The 5 Cornerstone Values that Build an Authoritative Online Presence


You’ve seen us talking a lot about authority — authority with your audience, with search engines, with colleagues, with other web publishers.

Why do you want it? Because given the noisy, cluttered state of the web right now, it’s the authoritative site that earns the business.

  • It’s the site that delivers credible, effective solutions to customer problems.
  • It’s the site that attracts links from other authoritative publishers.
  • It’s the site that earns plenty of social sharing from an audience that wants to share high-quality, user-friendly content.
  • And it’s the site with a confident, ethical sales process that converts attention into business.

There are a lot of components to authority — site design, intelligent SEO, strategic content promotion.

But behind all of these is a single, non-negotiable element that every authoritative site needs. You’ll find a clue in the graphic that accompanies this post.

The “secret sauce” — the magic ingredient that makes the others work — is the intelligence and skill set of a talented, well-trained author.

In other words, the secret sauce is you.

Why the author is at the heart of authority

The web, for all of the automated stock trading and spambots, is made of people. It’s made of readers and writers, connectors and curators, mavens and clowns, teachers and trolls.

Creating a site that people trust and turn to can only happen when smart, informed authors make a concerted effort to create something worth reading.

That’s why “spun” content and anonymous content farms were never going to amount to anything. They might have managed to fool search engines for a short while, but they never fooled readers into thinking that their content was useful or interesting — and they never will.

After observing hundreds of authors with hundreds of different business and audience types, here are my thoughts on what makes the difference between a run-of-the-mill web publisher and a true authority. Remember, like all business values, these are important because of how they affect your audience and your customers. They come first, you come second.

#1: Authorities serve their audiences

Your worth as an authority, in my excruciatingly humble opinion, comes from the number of people you help and how profoundly you help them.

A “guru” whose advice doesn’t solve real problems in the real world isn’t an authority — she’s a con artist.

Any train wreck who gets a million site hits a month for being an idiot isn’t an authority — he’s just an attention-craving jackass.

Authorities help others. They serve their audience first.

That doesn’t mean you don’t get to put your own needs into the equation. As my favorite Zig Ziglar quote says,

You will get all you want in life if you help enough other people get what they want.

#2: Authorities genuinely know their stuff

In order to help people, you have to actually know something.

In fact, we look for credible authorities precisely because there’s so much downright bad information available on the web.

Authorities take the time to really understand their topics. They sift out misinformation. They ask a lot of critical questions … including of themselves. They stay on top of their topics and make sure their advice is as good as it can possibly be.

That doesn’t mean that an authority is always the world’s foremost expert in a topic. Often, the most valued authority is the one who can take useful information and turn it into interesting, digestible, user-friendly content.

#3: Authorities give a damn

When you stop caring about your audience, it starts to show. Quickly.

Authority can bring tremendous satisfaction with it — from the good you do for the people you serve. The energy you bring to your site and your business comes from that satisfaction.

#4: Authorities are strategic

All of this may sound very kumbaya — but to be a valued author who’s getting recognized on the web and elsewhere, you need a strong grasp of strategy.

You need to understand things like site design and SEO and content promotion. You need to understand how to put your great message into the world so it will be heard.

And if your authoritative site supports a business, you need to make money. Consistently. You need your expertise and authority to translate into paying customers, or all of it is just a time-consuming hobby.

#5: Authorities take the long view

We live in an “instant results” society, but a true authority knows that the riches go to the one who can successfully play the long game.

As I like to tell my students, Don’t take shortcuts, they take too long.

Fortunately, the web itself is such a powerful accelerator that we don’t have to wait 10 or 20 years for our hard work to pay off. But we’re not going to build thriving businesses in 10 days, we’re not going to triple our audience in a month, and we’re not going to double our revenue this year without plenty of hard work and smart strategy.

Patience, integrity, and hard work — combined with some smart business education to make sure you’re making the best use of your time — are what works. They always have been, they always will be. Put these at the heart of your business strategy and you’ll see real results that last.

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Reader Comments (44)

  1. says

    Thanks for the post Sonia!

    #1 and #3 particularly stand out to me as being important. Many of the “experts” I meet think that their experience in an industry means that they are better than their clients (most of them are also struggling to survive, I might add). Personally, I think the right mix for an authority is about 60% giving vs. 40% paid work.

