Authority: A Writer’s Best Friend and Worst Enemy

Content Writing Advice

Authority is an interesting concept, especially when it comes to writing for the web. Taken from one perspective, authority comes down to the believability of the story you’re writing. Viewed in another way, authority becomes something much more technical and difficult to understand, and even harder to change on your own when you’re running a website.

Upon first glance, it would seem that authority is something good that we must pursue in order to write and market more successfully. However, it gets particularly tricky when one is not just writing, but writing specifically for the web.

When you write fiction, there is a certain amount of research you have to do in order to sell the story as believable. If you’re writing a piece about a certain time period, you don’t want to incorporate items or ideas that didn’t exist at the time, otherwise people won’t believe the story. And even though fiction isn’t ‘real’, you’re not going to sell a story that isn’t believable (unless you have Justin Bieber’s agent working for you).

It works the same way with web content writing. I can’t just type up a blog post about writing or content without doing some research first, no matter how accomplished a writer and marketer I am.

Got Sources?

Just for argument’s sake, let’s say I thought I knew enough about my subject to wing it completely for a post. In the eyes of Google, if I’m not incorporating at least a few links here and there to back up my assertions, I have almost 0 authority. That is not good.

Even if I am the most knowledgeable person in the world about my subject, without links in place to show where I got my ideas and where a reader can learn more about a particular concept or stated fact, the internet proverbially shrugs its shoulders at my words, rendering them all but useless.

That means Google won’t send traffic to my website, and even if someone is searching for specific keywords contained within my site, Google will list it far, far down on the list of returned search results. Sad, Google. Sad.

For those who have written research papers, you can think of the necessity of links within a blog post the same as you would the list of sources you must include in tandem with your paper. Inevitably, research papers often require us to make unique assertions of our own. How can these unique assertions be backed up with sources when it comes to writing for the web?

Do the same as you would for the research paper: find sources that can back up as much of your claim as possible (ideally, find your sources while you’re doing the preliminary research and before you start writing), try not to make claims that are completely unfounded by anyone or anything else (though if you’re on the forefront of humanity’s smartest individuals, you might make a few of these, and that’s OK because I trust you to do the required research), and when all else fails, just be honest.

It’s perfectly acceptable to share an insight that you’ve worked out, along with a disclaimer that you’re not sure whether it is totally accurate.

In fact, your readers will respect you much more for disclosing the truth of the matter (that you’re not sure) than they will if they believe you and then find out your assertion was incorrect later down the road.

Do You Respect My Authority?

Bottom line: authority matters in writing, but in web writing, it matters more than anything else because it is the only way to be successful. Writers who lack authority tend to make frivolous arguments, get the details wrong, and lack any kind of grounded understanding for what they’re writing.

That’s bad enough. But web writers who lack authority are not only not believable, their websites (or the sites who publish their articles) lack authority as a result of being associated with the stories themselves.

It’s easy to make things up on the web. The internet is an ‘anyone-with-fingers-can-publish-anything’ type of landscape, and it’s easier than it ever has been in history to publish your own words and disseminate them to the masses, no matter how silly, ungrounded, smart, or disturbing they happen to be.

That’s one of the reasons (among a million others) why Google changes their algorithm so often, and why web writers need to be on the ball when it comes to building and maintaining authority on the web.

Now comes the technical part.

Another aspect website writers need to watch out for is Domain Authority, which factors into the overall authority of your website or the website you’re writing for. Domain Authority is a measure coined by Moz, a very knowledgeable SEO software and marketing company that has a phenomenal blog at the forefront of many things internet.

Long story short, you want to try to increase the Domain Authority of your website or the site you’re writing for, period. And not just with links to back up your arguments. Increasing Domain Authority will increase your website’s ranking which will increase the amount of traffic sent to it which will increase sales and profit, etc.

There are a number of ways to do this, but a few of the most important involve a very smart content strategy, a good link profile (which involves gaining good links and getting rid of bad links), the right on and off page SEO, and the right kind of hosting and web domain.

Writers shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help when it comes to the more technical shtick.

In fact, how do you think I got this far? Smart, techy friends, and not being ashamed to admit I don’t understand some things. That’s how.

And if I did it, you can do it, too.

Have a question about writing or authority? Share it in the comments below. If I can’t answer your question, I’ll find someone who can.

Image courtesy of Flickr user josef.stuefer.

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