What Is Authority And How Can You Build It?

Being perceived as an authority boosts sales. Think about it. Consumers trust authorities, and look to them for advice before making purchasing decisions.

Look at the influence Pantone has on which colors go in and out of fashion. Or Oprah Winfrey and her book club (it was estimated that 55 million book sales could be attributed to the club). How about the influence bloggers (and more recently vloggers) have on buying habits? Research Now found that “84% of consumers make purchases after reading about a product or service on a blog”.

If you’re able to propel yourself to “authority” status, you too can reap the benefits of being able to influence consumer behavior.

So what makes someone an “authority”? Is it being the smartest mind in their field? The biggest innovator in their industry? Calling themself a thought leader? While those credentials certainly help, the short answer is… no.

The people that succeed at becoming authorities are those that excel at marketing themselves and their abilities. One way to do that, as you might have guessed already, is through content.

Knowledge plays a part in building authority, but is it enough? Not even close. Let’s take a look at a few ways that you can use content to create perceived expertise.

Fake it ‘til you make it

Confidence is critical to authority-building. If you sound like you know what you’re talking about, others are more likely to believe you know your shit too – even if you’re talking crap.

Let’s clear something up though – I’m not advocating faking your way to the top. Lying about your knowledge to save face isn’t cool, and you will get found out eventually.


All I’m saying is that if you’re not confident, just pretend to be – whether you’re writing a piece of content or speaking to someone face-to-face or over the phone. Do this consistently and people will naturally begin to trust what you say and start to perceive you as an authority. And you know what? You’ll begin to believe it too (hence, faking it until you make it).

There are some excellent tips on faking confidence over here, but in summary…

  • Stand tall
  • Smile
  • Dress well
  • Make eye-contact
  • Stop apologizing
  • Laugh at yourself (not others)
  • Focus on what you love about yourself

Accept you’ll never be an “expert”

Confidence in your abilities, and a belief that you deserve the recognition you’ve earned, are key to being known and respected as an authority in your industry. That said, so is understanding that however much you know, it’s never going to be quite enough.

Have you heard of the Dunning-Kruger effect? It’s a cognitive bias “in which unskilled people make poor decisions and reach erroneous conclusions, but their incompetence denies them the metacognitive ability to recognize their mistakes. The unskilled therefore suffer from illusory superiority, rating their ability as above average, much higher than it actually is, while the highly skilled underrate their own abilities, suffering from illusory inferiority.”

In other words, the top performers are those that are never satisfied with their performance. They understand that there is always more to learn, and so they’re always striving for more. They’re constantly trying to do better.

This is a lesson that can be applied to all areas of your working life – content being no exception. The general idea is that you should never let yourself become complacent. Never decide that you know enough, or that the work you’re producing is good enough. Understand that there is always more to learn; always a way to improve.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have confidence in yourself and your abilities, just that you should always be upping your game.

Be different

To become an authority, you have to be known as a leader in your industry – not a follower. In short: you need to stand out from the crowd. This means doing something “different” with your content. Maybe you create something snarky!

Don’t regurgitate the same ideas in the same 500 word articles that so many others are churning out. Present your content in a different format. Put a new spin on an old idea. Enhance a topic with your own research or data (see below).

Moz’s Whiteboard Friday videos are an excellent example of this. Yes, many factors have contributed to Moz’s success, but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn a great deal from the style and approach adopted by the Moz team for Whiteboard Friday.

Essentially, in place of writing articles, Moz creates entertaining, informative videos that are easy to digest and (I think this key) just the right length – long enough to provide value, but short enough that you don’t need to block out a chunk of your day in order to watch them.


Consequently, around 50% of viewers watch the videos right through to the end – an impressive figure, especially when we consider that according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, the average length watched of a single online video is just 2.7 minutes.

And on that note…

Create video content

Why? Simple: video is, in general, a far more engaging form of media than text. Research by Diode Digital found video promotion to be 600% more effective than print and direct mail combined.

In other words, a well-made video can impact your audience in ways few blog posts ever could. But, most importantly, a well-made video, that educates and inspires your audience, gets people to remember you.

Of course, creating a “well-made” video is easier said than done. If you’ve never produced video content for marketing, I’d encourage you to take a course. It doesn’t have to be a particularly intensive course – you’re not trying to be the next Steven Spielberg – a day’s course should be sufficient for you to pick up the basics.

That said, here are a few pointers…

Don’t mess around

Research by Visible Measures found that most videos (for marketing; we’re not talking about feature length films here) lose 20% of their audience within the first 10 seconds. Assume that this is an average – if you’re not taking steps to capture your audience’s attention right away, you can expect this figure to be far higher.