    Regarding the long view: that’s a classic trap that many of the entrepreneurs I know fall into. As a rule, I’m vary wary about any solution that is geared towards instant gratification.

    • says

      That “better than” is tricky. The best teachers, in my experience, are the ones who say, “I’m not better, I’m just further down the path than you are, and I can show you a few things about how to make this easier.”

    • says

      Rishi – you make some good points. Sonia – thanks for a thought-provoking post. Rishi, you make an interesting distinction when you mention that ‘experts’ often close their ears to what their clients could possibly teach them. The Internet is always changing – always moving. I feel that none of us are ‘experts;’ we are all learning. Those that we meet along the way, clients included, could have something valuable to teach us. Having said that – leading into point #2 – ‘authorities’ should have a certain level of knowledge and experience. There is no measure for who is or isn’t an ‘authority’ – I feel that this is determined by that person’s audience and reach, and authority is often given to those who command it, rather than those who have more knowledge. “As a rule, I’m vary wary about any solution that is geared towards instant gratification.’ Great point; there are short and long-tail strategies when it comes to any form of marketing, especially online. For example, organic SEO: It can be a laborious process of chipping away until some progress has been made (depending on how competitive the keywords/phrases are for a particular industry). Great post and comments.

  2. says

    “Patience, integrity and hard work.” I love that you said that. You sound like my dad – I guess he was right! Keep the great advice coming!

  3. says

    My trainer yesterday told me to make my about me pages more authoritative. This comes a great time for me. (But I always read Copyblogger!) I like #5 that we take the long view. I am over “quick fixes” – they don’t work – in our health, in our businesses, in our lives. We must take the long view. Thanks for the reminder. I’m going to work on my about pages today! And my posts are going to always show authority. Blessings, Amy

    • says

      Good for you!

      It’s hard for humble people to step up and admit what they do know. You don’t need to brag yourself up or talk yourself down — just let folks know what you’re good at and how you can help. :)

    • says

      Ha, you’re so kind, Hashim. So do you put on a pink wig and go out and tell your customers they’re awesome? :)

      I do take the advice seriously to “be the change you want to see in the world.”

  4. Ben Boykin says

    This –> ‘Your worth as an authority, in my excruciatingly humble opinion, comes from the number of people you help and how profoundly you help them.’ – tweetworthy and some x 10. Excuse while I go tattoo this on my person somewhere : ) Thanks Sonia for sharing your humble opinions with us – they’re really good!

  5. says

    I guess this all could have been summed up in a single sentence: authority sites provide actual value to the reader, instead of serving merely as a canvas for cloaking hoplinks to sketchy affiliate products.

  6. Anne S. says

    I have read and saved hundreds and hundreds of articles on content, and online marketing. Your article on authority is by far one of the most intelligent.
    Thank you, Anne

  7. says

    I agree that the true authority figure is the one who can take powerful information and turn it into usable chunks. In my Google+ community, I’m not highly regarded because I have the most knowledge, far from it. People like me because I know how to take the facts I do have and make them palatable. :)

  8. says

    I’ve found myself especially prioritizing #2 more lately. Sometimes when I have a lot of work on my plate, research has come to feel like procrastination, but I’ve really made a point to shift my view and see it as a necessary part of my daily work load.

    #5 is true in just about every aspect of life. It’s surprising how often people seem surprised and frustrated at the idea that good business takes time and work, like that doesn’t match their experience elsewhere in life.

    I value being a slow thinker. I am always hesitant to make any decision that must be made “right away,” those are the times I’m most likely to make mistakes.

  9. Michael Corley says

    Hi Sonia,

    #4 has been my sole focus and wanted to see what you thought about using direct mail to reach the prospects I believe would benefit greatly from the content available at my blog.

    Like other industries, real estate is competitive with so many agents pushing canned content through social media networks.

    Is there a place for direct mail in an author’s strategy?

    • says

      Absolutely — direct mail is a complex game, but it can be tremendously valuable. Using high-value content and authority in direct mail isn’t new, it’s what the best direct mail guys have been doing for over a century — looking particularly at the work of Gary Bencivenga, who’s probably my favorite traditional copywriter ever.

