What is 'Authority' with respect to SEO?

The answer may surprise you!

Here's what most SEOs can say with utmost confidence; we know that the concept of 'authority' is an important one to rankings and traffic from organic search.

Its comical though, perhaps even sad. Over time, "Authority" has come to mean something completely different to Google, than it does to SEOs. This is no one's fault ... just a condition created by imperfect information, and the need to suffice.

The Engines' Definition of Authority:
To Google, Yahoo, MSN, Ask, et al, links are the consequence of being an authority, they do not make you an authority.

Their rationale, people and companies that are thought leaders, visionaries, and moral leaders in a space (aka the 'authorities'), will naturally attract a substantial following. These followers will monitor much of what the 'authority' says, and inevitably will discuss it, blog about it, and link to it. Ultimately, they hope to learn from these authorities, and become authorities themselves.

The problem however is that Google et al doesn't definitively know who the authorities are, so they can only infer who the authorities are by the indicators at hand ... links. Fortunately, they've also figured out that often, authorities link to other authorities, as often they enlist the help of one another and/or reference the work of one another in their attempts to further the understanding of the topics at hand. Essentially, its as the great quote by Isaac Newton states:

"If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants".

Where he acknowledges that all of his gifts to humanity were only made possible by the gifts of all who preceded him. There it is ... authorities reference authorities. Search engines know this!

The Typical SEO's View of Authority:
To an SEO, 'authority' is created by links. SEOs often look at the term "Authority" as an adjective (its an authoritative site), not as a noun (she is the Authority).

Accordingly, our goal as SEOs is almost never about making our client an authority, but rather making their site authoritative by building links. I don't blame SEOs either ... often client companies are either unwilling or incapable of investing the time and effort necessary to make them 'authorities'. This is a very long and arduous process afterall!

So What? Who Cares?
Google cares, and I care. Here's why you should too!

As I've said on many occasions, the ultimate goal is not to fool Google. Nor is the ultimate goal is not to achieve high rankings ... high rankings without authority are a short term proposition and unsustainable. Google is evolving. They've got more PhDs than NASA! Even if you manage to fool them in the short term, it'll have long term consequences once they figure it out, and how many of your clients are willing to take that risk? Besides, by doing things right the first time, you can focus on the future and on moving forward, rather than always fighting the fires you've left burning behind you.

What does this mean? It means this; I Jeff Quipp am not an SEO. I am an Authority Builder! SEO (technical analysis and recommendations) is a component of Authority Building, but only a component, much like search is but one component of the overall marketing mix.

Will I be an authority builder for each and every client? Probably not. In some cases, the role of the client site will be as an information hub (eg. directories or information sites) ... this is a perfectly valid strategy also. Some of the biggest sites on the net are hubs.

What this concept also means though, is that where I define my role as an Authority Builder, we now we have a guiding mantra and philosophy for actions and objectives. The implications of this are far reaching. It impacts most everything we do; the content we write, the social media sites we use, the friends we make, and much more. Before we act, we need to ask ourselves; does this help to establish me/my client as an authority in my field?

Now, I understand many of you will look at this with a fair amount of scepticism. To those of you who do, consider these people in our space:
a) Maki from DoshDosh
b) Rand Fiskin (ahmm sorry Fishkin) from SEOmoz
c) Darren Rowse from Problogger

None of these people have infinite budgets, nor were their companies particularly large when they built their authority. Yet, they're amongst the best known and most trusted people in our industries. In essence, they understand this concept, and did it. Now look at them go! Could we not learn alot from their successes?

Say it with me now; I (your name) am an Authority Builder.

Doesn't that feel better? Did you get shivers down your spine?

Going Forward

As I alluded to, the implications of viewing yourself as an authority builder are many. Accordingly, I'll publish a series of posts in coming weeks (one per week) discussing these ramifications. Here are a few of these future posts:

    - Establishing Clients as Authorities, Not As Having Authoritative Sites
    - The Role of Social Media in Authority Building
    - Authorities vs Information Hubs
    - Perception is Reality ... Authority is Perceived

What are your thoughts? I'd really like to hear them. I know my buddy Dave Harry disagrees to some extent, so do voice your opinion!

ps Before calling me to task for not changing the copy on our website accordingly, keep in mind potential clients are not yes using this terminology. Maybe someday soon.