’ll be linking to it.

Sure, you can get away with less, I just find that 5 articles seems to be the magic number (as of July 2015) which makes things a lot easier.

Step 2: Contextually Link from the supporting articles to the main landing page

4 - contextual link

A contextual link is a link which is placed in the middle of the body of an article.  Why is it important? Of all types of links (contextual, sidebar, footer, navigation bar, etc), it passes the most link juice.  Furthermore, it’s another way of saying that the content of the supporting article is reinforced by the master topic article.  Namely, the one we’re trying to rank.

What kind of anchor text should you use?  Onsite anchors follow the same rules as offsite anchors but you can be much more relaxed in terms of diversity.  Out of 4 anchors, I’d make them as follows…

  1. Target anchor: DUI lawyer in Tampa
  2. Target anchor: Tampa DUI attorney
  3. URL anchor: site.com/tampa-dui-lawyer
  4. Misc anchor: click here

Step 3: Get the supporting pages indexed

This part is crazy. 

 The supporting pages don’t even need to be accessible from the navigation bar.

As long as they’re in the XML sitemap and you’ve indexed them, they’ve played their part of establishing relevance for the master landing page. That’s why I’m able to get $2 iWriter articles written that have nothing to do with the client’s sales copy.  No one will ever read these pages.

Step 4 (Bonus): Make sure all pages about topic ABC, only link to other pages about topic ABC

This part is the icing on the cake.  For each of the supporting article pages, try to make sure that they link only to the other pages of this particular topic, and don’t cross link to unrelated pages.  This includes links from the navigation bar, sidebar and footer.  Once you do this, there is no confusion at all about your various silos and their topic relevance.

I pull this off by turning off the navigation bar on the supporting article pages, while installing the “Custom Sidebars” plug-in to create page-specific navigation bars for the side bar.

The concept of topic relevance is often completely missed.  Most of my coaching students are blown away when they realize how simple it is, yet the results are so huge and so quick.

Try it out, and be sure to leave a comment on your result.

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  • Great article man.

    One question: Where should I post the Main article / Ranking article for best results: (a) On the “PAGE” section? or, (b) On the “POST” section?

    I asked this question because last week an seo guy advised I should choose a main topic / article (just as you advised here) and post on the “PAGE” section of my wordpress site and then post relevant/releted articles on the “POST” section and LINK them to each other.

    That is: (a) Link to the main article (on the PAGE section) from all the relevant articles and (b) also link from the Main article to the relevant/related articles.

    What is your opinion, please

    • To the search engines, a page is no different from a post. They’re exactly the same. So to answer your question, it doesn’t matter if you’re linking from posts to post, pages to posts, or any other combination you can think of.

  • Just what I was looking for Matt! I am going to stop building PBN links until I’ve tried this.
    Question: Should the supporting articles all link straight to the ranking page, or is it best to silo them to create a chain to the ranking page?

    • For the purpose of establishing relevance, link them directly to the page you’re trying to rank.

  • Hey Matt that was an awesome post. How long do results typically take when you do this?
    I’m testing this right now on a page I’ve been trying to rank for a while.
    I have the custom sidebar and only one contextual link per article back to my main page. The longest part for me was messing with the css to rip out all the other crap on the page and leave it clean of any other links.

    • Hey Scott, depends… sometimes 1 day, sometimes 3 weeks. All depends on when the crawler is due to visit your page again. You can speed things up by resubmitting the sitemap in WMT.

  • Awesome article, Matt. Looking forward to trying this one out tomorrow..

    One question – for example on that authority fitness site.. with the “supporting pages” did you have them interlinking contextually to EACH OTHER in addition to the target page you’re trying to rank? Or just one body contextual link to the main ranking page and nothing more. Cheers!

  • Hey Matt, I recently discovered your blog and I have been enjoying your content. Got me fired up to try out this technique on a local website.

    Let me ask:

    1.) When we create these inner pages, is it ok to post a link to a local authority site in the same city to give the page some authority, like we do with other web pages? Or are the links in these pages ONLY just linking to the specific page we are trying to rank?

