How do you define authority as it relates to search?

The whole concept seems very generic and loosely defined at the moment. In this, the second post in the series (the first published last week I Jeff Quipp am not an SEO! I'm an Authority Builder), we'll explore the definition of an authority, and various possible strategies to either become, or help a client become, an authority.

What is Authority?
An authority is someone or some entity who's opinion(s) about specific topics are respected and valued by industry peers. This definition is both interesting and important because it can guide much of our decision making going forward. Case in point, it suggests why we blog in many cases, and for whom we blog.

Never Delegate Authority … Delegate Liability


Why Is Viewing Authority in This Way Helpful?
I'll be honest, I've had trouble rationalizing to myself why we all blog (and so many of us do) primarily for others in the industry, as opposed to for clients. It makes a whole lot more sense though when you look at it from the authority perspective.

If we can gain the respect and admiration of others in the industry, they'll link to our site and its contents, the frequency of which corresponds to the level of authority bestowed upon us.

Ultimately, any perspective clients doing due diligence before purchasing, will encounter some of these links, and the more of these links/references they encounter, the more sure they are of their impending decision. The perspective client will also see who the most popular companies are, and ultimately who they link to. This paints a very telling picture of exactly who the leaders of any given space are.

Best case scenario ... the perspective client is sold before arriving at the authority's site. I suppose this is not unlike word of mouth, or at the very least user reviews from very trusted sources. That's certainly how Google views it, so all these links also help to rank better in their search results too

Word of Mouth Influence on Purchase Decisions

How Can You Help Clients Become an Authority?

Recognizing how important it is for anyone to become an authority, the next logical question is how? Ultimately, I've factored it down to 3 primary strategies (see below). Once the appropriate strategies are chosen based on strengths and weaknesses, appropriate tools can be selected to aid with the process, but it must begin first with setting goals and defining high level strategies.

1) Be an expert, of which there are 3 primary approaches that I'm aware of:

    a) Be amongst the best at a particular niche (eg. Bill Slawski at understanding and interpreting complex search patents, Muhammad Saleem at social media). This is a difficult balancing act. You don't want the niche to be too narrow that you limit people's perceptions of your abilities (not unlike type casting to some actors), though too broad and its near impossible to establish yourself as an expert, and less and less likely over time.

    b) Simplify and explain complex industry issues (Dosh Dosh or Rand Fishkin)

    c) Break new ground with respect to a subject. (Eg Tim Nash with understanding the algorithm of Stumbleupon, Seth Godin with his purple cow concept, or Gord Hotchkiss of Enquiro with their research)

What's really interesting here is that communication is key here to each of the above techniques; if no one can understand your contributions or the extent of your knowledge, you will attract no respect or admiration.

My personal belief is that this is where SEOs can help clients a great deal. We can help guide clients to understand where their particular strengths lie within an industry (are they extra knowledgeable about a particular niche? have they done research or discovered something really interesting about a particular industry concept? Or do they just have an exceptional knack for simplifying and communicating?), and then to help focus the clients to leverage those strengths.

2) Be a uber networker and super friend. People using this approach must give openly, have no expectations of reciprocation, and be genuine. They understand that "the best way to have a good friend is to be a good friend".

Superior interpersonal skills are a must too if you hope to become an Authority. If someone is a great friend to many industry peers, many will develop an affinity with the individual, and he/she will get a chance to showcase his/her knowledge and earn their respect. People are also much more forgiving of limitations and mistakes made by friends ... and we all have limitations and make mistakes!!!!

3) Carefully craft perceptions: Associate yourself with authorities. The phrase 'guilty by association' works both ways; be seen with the wrong parties and perceptions of your skills, abilities, knowledge, and judgement plummet. Alternatively, be seen with the 'right' people/sites, and perceptions of your skills and abilities are strengthened. This is important for individuals as well as companies ... see DoshDosh's post to this effect at How Brand Associations Help To Promote Your Website or Business.

Equally important, is the concept of being in the right place at the right time. Many a fortunes have been made (think Bill Gates and the launch of Microsoft) by people lucky enough to have been holding the gauntlet when the powers that be were thirsty. Of course, being in the right place at the right time is of no benefit if you are not prepared. I'll argue its next to possible to predict when and where its going to happen, so preparation for the eventual opportunity is key.

In the end, you'll find most authorities use a combination of these approaches, and almost all target a specific niche. The more approaches used, the more likely someone is to become an authority.

Of course, this is still very high level in that it defines the high level strategies only. I'll post additional segments in this series every Wednesday over the coming weeks. Here are the posts for the next two Wednesdays:

    - What Authorities Say About Becoming an Authority - brief answers from Rand Fishkin, Lee Odden, and more. This should be really interesting and useful.
    - Authority Building: Tools of the Trade - once you have made a decision which of the above strategies to use to help build your authority, or the authority of your clients, we next need to look at what tools can aid with that "Authority Building" process. Some of the possible tools are; blog publishing, social media, guest blogging, interviews, conference speaking engagements, and many more.

Stay tuned!