TL;DR: Becoming an authority in your niche requires that you establish yourself as a leader on a given topic. The things that make one person an authority over another include gaining the trust of readers and offering expert input to others.
There are many factors that come into play in determining if you and your website are an authority in Google's eyes and in the eyes of online visitors. Building authority in your niche is not an easy task. It takes time, perseverance, and determination.
Many experts believe traditional SEO is now dead. The days of simply choosing a keyword, using it, and driving traffic to your site are long gone. Yes, those strategies still need to be used, but only as part of a larger, overall package of promotional efforts aimed at making your name as an author and your site recognizable to your target audience.
The solution? Become an authority in your niche area.
Know Your Niche
The first step is to know what topic you are covering. You'll want to:
Choose a niche that is not so broad that it is impossible to define your main topic.
Define your niche so it is not so narrow that you won't have enough topics to write about.
Pick an area you know inside and out.
The best niche is one where you have a unique voice or knowledge to offer that no one else does.
Once you know your niche, you also need to define the target audience that would be interested in the topics you want to cover. A good place to start is by defining user personas for your audience.
What is that “it” factor that makes someone an authority in their niche.
John S. Oxford, CFMP, is the Director of Corporate Communication and External Affairs for Renasant Bank. He is known as an authority on financial services marketing. He had this to say about what makes someone authoritative on a topic:
A large social following is ideal, but it can also be a media source, an industry source and someone that is a general go to for advice in that area when a mass audience needs it. Some authorities have large YouTube followings [while] others may just go to conferences and pack it out when they speak. It really depends on the niche.
Think about how you can brand yourself.
Are you the success coach who has a 99% success rate with clients?
Do you specialize in college students only? What makes you unique from every other success coach out there?
These are the things you have to figure out for whatever niche you want to assert your authority over.
Bruce Mendelsohn is a Top 100 Branding Expert to follow on Twitter and runs the site The Hired Pen.
Bruce points out that many people consider themselves experts in a highly specialized niche. They promote themselves quite aggressively with this self-proclaimed status. But as Bruce says, “Just because they claim to be an expert doesn't make it so.”
Online visibility is a key component to being regarded as an expert. But numbers of followers can deceive: People ‘buy' followers from clickfarms to improve their numbers. Some employ clickbait tactics to boost their visibility. As the general population gets more conversant with social media, they're increasingly able to discern quality from quantity. Legitimate online experts stick assiduously to one topic–take for example @stevenacook. He's an expert on Turkey. His posts–all about Turkey. He has a topic and he sticks to it.
# 2: Becoming an Authority Takes Time
Bruce makes an excellent point that the number of followers a person has on social media can be deceiving.
You can pay to buy followers, but if they are not part of your target demographic, they will not be interested in what you have to say or what you have to sell either.
Becoming a true authority in your field isn't going to happen without some effort on your part. Consistent efforts over a long period of time begin to pay off in others seeing the value you bring to the conversation. A good example of this is our very own founder here at WHSR, Jerry Low. Jerry has spent many years gaining experience in the web hosting and website startup field. He has written articles, offered helpful advice to others, and his advice is smart and on-point.
Beginners will learn everything from the different types of web hosting to the basics of choosing the best web host.
# 3 Beginning Steps
There are some basic steps that most people take to become an authority in their niche. You may do these in a specific order or you may do them in whatever order makes the most sense to you. The key is to get your name out there and start establishing your authority on the topic.
Start a Blog: The first step is to build a blog or host a website where you can begin to share some of your expertise. On this blog, you can offer articles, videos, or a combination of the two.
Maintain an Email List: Even though it isn't the only way you should reach out to your site visitors, an email list is still a good idea because it gives you a way to stay in touch with those who visit your site and reach them with additional information you may not offer there.
Write an eBook. If you know enough to fill a book, then you must know a thing or two. Just make sure that the information is unique, in-depth and well presented.
Create an Online Course: One way to start building an audience is to offer them information in a variety of ways. Starting an online course allows you to teach in-depth on your topic and to answer questions your students might have.
Hang out on Forums and Blogs: Use good manners. Don't go to your competitor's site and post a link to your website. However, do go to forums and other blogs that have a similar audience but are not direct competition and add value where you can. Your link will typically be allowed as part of your username or at the bottom of your post in the footer, but check the site terms of service to be sure.
Get on Social Media: If you don't already have a presence on social media, now is the time to get one. Set up pages on the ones that make the most sense for you. The table below should help you decide which social media sites are most likely to attract your target demographic.
Young demographics. 55% of those 18-29 use the platform.
Monday through Thursday at any time except for 3-4 PM.
“My advice is to add some value to the area of your expertise every time you communicate to an audience. Try to say something different or original and if you cannot, at least be entertaining.” – John Oxford
What Comes First, the Authority or the Google Rank?
In fact, he thinks that oftentimes people get the concept backwards, believing they have to get a better page rank and build their authority on Google. However, if a website or person is seen as having authority in the industry, it is likely that Google will take note of that.