    2.) Since this is a reverse silo, when we power these inner pages up with web 2.0s for example, or some DAS, that should really magnify the ranking result of the target webpage, on top of the on-topic relevance we created for it, right?


    • Hey Arthur,

      1) Yes. Linking to an authority site will help establish more relevance for these pagaes and, in turn, pass that to your money page.
      2) Stacking creates trust and authority, which indirectly “powers up” the entire site.

  • Matt I follow your work on FB mostly. Your new social signals experiment is fascinating, but this topical relevance post is what blew my mind. I have a silo inside an authority site that moved from page 20 to page 5 just on domain authority, but then went to sleep. I followed your steps above with just 2 articles. The primary money page is now in position 12. Getting the other 2 done this weekend. You’ve saved me some link building! We are now calling the cluster of 4 booster pages a “Diggity”.

    • Hey Dave, glad to hear you got a great result. Be sure to eport back if your “Diggity” gets you even higher.

  • Great article Matt. I was wondering: Do you strip EVERY unrelated link on the supporting article page? So even the top menu?

    And also you say ‘create page-specific navigation bars for the side bar’. If you just need to link to the main page you’re ranking why would you do a sidebar at all? And which links do you put in these sidebars if you do?

    • Hey Peter. Depends completely on how much money the site makes me. If its a 5 figure site, then sure, it gets the royal treatment. Anything less and I usually weigh if its worth my time.

  • Thanks for the quick reply. So you mean to say that if you strip every link from a page the effect is stronger but you have also seen positive signals in your tests when you do internal linking without stripping the rest of the links?

  • Very nice. For local SEO and more than one city, I just usually create a new site after the May 2014 G update because offisite links became harder and more expensive.

    I will give this a try for an existing site where I want to rank for additional cities to see how it goes.


  • Matt, if we’re trying to rank for a 2nd city can we link those extra pages to the homepage or should we create a landing page specifically for the 2nd city?

    • This is grey area. If your 2nd city is really small and is considered to be closely linked to the original city (e.g. Dallas, Fort Worth) then go ahead and integrate them on the homepage. Otherwise, create a second landing page for the new city.

  • Hi Matt!

    I’ve been rereading all your articles on this blog for a couple of days and damn! The lessons/tips you share here for free beat most SEO courses I’ve joined in the last couple of months 😀 Thank you so much for giving back to the community like this, you know I’m a fan :3
    Now, regarding this “Stablishing Topic Relevancy” method, two questions if you don’t mind:
    1) Do the 4 supporting articles new to be 100% brand new or can be old ones?? For example I have a money article I would like to apply this method on, and turns out I already have published other 4 similar articles (with no links, in the same silo).
    So I was wondering if I have to create 4 NEW supporting articles, or I just can take these 4 old ones and add a link from them to my money article.
    2) Let’s say we’re gonna create 4 supporting pages for a a product review article… What would be the topic of these 4 pages? Even more info on the product? or the 4 pages can be something more broad?
    I’m asking because let’s say my article is about “xyz review” and if I create the supporting pages like “xyz side effects, “xyz benefits”, “xyz where to buy” and “xyz testimonials”, I’m afraid Google may pick to rank one of this pages instead of my main review page (which covers all this topics and even more).
    Long questions I know, so huge thank you Matt for just even reading them 🙂 Appreciate it.

    • Hey Jorge, thanks for the kind words.
      1) They can be old ones.
      2) If you main page already has these topics, creating subpages on them will risk dupe content. The idea is to make supporting articles that reinforce the main page. If you’re trying to rank an Amazon page for “best vegetable juicer”, then create subpages like “Blending vs Juicing: Which is better?” or “Top 5 tasty vegetables for juicing”.

  • Matt,

    I have one local client where I can’t add content without navigation or that’s not in the navigation drop down menus due to the way the site is hosted. (They’re with a design company that has limited editing options.)

    In this case, do you think putting those topical pages on a web 2.0 or other website but linking out to my client’s site will work?

  • One more question. 🙂 I have a local client that’s hovering around the top of page 2 for his main keyword. Would this technique help with that situation? Thanks in advance!

