If you’ve been on my mailing list for any length of time, then you’ve already heard me drone on about “authority sites”, and why they’re a solid strategy for long-term success, strong search engine rankings, and so on.
But, as has been oft-reflected by the number of emails I get with this exact question…
“Chris – what do you mean by authority site?”
It’s a valid question.
Is it just a “big” mini-site? Is there a certain amount of articles required to become an “authority”? Who the hell decides what’s authoritative and what isn’t? What’s an authority site??!!
Some people might classify authority as being expert advice and experienced-based, unique content. They’re right, but the way I see it – there’s more to it than that…
My definition of “authority” is this:
A site that’s useful enough, memorable enough, meaningful enough or controversial enough that your visitor’s will actually tell others about it - involuntarily.
It could be 100 pages. It could be 10,000 pages. It could be ONE page. It doesn’t matter – if it’s something genuinely interesting to your visitors, you’ve established web authority.
Here’s some examples of authoritative & useful content:
* Expert and/or effective, compelling content. Usually created by enthusiasts or talented people with effective writing/communication skills. (NOT just a site with PLR content and adsense, in other words…). Examples include sites like ShoeMoney.com, StevePavlina.com, Maddox.Xmission.com (funny & dry humor), and so on.
* A tool or script of some kind. Currency calculators, financial tools, meta-searches and otherwise some kind of helpful or compelling data. Examples include XE.com, Switchboard.com, and Digital Point’s keyword tool. Keep in mind that often, even the most popular sites like this are simply using legal API access to blend and “stack” free data from multiple sources – giving the visitor more data for their search. An example in our own niche here would be the keyword tool at SEOBook.com
* A Portal. This is kind of like a community/information site/review site/forum and so on all in one. Examples include Allan Gardyne’s AssociatePrograms.com, and one of my old favorites as a longboarder – SilverFishLongboarding.com. These take awhile to get going, but can often “evolve” over time out of a good content site or blog. The advantage is that eventually, your users can be providing a lot of your content for you, automatically.
* A Directory with a Purpose. Not just a “web directory” in a niche, but rather, something that truly helps to organize the market for your visitors. Examples include things like public records directories (like SearchEngineZ.com), industry directories like BoardFolio.com, and so on. Keep in mind that the long-tail traffic and exposure that this will earn you will be phenomenal in some markets, and if your site comes across as being well-structured and authoritative (ie. not just a scraper site), then you’ll get lots of incoming backlinks because it will be seen as a central resource.
Hint: This directory-with-a-purpose model is an example of something you can do in any niche regardless of knowledge or experience – all it takes is proper organizing. For instance, in our very own affiliate marketing niche, there’s a site like this at LifeTimeCommissions.com, which lists many affiliate programs that have residual payout structures. Whoever owns the site probably knows their stuff - but he wouldn’t have to.
You don’t have to be an expert to create something useful when you’re simply organizing information…
And my last example,
* Authoritative Review Sites. Sites like TopTenReviews.com, RottenTomatoes.com and others like it are perceived as being more “trustworthy” because their content is objective and it’s more like “meta-reviews” – meaning that they’ve mostly just calculated an overall product rating based on the aggregate views of several expert reviewers/critics in each applicable product category.
You can do this on a smaller-scale in any niche, but it would be best to shoot for a larger overall genre so as to appear less biased. Again, this is an example of how to create very trustworthy content (using other people’s opinions to form an aggregate consensus in a nice, visual format) without having to “know” a damn thing yourself.
There’s other examples of authority sites, to be sure – but can you see the difference here between an authority site and “yet another affiliate” site?
So perhaps there’s two overall qualifiers for the definition of an authority site:
1. A site that’s useful enough, memorable enough, meaningful enough or controversial enough that your visitor’s will actually tell others about it - involuntarily.
2. A site that the majority of your affiliate competition will be too lazy to build or even contend with…
Internet users aren’t stupid.
The majority of them know when they’re being sold to, and most affiliates (from what I’ve seen) absolutely suck at writing in an authoritative, believable tone. Hyping products and trying to hard-sell stuff is ineffective in almost every case.
When people are researching a product decision or otherwise looking to buy something – by and large, what they want to base that decision on is FACTS.
So that’s the other half of it.
When you can “marry” the elements of authority function with authoritative communication – you have the skills necessary for building a sustainable (and genuinely helpful), six-figure business and beyond.
It’s when you don’t need to rely on Google for traffic due to word of mouth, press, other sites spreading exposure and so on that your search engine rankings will become solidified naturally. And those are the rankings that stand the test of time.
Ironic, but true.
P.S. Yes, products are “authority sites” by my definition as well, but it’s a different kind of category altogether. For the purposes of clarification, this blog post is referring to sites that are monetized with affiliate offers.