7 keys to authoritative content

The Accidental Expert – Seven Keys to Authoritative Content

Ten years ago, my first published content ultimately became my first important lesson on the value of writing with authority. A simple “best practices” article for a trade magazine led to a phone invitation from the plant manager of a farm equipment company. He asked if I could meet with him to discuss the article, and I agreed to make the 87-mile trek.

When I entered the facility lobby, pangs of apprehension crept in as I saw the placard posted conspicuously behind the reception desk:

root cause expert

My anxiety piqued as I was led down the hallway and noticed the “rules” from my recent article laminated and tacked to the wall at 5-yard intervals. When we entered the cafeteria, forty or so employees were patiently waiting to hear from the “guru”, live and in person.

With no prepared remarks or anecdotes, I felt a bit like a deer in the headlights…or maybe more like the Wizard of Oz with the curtain pulled back.

My embarrassment subsided somewhat during the 2-hour drive home. As I fiddled with the vent, trying in vain to redirect the omnipresent farm odors, I slowly realized the significance of what I had accomplished: I was not the authority or an authority and had never pretended to be one. But I had written with authority.

Why Authoritative Content Matters

Content marketing is one of the most effective ways to drive traffic to a website, build a brand, and enhance credibility. To use this tool successfully, the content must also be unique, engaging, and most importantly, accurate.

The credibility factor of authoritative writing boosts search engine rankings and social media posts, while creating loyal followers of a website or blog. Poorly written, inaccurate, or confusing content can have the opposite effect.

Unfortunately, many true “experts” are not as adept at distilling their mastery for the common man, and even the best writers often lack depth of knowledge on a breadth of subjects. While one type of expert writing drifts over the heads of most readers, the other can lead to vanilla content that just doesn’t stand out in a crowd.

The answer lies somewhere in the middle. These seven keys to authoritative content launch credibility into the stratosphere faster than a tornado in Kansas.

“You must continue to gain expertise but avoid thinking like an expert.”

~Denis Waitley

1. Sharing the Journey

Learning about a new topic involves researching important definitions, history, and context. Authoritative writers use this to their advantage by sharing this learning experience with their readers. Think about it – the audience for a new blog post on String Theory would probably include only a tiny percentage of particle physicists. The rest of us might need a primer on the subject. The authoritative writer has taken the time to learn the basics, so why not share them with the readers?

2. Quality

Nothing turns off readers faster than sloppy, poorly written content. When people search for useful and accurate information on a given topic, grammar, spelling, and other types of obvious errors are the red flags that will lead them to click off…quickly. And it really doesn’t matter who wrote the content, how many great facts it contains, or how timely it is. Poor grammar, spelling, and organization scream lack of attention to detail, and authoritative writing values content and quality above all.

3. Being Unique

A search on popular topics like 5G, the IoT, or artificial intelligence (AI) yields page after page of cloned content with whole paragraphs and sections plundered from other sources. What these “cookie-cutter” blog posts and articles lack is originality. Standing out in the crowd means producing unique content, and that requires a deeper dive when it comes to research. Garnering those timely pearls of wisdom can come from interviewing industry leaders, reading technical journals, or going the extra mile to uncover the most recent news.

4. “Triangulating” the Sources

A global positioning system (GPS) uses radio signals from three independent satellites to determine the exact position in space of any object on Earth, including you! One or two satellite beams might put you in the ballpark, but the intersection of all three is what adds the precision we take for granted as our phones guide us from point A to point B. This same principle can be applied to authoritative writing. When three or more credible sources agree on something, it is usually a good sign that the information is reliable. Content based on just one or two sources is more likely to be biased or unsubstantiated.

5. Internalize the Material

When you read enough about a given topic, you eventually come to an “ah-ha” moment, tipping point, moment of clarity, or whatever the ideal cliché is for reaching that critical level of understanding. Once a writer reaches that point in their research, they can discern credible sources from “B.S.” more easily, visualize and break down complex concepts, and rewrite facts and definitions in their own unique style. We have all seen content that looks like a jumbled collection of facts lifted from other sources, with no continuity or flow, and subconsciously recognize the lack of authority, or effort, or both. “Internalizing” a subject allows you to “talk the talk” and gauge the credibility of other people’s writing on the subject, as well as your own.

6. Stay on the Topic

It is rare to find a “guru” in any field with only one publication under their belt. In fact, many have produced dozens of articles, books, and blog posts. Each offering builds credibility, name recognition, and search engine rankings. One of the best ways for writers to pump up their authority is to write on the same topic multiple times. With the “ah ha” moment in the past, each new project can build on existing knowledge, contacts, and insight. Loyal readers are more likely to stick around for the journey as the writer’s credibility soars.

7. Know Your Audience

Assuming the audience knew about the same (or less) than the writer before they started their research is usually a good rule of thumb, but not always. Articles and blog posts on specialized or highly technical websites might be read mostly by insiders who prefer to be spared the basics, while more general content can be tailored for the layman. Authoritative writing can sometimes bridge the gap between expert and layman by combining basic background and definitions with unique content and timely nuggets that either audience will find engaging.

The End Game:

A focus on research, fact-checking, and originality can lead to a product that stands the test of time and continues to attract readers for years to come. This is in stark contrast to contrived content, peppered with SEO buzz words in an attempt to land on top of the search engine heap, only to be discarded quickly by readers who want to learn!

At its core, the word “Quality” can be defined as “making sure the customer is satisfied every time”. This basic principle applies to much more than TVs, cell phones, and appliances. High quality content brings repeat visits, word of mouth, and longevity in much the same way a quality household product builds brand loyalty and higher customer lifetime value (LTV).

Epilogue:

Ten years after my “Best Practices” article made my reputation in the farm equipment industry, I received an eerily reminiscent reminder on the value of authoritative writing. This time, it was a series of articles on the internet of things (IoT) that got the attention of some real experts, who decided to include me in an industry panel on technology roll-out.

Thankfully, there were no placards, laminated posters, or eager crowds waiting for me as I logged onto Skype, hit the “mute” button and hoped I’d be passed over during introductions. No one seemed to mind, or even notice, as I remained silent throughout the hour, jotting down notes on new developments that were probably unknown to most of the public.

I realized I had probably not been mistaken for an expert this time, and the notes I had recorded and would eventually include in an article were the real purpose of my invitation – not as an expert, but as an authoritative writer. The curtain had already been pulled back, and the true wizardry of authoritative content had been recognized.

About the Author:

Daniel Sims is a writer and quality engineer based in Redmond, Washington. Daniel has spent over 25 years in the medical device industry, ensuring new products are safe and reliable. Daniel applies the same energy, creativity, and attention to detail to his freelance writing avocation, including short stories, blog posts, and informative website content.

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