The Strategy Behind the
Authority Rules Report

Authority Rules

At the beginning of the month, I released a free report called Authority Rules: The 10 Rock Solid Elements of Effective Online Marketing. People seemed to really appreciate it, especially since:

  • No email address is required
  • You can read via PDF or the web
  • There are no affiliate links
  • There’s no pitch (other than subscribe to Copyblogger)

This led to a lot of speculation. Why did I do it this way? What was the strategy behind this approach? Has Brian finally lost it?

While that last point is debatable, there was indeed a plan. This post will share what I was thinking, because you may find that my motivations combined with the information in the report itself can help you build your own authority site.

The Background:

I’d wanted to write this report for quite a while, simply to help tie together a lot of the stuff we talk about on Copyblogger. I started in early spring, and then dropped it for a bit.

Surprisingly, I started writing again at a beachside bar in Puerto Rico while sipping tequila (remember Hemingway’s advice on this… write drunk, edit sober). After pausing again for a month or so, I finished the report mid-summer in Durango, and handed it over to Chris Pearson for design goodness.

That’s when things got interesting.

I had originally intended to make the report your normal “ethical bribe” for people who subscribed to Copyblogger. That’s a tried and true method for increasing your subscription numbers.

I checked back in with Chris on a Saturday morning, and discovered he had just started building a website at on Thesis. This led to a change in approach that Chris completed that weekend.

We decided to offer the report without requiring an opt-in. Better yet, we created a web version for those who didn’t want to read a PDF, while still keeping the printable option.

Here’s why.

1. Demonstration

Long-time Copyblogger readers know we like to teach by demonstration. In other words, many of our posts are doing what we’re telling you to do.

Authority Rules followed the same approach. It told you how to build an authority website, while demonstrating how to launch one.

Think about it: you build authority websites by creating exceptional content that gets you noticed, promotes social media sharing, and attracts links that builds your authority with Google.

By making the report into a website, we did all of that. Maybe you should too.

Now, the obvious objection is “Sure Brian, that’s easy for you. You have an authority site to launch off of and powerful friends.” Fair enough, but consider this.

When I launched Copyblogger in 2006, I was completely unknown. I first created Copywriting 101 as my cornerstone content, and then a couple months later, released the Viral Copy report.

I then worked to get the word out. I emailed every relevant blogger around, and it worked. (I accidently annoyed Steve Rubel in the process, but we made up later).

The point is, that approach worked for me as an unknown back then. If I were in the same position today, I’d launch my site just like I launched Authority Rules… because things change and this latest approach seems to work well.

With this approach, the report is the cornerstone content, and for a time, the entire website. You then start adding content and growing your subscriber base even further from there.

2. Sharing

This ties in to the previous point, but it’s a major consideration. I broke from conventional wisdom back when I released Viral Copy without asking for an email address, and it was the right move for the 2006 blogosphere.

I almost second-guessed that success with Authority Rules, but realized how important Twitter had become to our marketing mix. People share openly-available content much more than “gated” content.

I went with open to encourage maximum sharing.

3. Quality

Having a bunch of subscribers is great for the ego. Having any amount of quality subscribers is great for the wallet.

It’s tough sometimes, but the smarter choice is to focus on attracting quality subscribers. That means people who really want to hear from you on a regular basis.

So, if people are given the Authority Rules report without restriction and don’t bother reading it, they’re probably not a good fit. And if they do read the report and don’t feel compelled to subscribe to Copyblogger, they’re definitely not a good fit.

Stick with the quality people. They’re the ones who become part of your fan club.

4. Reciprocity

So let’s go ahead and challenge conventional “internet marketing wisdom” head on. Is it really smart to require an email address before you deliver the promised content?

Turns out studies show that twice as many people will take the action you desire if you ask after the promised content has been delivered. Let me explain that a bit.

The whole idea of promising content in exchange for an email address or RSS reader addition is based on reward – essentially I’ll give you this stuff if you do what I want.

Reciprocity is a much stronger psychological motivator. If you deliver great content and then ask for the subscription, the research shows that twice as many people will go ahead and subscribe at that point.

I don’t know how much better it worked in this case because I didn’t split test it. But I’ve never been let down by following the results of actual psychological research rather than “conventional wisdom.”