It makes sense then, that the shorter the video, the higher the retention rate:

Screenshot (61)

But don’t let this data discourage you from creating longer videos. As we saw above, Moz’s Whiteboard Friday videos last up to 15 minutes, and yet 50% of viewers watch them through to the end. If you offer genuine value, and are grabbing people’s attentions in the video’s opening moments, longer content shouldn’t hinder you – it will probably help you.

Listen to your audience

This applies to any form of content, but taking the time to find out what your audience want to know and are interested in can add huge value to your videos.

Research what your audience is talking about, and what gaps you can fill. This might mean adding to the conversation, or it could simply mean presenting information in a different, digestible format.

As with all content, you don’t need to do something revolutionary, you simply need to differentiate yourself from or improve upon the content being produced by your competitors.

Perform your own research

Another way to differentiate yourself from your competition is to perform your own research. This works because when done well, the result is timely, relevant content that provides not just your readers, but the industry as a whole, with unique and (hopefully) useful insights.

Some of the biggest names in digital have earned their position in part due to their thirst for first-hand data. They don’t blindly accept Google’s word as gospel – they perform tests and experiments geared around getting their own answers.

Recent articles from Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at Click Z, used data that (I presume) he collected himself in order to demonstrate how cannibalization and the use of subdomains can harm your search rankings.

In a recent-ish episode of Whiteboard Friday, Rand used Moz’s own research to show how queries, clicks, and click-through rates (CTRs) affect your rankings.

This content offers more value than most because they’re providing us with insights that we can’t find anywhere else. Not only is this great for us, but it helps them because it reinforces them as authorities in their industry.

That said, performing your own research doesn’t have to be labor intensive. While you can set up tests and experiments purely to gain data which you then turn into content, you can also extract unique information from the work you do day-to-day.

This is something that I’ve done to an extent. I’d like to do more of it – and I’d encourage you to, too.

Find your niche

Few “authorities” are “jacks of all trades”. Instead, they focus on becoming a “master” in one key area. For me, that’s marketing. Yes, I’ll cover topics that don’t directly mention “marketing”, but pretty much all of my blog posts will be semantically related to supercharging the growth of a business.

There are countless other examples of entrepreneurs working on building their authority in a single area, but a few that stand out for me include…

Brian Clark – founder of Copyblogger and known, unsurprisingly, for his expertise in copywriting.


Moz’s Dr. Pete, a marketing scientist for whom I have massive respect, on account of his research and innovation in technical SEO.


Gini Dietrich, author of the blog and book, Spin Sucks, and best known for her knowledge and expertise in PR.

However, there’s something that sets people like Gini, Brian, and Dr. Pete apart from some of their peers… their passion.

If you’re not sure what your niche would be, ask yourself honestly not only where your skillset lies, but what you’re most passionate about. Why? Because building yourself as an authority in a particular niche isn’t just about what you know, it’s about the passion you have for the subject matter.

True authorities aren’t the people who have read lots of books and perfected the art of parroting others. They’re the people that live and breathe their work. You can tell when someone genuinely loves what they do. You can’t fake passion.

So what’s the lesson here? Don’t choose a niche based on what’s least competitive or deemed to be most profitable. Choose a niche that you know, but more importantly, genuinely love.

Go long-form

Long-form content can seem like a lot of work. That’s because it is. It’s also frequently misconstrued as a waste of time. Naomi Sharp of Columbia Journalism Review said, “when readers started moving to the internet, media analysts thought longform journalism was in trouble. Attention spans were going to shrivel.

Readers wanted short, they wanted snappy, they wanted 140 characters and not much more (though a listicle on the side couldn’t hurt). Who would want to scroll through an 8,000-word article on an iPhone screen?”

And yet, the odds are stacked in long-form’s favor. Research from serpIQ found that content which totaled 2,400 words and over performed best in the search results.


While being able to talk in detail about a topic helps demonstrate that you’re an authority on that subject matter, there’s no hard and fast rules when it comes to long-form content. Yes, studies show that content exceeding 2,400 words performed best in the search results, but that doesn’t mean you should aim to exceed that word count yourself, every time.

Quality trumps quantity – always. Don’t write 5,000 word articles for the sake of it. If the subject matter lends itself to 5,000 words, write 5,000 words. If it needs 2,000 words, write 2,000 words. If the subject matter necessitates just a few hundred words, that’s okay too.

Aim to cover subjects that are enhanced by long-form content, but don’t drag out simplistic topics just because long-form has been shown to perform better.

Get other experts on your side

If people see existing authorities in your industry sharing or contributing to your content, you should begin to be seen as an authority too. Essentially, it’s building authority by association. By word of mouth. The same effect that can be achieved by securing a guest spot on a big industry site.