      If the message is a good match for the audience, the medium is a distant third. It matters, but not as much as that congruence between the first two.

      • Michael Corley says

        Thanks for great insight on direct mail.

        While my instincts were guiding me to use direct mail, I guess being a digitally based publisher made doubts its use.

        Thanks again, Sonia.

  10. says

    #5 “Patience, integrity, and hard work….are what works.” Thanks for those words. It’s good to know that in our fast moving culture, patience and integrity are still recognized by readers. Seems like everyone wants to be connected to authorities that exemplify these traits, that’s why good authors have large followings.

  11. says

    As a writer who always has something to say, I’m speechless. Don’t just apply this to your marketing — it’s a great blueprint for life. Amazing!

  12. says

    Thanks Sonia for this wonderful post on Authority!

    Point #3, Authorities give a damn, is spot on. Authorities don’t look at their customers/readers as ATM machines who’ll support their career. They genuinely want to help people get to the next level. This is attractive.

    Point #5, Authorities take the long view, is insightful advice! The world you live in today moves fast and you have to keep up with it; however, short cuts may not work. In fact, you could create more work for yourself. Remember the story of the “Tortoise and the Hare” and take the long view, slow and steady.

  13. says

    This is a fantastic post and one that really resonates with me. It’s so easy to get frustrated and feel as though everything has to happen right now. The things worth having take time and patience. Creating a presence online means consistent work. And, it means solving problems and making meaningful connections. I continually remind my clients of this and at times have to remind myself.

  14. says

    “Patience, integrity, and hard work” – yes, I certainly agree with this, Sonia. And love your quote about ‘short cuts’ – too true.

  15. says

    Thanks for this intuitive post. Although I don’t consider myself and authority as an online presence, I do think of myself as an author. I’ve written two books, dozens of posts and poems and hundreds of songs. Although my writing is very personal and many of my posts my seem “about me,” I believe, in the end, my writing has the power to “heal” others. I do do all the things on your list. And I have noted some slow changes in how others perceive me on social networks.

  16. says

    “Don’t take shortcuts, they take too long.”
    This line is enough to summarize what all you have said in this post. I liked this line so much that I put it as Custom Message in my Gmail chat status. Thanks for such a nice post specially for new bloggers like me.

  17. says

    My favorite part of this post is having a long-term outlook. So many companies today shift their strategies constantly as if they are chasing a moving target. And guess what – they don’t succeed that way. It’s one thing to make well-thought-out changes, but it’s an entirely separate idea to bounce around like a pinball hoping for quick fixes. There is no such thing! Sometimes what you need is patience, not a new direction.

  18. says

    I have clients that keep on wanting me to take the shortcuts. It takes a toll on you and sometimes I just had to let them go because they just won’t listen to reason. “Patience, integrity, and hard work” FTW.

  19. says

    “Authorities are strategic” – eye opening 3 words Sonia. I guess this is what differentiates a professional from a hobbyist. Great post Sonia!

  20. says

    Compelling if a bit daunting! It’s inspiring to view authority as stemming from the author, rather than as from some mix of likes, links, etc. Great stuff, thank you!

  21. says

    Good points Sonia, I liked the flow of your article and how you have mentioned about ” You need your expertise and authority to translate into paying customers, or all of it is just a time-consuming hobby. ”

    Something everyone should consider, before getting carried away with just having a hobby and putting down all those hours. Even when you start a blog it should have clear goal and what you want to achieve through that journey of blogging and connecting. I know some of my friends who blogs really well, but worries about “How the money comes”

    That’s one of the reasons I advice anyone with a skill or expertise to showcase their work list their capabilities on their person Blog/Website and talk about how they can help others and obviously be bold enough tell how much they would charge.

    Thanks for the great words and hope everyone enjoyed reading and got something to think about for the weekend.

  22. Archan Mehta says

    Sonia has hit a home run, again. Thanks for your contribution here; enjoyed reading it.

    I like the way you write. It is simple, clear, effective. Your ideas flow and are palatable. You write in a manner that is pleasing and captures attention.

    One thing I would like to add: authorities are also open to feedback. Not in any absolute sense, but only in a relative sense.

    Sometimes, customers complain and maybe you can learn something from your critics. As long as it is constructive, you can keep on moving forward even if it is a steep learning curve. Have a good one.

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