5. Teaching Sells

As far as free reports go, I haven’t written one better than the Teaching Sells Report. I think that’s because I wrote it for myself as much as for you.

It was mainly a happy accident, because Authority Rules should have been completed months earlier. But due to my procrastination, the report became a valuable indicator that helped with the pending reopening of Teaching Sells.

Essentially, if you were previously unfamiliar with my work, Authority Rules demonstrates that I give away valuable free content. Since our entire approach to “selling” Teaching Sells is also by giving away valuable free content, perhaps that explains why we’ve never had so many people interested in finding out more.

“Wait a minute,” you may be saying. “Why do you require an email address to get the Teaching Sells report?”

Here are two distinctions:

  • The new Teaching Sells video is designed to be informative and entertaining. Essentially, the idea is to invoke reciprocity while promising reward all at once.
  • Teaching Sells is a paid program tied to Copyblogger. So we actually give you hundreds of free articles in advance of ever asking you to opt-in for anything… which is another major benefit of building an authority site.

But who knows? Maybe after a year of updating and expanding Teaching Sells for our members (everyone has a lifetime membership and gets all the new stuff free), I’ll take a different approach. I’ve already got some ideas.

The point is to keep learning, testing, and experimenting. What worked previously might not work as well now.

What’s Next for Authority Rules?

This is the part I have no clue about. At the moment, the report is doing what I intended — organizing many of the topics we write about and introducing new people to Copyblogger.

Due to the way we launched, it’s nicely positioned for something else. Or maybe not… we’ll see.

Anyway, I hope this helped clear up the speculation and confusion. So now I’ll shut up and let you get back to building your own authority site.

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Reader Comments (32)

  1. says

    I’ve thought about it, but open forums can be a nightmare to moderate… spam, trolls, etc.

    I prefer paid private forums to keep the quality of discourse high. But you never know, maybe we’ll do a Copyblogger forum one day.

  2. says

    Nuts, I don’t drink, so the write drunk, edit sober” rule doesn’t work for me. I’ll need to get myself another stimulant :)

    Anyway, thanks for this great breakdown of the process, Brian. I’m curious, why did you choose a separate domain for the report? I would have thought you’d get more Google “juice” by offering it on a subdomain of, but maybe I’m missing something.

    As for your reasons for offering it without a subscription, that’s a fascinating approach and totally goes against internet marketing “wisdom”… great stuff! I like it when people go against the norm, but this approach really does demonstrate and build authority and trust. Kudos!

    Which reminds me, I really must go and read that report. My list of “Things I Must Read, Like NOW” is getting frighteningly big. But I’ll bump your report to the top.

  3. says

    Hey Paul. We put it on its own domain as part of the demonstration of how to launch a new site. Plus, I really like that domain name.

    It might have been better for all the links to come to Copyblogger, but my main goal is new subscribers, and in that sense, I think it presents better. Plus, with all the links to Copyblogger content, the Google juice that Authority Rules now has is basically all pointing right back here. 😉

  4. says

    I’m not gona lie when I first got that report I was shocked that there was no opt in needed. Needless to say I still go to copyblogger and subscribe to copyblogger so I guess it did work

  5. says

    The distinction between “quality” readers versus “quantity” is refreshing and true. Ego can drive us to think that more is better, but the devout follower will translate into higher profit on so many levels.

  6. says

    I really liked how you launched Authority Rules because my gut tells me that the subscribers you get will be much higher quality than the traditional “subscribe for incentive” method. What do you think?

  7. says

    I thought your report was great and appreciated that I didn’t have to jump through hoops to get to it.

    I had already subscribed to your content before, but I can those who haven’t quickly hitting the subscribe feed button once they have read and liked what you have to say.

    Which is why I think your #3 is so important.

    I get a good amount of visitors to my site (and thankful for it), but it is the RSS subscribe stat that i pay keen attention to. Especially since I don’t bribe anyone to subscribe, I know that my list is based more on quality than quantity.

  8. says

    Well, I just spent lunchtime reading the report, and I have to say, it’s excellent!

    The more I think about it, the more I realize what you’ve created here is a stroke of GENIUS.

    First, the title is superb. Short enough to remember, and, as you pointed out in the report, it’s ambiguous – both meanings giving people a reason to read.

