What Is Authority, and How Do You Build It?

by Jeff Quipp February 13th, 2008 

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

Source: HeyKidsComics.com

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!

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43 Responses to “What Is Authority, and How Do You Build It?”

  1. theGypsy says:

    Hey, what about 'Authority by Chance' or happen-stance? I wonder how many folks become an authority not by design, but by circumstance or being driven by a passion. I remember mild popularity in TO when I was teaching martial arts, but never by design, driven by a passion.

    There are likely many people that end up with such a designation with no interest for it, nor desire to attain it.

    My 2c For Ye – great post as always, cya next week :0)

    Dave
    hmmmmmm…..

  2. Kyle Healey says:

    "Best case scenario … the perspective client is sold before arriving at the authority’s site"

    Quoted For Truth. This is how I got all my major clients.

  3. [...] voices get heard – from a trusted authority, a friend, or a crowd. The web is therefore becoming a filter of mediocrity. A company cannot tell [...]

  4. [...] Quipp recently asked what is authority and how do you build it? and I thought it'll be interesting to examine this question from the angle of web publishing [...]

  5. PPC Agency says:

    Word of mouth and recommendations have always been the strongest sales tool available. What we are seeing today is that people see "word of mouth" in a different way, not only links from authority sites but also through social networking sites.

  6. Sergey Rusak says:

    The best example for all you just said is Rand Fish from SEOmoz who build authority to his company, clients , and his own name.

  7. [...] Quipp recently asked what is authority and how do you build it? and I thought it'll be interesting to examine this question from the angle of web publishing [...]

  8. [...] abstract factors like reputation, reader trust and peer relationships. Jeff Quipp recently asked what is authority and how do you build it? and I thought it’ll be interesting to examine this question from the angle of web publishing and [...]

  9. How Can You Help Clients Become an Authority?…

    If you're new here, you may want to subscribe to my RSS feed. Thanks for visiting! Jeff Quipp of SearchEnginePeople had an interesting article on What is authority and how to build it. Thanks Jeff for a terrific explanation.

    photo credit: c h e e …

  10. [...] 'link exchange' and 'reciprocal' are today replaced by terms like 'authority' , 'linkbait' and the like. There's also an inherent understanding today [...]

  11. [...] has developed a reputation as an expert in the field. Jeff Quipp from SearchEnginePeople.com defines an authority is someone or some entity who’s opinion(s) about specific topics are respected and valued by [...]

  12. [...] 1) Reputation / Brand – To be attractive to a potential buyer in this scenario, you MUST have a well known name in the industry. Ideally, you will have case studies from recognizable brands. Further, active participation in the industry increases your credibility as an authority. [...]

  13. Madonna says:

    Word of mouth, nothing else.

  14. [...] Follow Jeff Quipp's tips for Building Authority: People want to buy from the best. Strive to be an expert in your field. Even if you sell a [...]

  15. Word of mouth and recommendations is always the best marketing tools.

  16. Hye Munar says:

    Same here, I do agree that word of mouth is the most effective way to build authority.

  17. [...] Ceci est une traduction française de l’article écrit par Jeff Quipp : What Is Authority, and How Do You Build It? [...]

  18. Eva White says:

    While word of mouth works in most cases, there is still a sense of dis attachment when dealing with the authority figure. You need to be more approachable as well.

  19. Petitehye says:

    Does exchanging links to other bloggers increase Authority? Thanks…

  20. [...] es una traducción al español de: What Is Authority, and How Do You Build It? escrita por Jeff [...]

  21. kpk says:

    Word of mouth and recommendations are always the best marketing tools. In Russia we always belive in it!

  22. [...] No abbreviation in the articles and that makes it facile to understand, specially for tips about Authority, and How to Build It. Photos included within the posts, add to the experience. So simple however so efficient are the [...]

  23. If we are talking about achieving as an authority site for certain industry on the search engine, it might take a long time depending on the level of competition. In any case, simply write great content.

  24. I couldn't have explained it better myself.

    You will believe your peers more because you trust their opinion. That is why word-of-mouth is so powerful

  25. one should take much efforts to gain the authority both in work and life

  26. Samantha S says:

    Great post! But with everybody trying to become an authority, i think we'll soon need a post on who's a 'real' authority and who just appears as one!

  27. MOin says:

    in my case its word of mouth nothing else on web on our current era authority is what everyone is looking for and people are even earning a hell lot by this business but at the end its all a buzz

  28. Building an authority in a particular niche requires you to have a great knowledge in that niche, plus the ability to make other people stand difficult concepts in an easy manner.

    Good post :)

  29. Mr Article says:

    Word of mouth equals gold. I just wish i could spit out a constructive full sentence rofl.

  30. You become an authority when someone quotes your statement or opinion and executes them on their own application and its show remarkable results to them. That's you are an athoritative on that respective matters.

  31. yes, authority can be generated by good branding

  32. Calvin says:

    everybody's an expert nowadays it's hard to find a niche. so i guess the most effective is word of mouth and be friends with a lot of bloggers. :P

  33. PTC sites says:

    I agree with you. However it takes years to be an expert in a field. It seems like you have somewhat achieved that from the number of comments you get. I hope I'll get there someday. i'm still new to blogging and learning hard.

    Your blog is really informative.

  34. kouji says:

    good point on the ability to communicate. it's no good understanding something complex, if you're not in a position to explain it intelligibly to the lay person. at least, that is, unless you're not targeting the lay person, but hardly anyone doesn't.

  35. [...] you want to become an expert you need to start thinking like one. People perceive you as an authority in your field not because you claim you are, but by listening to what you say or reading what you [...]

  36. Doctorflix says:

    Becoming an authority on a subject is usually one of the toughest path to success… but the most sound and sure one

  37. All great points. In the online world, just labeling yourself as the authority goes along way as well.

  38. Nikki How says:

    Get the best info from all over the net. Squeeze it into one place. And ur next to almost done.

    Last ingredient being "MARKETING" ;)

    thx,
    Nikki How

  39. Sandy T says:

    Really interesting topic here, but I think you shouldnt try to label yourself as an authority, in terms of the internet, the people should decide who is an authority.

  40. [...] What Is Authority, and How Do You Build It? Jeff Quipp, Search Engine People | 2/13/08 [...]

  41. Sunil says:

    Nice comic strip.. Authority helps to get hooked up with clients and expanding your business. this is what i am trying to do – build my authority

  42. Will says:

    Hi,
    Thanks for the really great post. I particularly liked your point about 'Carfeully craft perceptions'. I think this is amazingly easy to do if you just do a little research on a subject and then start giving some really good advice. I recent example of this was on a forum, where I added a post about something I had read. Shortly after that I well known memeber quoted my comment and added a little extra but implied my post was correct. Just like that people on the forum thought I was an expert on the matter, when all I had done was a little research and added a useful, helpful comment.

    Thanks again for the post.
    Will