    • If that’s the thing that’s holding this client back from ranking. Then, yes. But as you know, there’s thousands of ranking factors. Not just topic relevance.

  • Hi Matt, great article. I’m pushing to get one of my local sites from page 2 to page 1 and I’m currently working on adding more content in a silo form as currently it is lacking both geo and niche related content. I know silo is great for ranking subpages and articles etc but how should I use it for ranking the homepage? Can I simply create 4 or 5 geo and niche relevant articles and contextual link to the homepage from each of the articles?

    Also I have 1 page (article) which is of actual value to my visitors and is accessible via the navigation bar (I want to keep it this way). What can I do with this page to help rank my homepage? Should I contextually link back to the homepage from it? Thanks!

    • You’ve got the jist of it, Dan. Simply contextually link to the page you want to rank from relevant articles. Doesn’t matter if its a home or inner page.

      • Ok, thanks Matt. I also wanted to touch on the fact you said you would use a $2 article, so basically a low quality article. I understand people will not read the articles but it is being posted on the money site domain so surely after Google index they will treat the article as something of low quality or of not much value to searcher, which could have a negative impact on the overall site. I’m not questing you, just wanted to get your thoughts on this and how it works? Maybe I misinterpreted a little.

  • Hi, Matt, thanks for sharing good stuff. Let’s take for an example. Our LP – is homepage.
    But when we are publishing support articles, these posts have links to homepage default by wordpress – header and footer section. This anchor same link in article text really will improve ranks? Or the better save only one link in the article?

    I head that Google save only juice only for 1 url/link on the page

    • A contexual link vs a header or footer link is much more powerful when it comes to both creating relevance and passing link juice.

      “I head that Google save only juice only for 1 url/link on the page”


  • Hi Matt, great article! Quick question – Let’s say you’re working with an attorney and you’re trying to establish geo-relevance for multiple practice area pages. Could you link to both from the geo-theme pages or should each practice area page get it’s own geo-theme pages?

    • I’m not 100% sure I’m understanding your question clearly, but I’ll give it a shot. You shouldn’t mix up links from the supporting pages. Let’s say you’re setting up two new landing pages for “dui lawyer orlando” and “dui lawyer miami”. You’d create 4+ supporting pages for Orlando and 4+ separate supporting pages for Miami. Orlando pages would only link to the Orlando landing page, and the same goes for Miami. You definitely don’t want to mix them up because they’re just going to confuse the bots.

      • Thanks for the response. Sorry I wasn’t more clear. What I meant to ask was if you have landing pages for “dui lawyer miami” and “personal injury lawyer miami” can you link to both from the 4+ supporting pages for miami or do they each need to have 4+ pages for a total of 8+?

  • Hi Matt, Good read. Just slightly confused how you managing to add keywords such as DUI lawyer in any of the following articles, whilst making the article flow.

    Oakland Nightlife Review
    Best Restaurants in Oakland
    Budget Hotels in Oakland
    Famous People from Oakland

    Do you simply pop in a paragraph about DUI Lawyers so you can link out?

    • The point of creating these articles is because the situation called for more relevance about Oakland, not DUI lawyers. Hence I could have the articles be 100% about Oakland and even link to the landing page with Oakland type anchors.

  • Hey Matt, diggin’ the articles you put out.

    Just have a quick question, what if you wanted to rank multiple landing pages for the same city. For instance..

    Tampa Sump Pump Repair
    Tampa Grease Trap Cleanout
    Tampa Faucet Repair

    Should I be making 4 pages about Tampa for each page? So like 12 pages all together?

    Or is this situation a bit trickier..


  • Matt, which set of supporting articles would you choose for applying this “reverse siloing” technique to a specific Product Review page?
    Say my review article was for The Venus Factor (and I want to rank for the keyword “the venus factor review”), would you choose:
    1) Why people are loving The Venus Factor
    2) Some doctors now recommend The Venus Factor
    3) The Venus Factor in the latest news
    4) How The Venus Factor became a global success
    or would you chose instead:
    1) Weight Loss Programs For Women
    2) How To Lose Weight Fast For Women
    3) How a Woman Lost Weight With This Method
    4) Tips For Burning Fat in Women
    Which set do you consider more appropriate for giving the review article that relevance it needs (for the keyword “product name review”): Set#1 or Set#2? Thank you!