    Second, I like the way you’ve put the content onto web pages as well, so that people are reading the report the moment they hit the site! Great stuff.

    Third, the content demonstrates the authority you’re talking about.

    People should not only study and enjoy the report, but also the PROCESS behind how you’re offering it, and what you’re offering within it. There are an absolute ton of marketing lessons in both the content, AND the structure of the report.

  9. says

    I’ve been thinking about the idea of a no-strings-attached e-book/report for a while now, and it’s very encouraging to see that I’m not alone.

    I am a little miffed about being beaten to the punch, though. :)

  10. says

    Thanks for the explanation Brian. I was curious about your reasons behind the Authority Rules launch and this makes perfect sense.

    Also, Hemingway has 1 m, not 2. (sorry to be annoying).

  11. says

    Derek, you must be skimming hard today. See section 3, entitled “Quality.” 😉

    Maria, thanks for catching that. Must have been drunk at that point. 😉

  12. says

    @Brian Now I know how that guy in the restaurant feels when he drops a tray of dishes on the floor…

    I’m usually on point with my comments. Today, on the other hand, is a perfect example of “what not to do” when you leave a blog comment on a blog. Whoops.

  13. says

    Well, it certainly worked. I sent it around the office and to a few friends. I think my favorite thing about Copyblogger is the transparency. Tell is boring. Show is engaging. Nicely done, yet again.

  14. says

    Brian, your report was wonderful, and I certainly believe in your philosophy of giving before you get. Thanks for your great insights.

  15. says

    I’m glad you guys are putting it out there that you should give before you get. Great stuff, great understanding of new media.

  16. says

    So giving away stuff first before asking for opt-in is a new craze?! Bring it on!

    On a more serious note, I always believe both ways works. It’s just that for the normal opt-in (not reverse one), you have to hype it more (“This is the no1 secret to…”). As for the reverse, it’s all depending on the quality of your video or ebook.

  17. says

    You mean there’s other stuff to read here besides the liquor ads??

    I did download and read The Authority Rules pdf though. Honest.

    OK, I skimmed it. I still think I understood most of it though except the part about the goats.

  18. says

    I’ve thought about that Hemingway advice before, but I’m not sure I could stay at the keyboard and not go dancing on the table instead…

    I really like the idea of reciprocity, which underscores the fact that we should be giving to our audience first and foremost anyway.

    Great food for thought.

  19. says


    1st – thanks for putting out useful information/content all the time. I read your blog plenty and always get something out of what I read.

    2nd – I love that you gave this away and didn’t have us fill out some long form or give you our email. That makes me want to subscribe even more. (even though I already am subscribed). That approach let’s me get something out of what you provided and then come back because I enjoyed what you gave me. That’s a win win transaction to me.

  20. says

    I’m a big fan of reg-free stuff … both as a consumer and a publisher. Thanks for bringing such quality content to your fans – we’re obviously eating it up.

    Oh, and I love the Hemingway advice. I’m a whisky girl myself – will give it a try one of these days. Just have to remember not to hit the “publish” button until the next morning – woah, that could get dangerous!! 😉

    Anyway – I’m really enjoying everything you’ve got on the table including the Teaching Sells material. My head was already full of Big Ideas, but now I’m feeling like someone (that’d be you!) has given me the gift of a structure that will make those ideas tangible reality. Excitement doesn’t cover what I’m feeling. Thanks.

  21. says

    Great report! In this instance, free will pay dividends.

    I’m interested in the thinking behind not including an “About the Author” blurb on the downloadable PDF. I can see the pros/cons but was curious why you made that decision.

  22. says

    I like using reciprocity over reward. Makes me feel better and it simply creates better relationships. Thanks for bringing this to the attention of the IM world at large. It can make IM a more pleasant place, and improve our rep among people who think that marketing is sleazy.

  23. says

    Excellent report and certainly overwhelming at first. I’ve promised to do one thing a day to make my goals come true whether it means reading one recommended post and apply it’s suggestions, or simply taking a break (that counts).

    It all goes towards future success. Breaks are so important!

  24. says

    Brian: I stumbled on this post while diggin’ through the archives. Pretty neat to see how Authority Rules has transformed since the day your laying beach-side, sipping tequila and finishing up the copy! :-)

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