Garrett adds that those who are known authorities can sometimes get away with riskier online behaviors than those who are not recognized as authorities. At least for the moment, Google does factor in just how well known and trusted you and your site are overall.
Just what does Google look at to determine whether or not you should be a trusted authority?
# 1 Who Else Trusts You
One thing that Google and other search engines will look at (because if you are only relying on Google for traffic, you will at some point face a crisis as they change their algorithms) is what other authorities and trusted sites link to you.
Try to get big players in your industry to link back to you and other trusted bloggers. In addition, there are some sites that Google ranks highly, such as schools (.edu), organizations (.org), government (.gov), and so on. Get as many highly verifiable and trusted sites to link to you as possible and your authority rank will naturally rise.
While it is hard to determine what all Google factors in, these areas are a good place to start with building trust, which can help you in turn build authority in your niche.
# 2 Negative Links
On the other side of this coin are links that you really don't want pointing back to your website. For example, let's say you were a beginner and thought it was a good idea to buy a package of backlinks. These are not high quality links and in fact may cause your ranking to tank.
Matt Cutts, over at Google, has made it pretty clear that they are against link buying and selling. They are likely aware of sites that sell such backlinks and where those backlinks come from. Start showing up as links on those sites and Google will penalize you.
In other words, don't try to take shortcuts. They simply don't work. You have to put time and effort into creating amazing content and let the links occur as naturally as possible. Not that you shouldn't strive for the reputable sites and backlinks from there, but don't pay for them and be careful who you associate your site with.
No matter which way you cut it, backlinks still matter and likely always will. However, the quality of those backlinks may matter even more.
Hacking Your Way into Becoming an Authority
Can you hack yourself into becoming an authority? Yes, and no. There aren't really any “shortcuts” but there are some things you can do that will help you along the way.
#1. Finding that Viral Moment
Bruce Mendelsohn shared how he became an authority on social media. He gained a bit of notoriety as a result of a tweet he posted overlooking the site of the first explosion at the 2013 Boston Marathon.
I tweeted it about 15 minutes after the explosion and I was one of the few people who did so. I did it because there was chaos at the finish line and as a communicator, I knew people needed to know what was happening,” he shared.
Before Mendelsohn tweeted that photo, he had around 215 followers. He now has ten times that number and the photo is still viral. He added, “I am amazed at how often it STILL gets liked and retweeted. That's the enduring power of social media influence.”
Since that photo, Mendelsohn has tweeted support from Boston to the victims and witnesses of many man-made and natural disasters (Charlie Hebdo, Bataclan, etc.). He has gained a following because of that, but it's not the only thing he posts about.
What can you learn from Bruce's experience? Be aware of what is trending and what you can add to that discussion. Take the time to share photos, videos, and live feeds to your social media of various events. Although it might be a happier occasion than the Boston Marathon Bombing, you can still find moments that might go viral.
“What really matters is duration of influence. We've seen the rapid rise and fall of people on social media; one day they are a cause celebrity, the next, no one remembers who they are or what they did to gain fame (or infamy).” – Bruce Mendelsohn
#2. Connect with other Influencers
John Oxford also talked to me about the importance of connecting with other influencers in your industry. Obviously, they don't need to be in your exact niche, but if you blog about the best golf tee to use, then you will want to connect with those who are seen as experts on golf swing, the best club to use, etc.
Find others in your area and re-post them, work with them or model yourself to their success. [Make yourself credible.] If you have some energy along with decent communication skills, the hacking usually takes place organically.
There are many ways you can connect with other authorities, including:
On popular blogs in your industry or industries with a similar target demographic. Make sure you have something to add to the conversation and be careful not to just spam other people's blog comment areas.
On social media by reposting their content.
Via email. Simply contact the experts and share some interesting information or let them know you thought their articles on X, Y or Z were brilliant, so you wrote an article about a related topic and wanted to share the link with them. Sometimes they will share it, if it is pertinent to their audiences.
Post content to forums and enable a link in your signature line.
Share on video sites.
Attend conferences and make connections in your industry that you can also connect with online. However, having met them in person, they will be more likely to interact with you on social media.
John Oxford added, “I would also suggest, don’t wait around to be discovered, push your way into the conversation. But you have to be credible…”
As mentioned previously, becoming an authority in a specific niche is not something that is likely to happen overnight, and if it does, Google will likely frown on it.
Have a plan for how you'll establish your position of authority.
Then, work a little each day toward that plan, even if you only have 15 minutes to spare. If you do just a couple of things a day to build your audience and your authority with that audience, you'll be surprised at what you can accomplish in a year.
About Lori Soard
Lori Soard has been working as a freelance writer and editor since 1996. She has a bachelor's in English Education and a PhD in Journalism. Her articles have appeared in newspapers, magazines, online and she's had several books published. Since 1997, she has worked as a web designer and promoter for authors and small businesses. She even worked for a short time ranking websites for a popular search engine and studying in-depth SEO tactics for a number of clients. She enjoys hearing from her readers.