“To rank well, build a site so fantastic that it makes you an authority in your niche.”— Matt Cutts, head of Google Web Spam Team

Authority. The very word speaks volumes. Being an authority means you are an expert in your field — an expert who others trust and respect. Being an authority is a differentiator separating you from the pack of “me too’s” who are fighting for page views, clicks and conversions. Bottom line, being an authority makes it easier to attract customers, and grow and sustain your business.

In fact, there are many advantages to being an online authority, including:

  • Building trust with prospects, customers and partners, which leads to business growth.
  • Gaining the respect of your peers, which leads to new business opportunities.
  • Being seen as an industry thought leader, which leads to greater respect.

Authority isn’t a quality you can assign to yourself. It’s something assigned to you by both search engines and visitors, including customers, colleagues, competitors and prospects. They assign authority to your site only when it meets today’s leading criteria for authority.

Among the criteria for building and maintaining an authoritative website, according to the latest release of Google’s Search Quality Rating Guidelines v. 5.0, are creating authoritative content, authoritative links and authoritative social media practices.

Rating content by its authority is one way search engines help reduce the impact of “spammy” websites and reward the sites actually delivering quality content and trusted resources. Today, mechanisms are actively separating websites with authority from those without. Companies that are working to meet the criteria for authority are both ranking better on search engines and gaining greater ground with their target audiences.

While your company is likely not operating a spammy site, you also may not be taking the steps necessary to be seen as an authority in your sector. Here’s how to make sure you are maximizing your impact with your content, links and social media practices.

Publish Authoritative Content

What makes content authoritative? Experts repeatedly cite several qualities. Among them, it must be trustworthy, in-depth and accurate.

Think of sites like Mayo Clinic, The New York Times and ESPN. These sites are all authorities in their niches — for medical information, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalism, and sports reporting, respectively. Readers trust these sites when they want information in these areas. What’s more, search engines trust them because they consistently produce valuable, credible content.

Without trustworthy medical insight, exceptional in-depth reporting, and accurate sports reporting, these sites would not be the authoritative go-to sites they are today. Similarly, to become an authority in your sector, you need to publish trustworthy, in-depth and accurate content on a regular basis.

The new authority-driven content creation directive has relegated all old content creation methods — duplicating content, writing short content with no meat, ignoring the opportunity to cite sources — to the dustbin.

Here’s what Search Engine Journal, one of the leading authorities on SEO, says about authoritative content: “Google’s human raters and algorithm can distinguish between content written by an amateur and content written by a pro. If you want your content to rank well, it’s got to be professionally written. If you’re looking to win in the content marketing game, don’t mess around with low-quality writers.”

To create content users will respect and read, aim for three goals in your blog posts, guides, eBooks, infographs, videos, slideshows, and more — be original, be in-depth, and be well-sourced.

  • Write Original Content. Remember what we used to find at the top of Google rankings? A lot of repetitive e-zine articles and “content mill” writing. We no longer see it because none of it was original — and Google demotes non-original content. So what does originality mean? It means that you have unique ideas and unique approaches to your content. You bring your own voice, point of view, and insight. If someone can find what you are saying somewhere else, then it’s not original.
  • Write In-depth Content. The popularity of Twitter and other short bursts of content might lead you to believe that all content should be short and shallow. That would be a wrong assumption — especially when trying to build authority. To have authority, you don’t need all of your content to be in-depth “think” pieces. But you will need to make sure that a good percent of your content covers topics at deep and rich levels. Research is finding that in-depth content, including blog posts, are far more likely to encourage sharing than quick posts that just skim the surface.
  • Write Well-Sourced Content. You don’t have to go it alone when creating authoritative content. You can reference and cite credible resources to support your ideas and claims. In particular, if you cite any facts or statistics, you should credit and link to the sources of the data. Well-sourced content will boost the trust people have in what you say and, therefore, in your authority.

Build Authoritative Links

You may have heard of old-school SEO practices like “link stuffing” and “link love.” Those are outdated concepts for building your SEO that will get you demoted. But link building is still important for authoritative sites.

According to Moz, one of today’s leading authorities on SEO, “Through links, engines can not only analyze the popularity of websites and pages based on the number and popularity of pages linking to them, but also metrics like trust, spam, and authority. Trustworthy sites tend to link to other trusted sites, while spammy sites receive very few links from trusted sources. Authority models … suggest that links are a very good way of identifying expert documents on a given subject.”

You need a sophisticated link-building strategy that includes these three characteristics: natural, high-quality, and useful.

  • Use Natural Links. In the old days, you may have received requests from bloggers asking for “some link love.” In other words, they wanted you to randomly create a link from your site to theirs. Back then, the more links a site had, the better its chances of rising up the SEO ranks. But, as we all know, Google opposed this process, changed its algorithm, and basically decimated all sites with an “unnatural” number of links from random sources. That’s why authoritative sites today only link to sites where there is a natural connection. What’s more, they don’t force links within the content, but let them emerge naturally from quality content.
  • Use High-Quality Links. Similarly, in the past, webmasters didn’t consider the quality of the sites where their links came from — it was all about quantity. Now it’s all about quality. So, choose wisely. Look for relevant quality resources from trusted directories, industry thought leaders, new media, old media, and social networking sites.
  • Use Helpful Links. Do your links connect to useful additional information? This is one measure of quality links. Look for opportunities to link to content and sites that bring added value to your content.

Build Social Authority

To be seen as an authority in your industry, it’s not enough to create great content and build quality links. You also need to be vocal about what you know. Social media is one of the most effective ways to broadcast your expertise on a regular basis. This will help you build a social media audience that is receptive to and engaged in your content.

Social marketing expert Pagemodo says, “Great content is the whole purpose of the web and indispensable for social media marketing and search engine optimization. However, producing content alone is like hanging a flyer in an empty forest. Without a social media marketing strategy infused with SEO, it’s likely to go unnoticed … you want your content exposed to the widest audience possible.”

A smart social media approach to bolster your online authority includes the right social locations, the right influencers, and consistency.

  • Choose Ideal Locations. Just as in real estate, location is also important in social media. In other words, where you post can make a huge difference. There are dozens of social media options today. The first question to ask yourself is: Where are the people I want to reach? You may find them on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, or other social platforms. Wherever they are is where you need to be, too.
  • Connect to Influencers. A great way to broadcast your messages on social media is via influencers in your business sector who are associated with high-authority domains. This will give you both immediate credibility and exposure to their large social media following. Regularly connecting with thought leaders and influencers also helps you build long-term relationships with them — which further boosts your social media outreach.
  • Be Consistent. It’s often easy to launch an online authority-building strategy, but difficult to sustain it. Consistency is a key to success on social media, where posts often have a shelf life of as little as a few seconds. The best way to stay consistent is with a solid plan, schedule, and dedicated social media team.

Clearly, we’ve come a long way from the early days of the Internet, with its “anything goes, Wild West” approach to driving traffic to websites. What worked then does not work now. Now you need authority via content, links and social media.

Building authority for your website is not a one-and-done project; it’s an ongoing process that takes time, energy and thoughtfulness. What you gain is well worth all of your hard work—being viewed as an authoritative organization in your industry will support your efforts to achieve your ultimate business goals.