    • Set #1 since you’re trying to rank for “venus factor review”. Write supporting content about the same subject.

  • Hey Matt,

    Would this apply to a website that is already themed? For example, let’s say if I had a website about dog food, and none of my dog food keywords passes page 2 (despite the fact the site is 100% about dog food), even the domain name which is a PMD won’t even pass page 2, the PMD term is stuck at page 2, #11, could this be the reason why it won’t hit page 1 OR does this only apply for things outside of the main scope of your website? For example, my site is about dog food, but im trying to rank for dog leashes, etc..

    • It could be the reason, but there’s dozens of other reasons that you might need to explore as well. Anyhow, to create relevance is a simple and cheap task, so you can implement it and cross this potential reason off your list when its done.

  • Great article Matt. I always come here to read it when I build a new site with silo structure, to make sure I’m doing it right.

    Just a quick question if you don’t mind: where do you point your PBN exact match links to? 1. To your supporting articles, 2. to your money page, 3. or to your home page? 4. Or do you do them all with some specific ratio?

  • Great post. Do the supporting articles need to sub-pages of the main page or can the articles be on the blog as well?

  • Hi Matt, could U specify more info what supporting article should contain?
    My money page is about xyz supplement – reviews, price etc., supporting articles for example 500word should not have more than 5 x “xyz” word and does not contain any partial match keywords like xyz price, xyz reviews or should this supporting pages be seo optimized for some phrases/keywords?

    • Every page on your site should meet onsite SEO quality standards. Please refer to my Onsite SEO Guide for the details.

      • already did and know the rules for ranking page but what in case of supporting article, how to not make duplicate content and also niche relevant page. Which keyword should i miss or should put on page?

        • Let’s say your niche is “Tree Removal Denver”.

          Good example of a supporting page: “What types of tree’s are best to plant in a Denver winter?”
          Bad example of a supporting page: “Stump removal denver”

          One is topic duplication, one isn’t.

  • Matt,
    Great article! Testing now.

    Question: Do you make the supporting pages children of the money page or just have them out there as top level pages? I created pages with no navigation, and only links to my money page.

  • Great article, Matt. I just add 4 supporting articles to push my page. How long does it take to see the results? Do I have to post them somewhere?

  • If I create these topic relevancy pages, I should have 3 links per “relevancy page” pointing at the “landing page” correct? Is it ok to link to the home page or an “authority page” like wikipedia etc with one of the three links? Or should I keep them all aimed at the landing page?

    • Your options are pretty flexible. The only requirement is that you link to the landing page that is needing relevance one time. The rest is up to you.

  • Great Article Matt. I have a question for you. I recently added a page on my site targeting company name coupon keyword, which is related to hosting niche. Now to build those supporting pages, what kind of keywords should i target? General hosting related articles or hosting coupon related articles?

  • Hi Matt,
    Excellent article as ususal. So if A is my main post and 1,2,3,4,5 are my relevant support pages, as i understand, its ok to link 1,2,3,4,5 within each other and from all five support posts to A. Should A too link to the other support pages?

  • Great post as always bro.
    Would you suggest this to be done for money pages even though they are not showing on the search results yet?

  • This tactics is so great that i have shared this articles with almost all of my seo students.
    Matt, I have a question, which may not seem relevant to this topic. –

    What do you prefer for a affiliate marketing niche?
    A) A static front page with top 10….xyz article?
    B) Or Home page with recent posts?

    Thanks 🙂

  • Hi Matt

    I just wanted to thank you for this truly remarkably insightful post.

    What I’ve learned here has transformed how I go about structuring my content. I read thousands of posts regarding topical relevance and none compare with the simplicity and effectiveness of the method you have outlined here.

    Every question I might have had has been asked in the comments thoughtfully answered by you. Thanks again.