What It Actually Means to be an Online Authority—and How You Become One

August 20, 2014

digital marketing

These days, there aren’t a lot of short cuts left. If you want to be seen as an authority, you have to be one.

Being an authority online is about more than just being a thought leader in your industry—it’s a reflection of the time you’ve taken to translate that leadership, that expertise, and that insight into what you share and the ways you engage your customers online.

These are brands that customers trust as influencers in their industries and search engines rank as the most relevant results for their users queries.

Achieving this kind of authority involves two components. Search engines and searchers. Both are equally important. Neither are optional.

Today, you can’t be an authority online without both the search algorithms acknowledging you as one, and your customers affirming you as one. Search engines rank you, and customers trust you—and as a result of both: you’ll build your brand and earn new business.

Building Authority with Searchers versus Search Engines

The key to becoming an online authority is to build a marketing strategy that first and foremost focuses on providing real value to searchers, instead of fixating on appeasing the search algorithms.

If real people are engaging with your content, turning to your brand for advice, talking about your products and your services, and recognizing your business as an industry leader, not only are your customers clearly acknowledging you as an authority, but the search engines will pick up on those signals too and reflect them in your rankings.

But while it may be tempting to look at searchers and search engines as interchangeable entities—after all isn’t it what makes the searchers happy what makes the search engines happy?— it’s important to remember that there are some elements that don’t always overlap.

When searchers think of “authority” they’re thinking of high-quality content, relevant, reliable, and helpful information, genuine engagement, and identifiable branding.

And while many of the things that impress searchers also impact how search engines see your brand, it’s important to remember that there’s one more element that factors into online authority that often matters a great deal more to search engines than it does to searchers, and that’s links.

Google has updated their algorithm over 45 times. But when it comes to authority in the eyes of the search engines, one factor has remained just as important as ever.

Links show the search engines that people are actually finding value in and interacting with what your business is sharing online. Links show search engines what searchers are capable of realizing from your content alone—that your advice is trustworthy, your content is worthwhile, and most importantly, that your brand is an authority in your industry.

Give both Google and your customers a reason to trust you, and they will.

How To Become an Online Authority

In order to be a true authority online, you need a killer content-centric search campaign that combines the kinds of quality content marketing that show searchers you’re an authority, and the technical optimization elements that help search engines see it too.

1. Find Your Niche and Market To It

Knowing your strengths—and playing to them—is key.

In Joe Pulizzi’s book ‘Epic Content Marketing’ he suggests that finding a niche that you can own is necessary to becoming an authority. He gives an example of a pet store owner that decided that it’d be almost impossible to become an authority in the Pet Supplies marketplace—too broad and too competitive a category—but that if they honed their focus and played to their strengths, they could become an experts in another niche: “Pet Travel Advice Business”.

Sound too specific? It is. And that’s why it works.

Irrespective of your industry there is always some way for you to find something unique about your business that you can own. To become an authority today, you need to target a niche you know you can add value to—weather large or small—and own it.

2. Create Sharable, Purposeful Content

Content marketing has given businesses the perfect platform to create and share their content and showcase their brand, and become that authority.

You can’t sneakily out-smart search algorithms, and you certainly aren’t going to fool your audience. To come across as great you have to be great—or in this case, create great content.

But what’s quality content and how do you go about making it?

Be relevant, timely, helpful, knowledgeable, and sharable. If you’re new to content marketing, ease in with some of the smaller stuff—blog posts, a quick video how-to, social engagement and interaction.

But to really build authority you’ll need to start investing in a comprehensive content marketing strategy that will grow your reach, engage your audience, and establish your brand as one of the most influential in your industry.

If you’re the authority on a subject, write a book on it. Or at least some other kind of long form content—like an eBook, webinar, or guide. Then repurpose parts of that content pillar to create content derivatives like blog posts, videos, whitepapers, podcasts, social updates and more. This will help your content go further, give you more versatility, and establish your authority with a wider audience on a whole array of platforms.

3. Create Real Relationships

When it comes to friendships, it’s often said that you’re only as good as the company you keep. When it comes to online authority, much the same sentiment applies.

Being a true authority in your industry means being an influencer, associating with influencers, and contributing to whatever the greater community you find yourself in is. Invest the time and the energy into connecting with influencers, consistently contributing to guest publications, and actively engaging in your social communities. This will help you grow your audience, drive powerful backlinks, bolster confidence, and expand your brand’s influence.

Co-host a webinar, collaborate on an eBook or video series, write guest posts and host guest publishers on your own site–creating meaningful content and genuine relationships with powerful influencers is the most essential foundation of being a real online authority.

4. Don’t Build Your Links, Earn Them

The best way of generating links to your site is to develop great content (text, a graphic or a video) that influencers will want to post and your visitors will love enough to want to share. This is where being an authority in your niche on the web truly comes into play. Don’t approach guest posting or other relationships with influencers by asking “What can I get out of this?”–if your brand is really adding value to your market, the back links will come naturally.

5. Claim Your Work

authorship tagGoogle+ authorship tags help to immediately index your new content in Google and add SEO juice to your guest posts and content outreach. More importantly, they help translate the authority and respect you’ve been building with your audience into something Google can recognize.

Author tags can impact your audience too, though. With everything you’ve authored centralized in one place, you can generate more social likes and shares and ensure everything you’re putting out around the web is working together to cultivate your identity as a industry-leader online.




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