The obvious way to do this is to begin building ties with those authorities. For this, Twitter is your best friend, but it shouldn’t be your only friend… Twitter’s an excellent tool for getting onto the radar of potentially value contacts, but it’s not ideal for cementing a relationship.

To take your relationship to the next level, email, or even the phone, are far more valuable. Nothing can compete with actually meeting with people face-to-face.

I’m a huge advocate for networking, and try to “network” with someone either over the phone or in person, at least once a day. But don’t get me wrong… I don’t network with a specific goal in mind. I don’t, as this section might insinuate, talk to authorities simply because I want to persuade them to contribute to my site and content (or vice versa).

I network because you can learn a lot by openly engaging with people, and if you’re anything like me, you’ll get a kick out of forming a connection with someone new. If it advances your career, then great, but focusing on a specific goal will be apparent to the people you speak to, and will affect the response you get.


Show genuine interest in each person, and the work they do, rather than what they can do for you.

That said, you can create the appearance of “other experts being on your side” without engaging in any real networking. Will you get the same result? Probably not. But I don’t see any reason not to show you a workaround. Especially when it’s so simple…

Just ask authorities for a quick comment on a topic you’re covering.

Yep, that’s it.

Simply drop them an email saying something like…

“Hi (authority on subject xyz),

I’m currently working on a post about (insert topic). I’m a big fan of your work on (site/blog name) and I’d love to be able to get a quick comment from you about (insert topic). Any chance you’d be able to fire me over a sentence or two on your thoughts? It would be awesome to be able to include you in the post.

Thanks so much,

(Your name)”

Will this work every time? Of course not. You’ll get far better results if you take the time to get on people’s radars first. However, if you keep your request friendly, casual, and simple (i.e. ask for a sentence or two, not a paragraph or two) the chance thatno one will respond is pretty slim.

Be consistent

To become known and respected as an authority is hard work. You have to be consistently creating content and leveraging social media to promote yourself and the work you do.

Screenshot (62)

I’m not going to lie: it’s not easy. And you know what? I’m still not where I want to be. I’ve come a long way – I’m seeing 10x the shares I was in the beginning – but I’m always striving for more.

If you have similar goals, I encourage you to do the same. Write for your own blog, but make a name for yourself on popular industry sites, too. Turn Twitter into your best friend. Invest time and effort into side projects that you can put your name to. Most importantly, do all this consistently. Don’t blog once a month – blog once a week, for each site that you’re writing for. Don’t tweet once a day – tweet ten times a day, and make sure to check in to respond to replies and DMs, too.

It’s going to be tough, but if you stick at it, it’s going to be worth it.

Before we wrap up, let’s just go over the key takeaways from the above…

  • Confidence is key – if you don’t have it, fake it

Dress well, smile, stand tall, and don’t be afraid to look people in the eye. Write with confidence, too – don’t question yourself or apologize for your words or actions. Spend enough time pretending to be confident and eventually, you will be confident.

  • Always be improving

However adept you are in your specialism, you can always learn more. Being an authority means accepting that however much you know, there’s always something new to learn. Never stop trying to learn more. Always try to make your next piece of content better than the last.

  • Lead, don’t follow

Find a way to differentiate yourself from your peers and competition. Develop a unique voice. Present your content in a unique format. Don’t just be better than everyone else. Be different.

  • Create video content

Simply put: seeing your face and hearing your voice gets you remembered.

  • Do your own research

Performing your own research and developing content off the back of it enables you to create content that’s not only unique, but seriously valuable. Done well, experimenting and data-gathering is a sure-fire way to position yourself as an industry authority.

  • Find your niche

Jacks of all trades do not become authorities. Focus your efforts on a single area that you’re not only knowledgeable in, but genuinely love.

  • Create long-form content

At least when the subject matter lends itself to it. Studies show that content over 2,400 words performs best in the search results.

  • Get other authorities on your side

“You are who you hang with” – or at least, that’s how we’re perceived. Get existing authorities to contribute to your content in some way (or secure a guest spot on their site).

  • Be consistent

Blogging once a month just won’t cut it. Set out a schedule for content creation and promotion, and stick to it. A minimum of one post a week, and five social updates a day is advisable. If you can manage more, even better.

Are you interested in engaging and converting new customer for your business? Contact me here and let’s talk about how we can help.

Michael Brenner

Michael Brenner  is a Top CMO, Content Marketing and Digital Marketing Influencer, an international keynote speaker, author of "Mean People Suck" and "The Content Formula" and he is the CEO and Founder of Marketing Insider Group, a leading Content Marketing Agency . He has worked in leadership positions in sales and marketing for global brands like SAP and Nielsen, as well as for thriving startups. Today, Michael helps build successful content marketing programs for leading brands and startups alike. Subscribe here for regular updates.

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