One of the questions I’m most often asked is about website authority. Most people don’t really understand what it means for a website to have authority or why having it is important. In truth, it’s a fuzzy concept. There isn’t a true “authority” metric that we can look up. “Website authority” is really a combination of metrics all applied in varying degrees.
In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the truest measure of authority is where a page ranks for any particular keyword. Search engines want to put the most useful pages in the top positions, and that is measured looking at hundreds of different factors. Ultimately, the one page that is determined to be most relevant for a particular search gets that number one spot.
However, that same page may not rank #1 for a similar, although different keyword search. That means it doesn’t quite measure up against the other sites that rank higher.
As web marketers, we combat this by optimizing pages for keywords to try to improve their rankings. We’ll also analyze the website’s architecture and dozens of other things that we can control. But what about the things we can’t?
Social signals and links can be manipulated, but we never have full control over who links to us or likes us or retweets a post we shared. And those things do have relevance in the overall authority building that we must do for a site.
Remember, Google doesn’t want to rank websites based on who was able to manipulate the algorithm the best. Instead, they want to rank sites that have proven that they have earned those top spots.
How do you prove that? By building authority.
And how do you build authority? By building a website that visitors love.
When you create a site that people love, you are earning authority. Assume in a perfect world that Google can see how many people land on your site and then leave, or they can see how many people navigate to multiple pages of your site, or how many of them get through the conversion process. While Google doesn’t know all, they can get some of this information, and we know they use the data they have to determine how well a site is doing at pleasing it’s audience.
Google also knows that the more people you please (or piss off) a fraction of those people will go to the web to say something about it. This data, too, is a factor.
While I said above, that authority is being in the top spot of the search results, in truth, that’s just proof of authority, but it’s not authority itself. Top rankings are the reward for building an effective web presence.
All said and done, authority is created in many ways. It starts with having content that demonstrates that you know what you’re talking about. If you’ve already proven your knowledge, you then have to publish it in a way that your visitors enjoy.
You also build authority by engaging with your audience, answering their questions, pointing them to other resources, and making them feel valued. If you do these things on a regular and consistent basis you will become an authority. And the more authority you have compared to others competing for the same space, the better search ranking positions you’ll have.
But ultimately, it’s not as important that the search engines see you as authoritative as it is that your your customers do. The search engines will eventually catch up.
Read more about “How to Become An Authority in Your Niche” in Tomorrow’s EMP post.