How Many “Authorities” Can There Really Be?

I’ve know been a little ranty lately, but these things just confound me. That and I have a teething baby, who has been keeping me up at night…

Being tuned in to what’s happening in the general search space, I have been reading a lot in this past year about content marketing and markup and their current and projected impact on SEO. Every article I read talks at some point about the importance of “becoming an authority” and “signals of authority” which got me thinking – just how many “authorities” can there really be in any given field?

Seriously – how many can there be before the concept of “an authority” loses its meaning?

Google’s guidance of late for SEO has been along the lines of the following:

  • Create super awesome content that we will just have to show in our results
  • Be unique – we don’t want overlap in our results sets
  • Make sure people will want to share your stuff – cause that matters when it comes to topic authority
  • If you do all of the above, social influencers will love you, share your stuff & you will become an authority

Let’s take these concepts one by one.

Create Super Awesome Content

Well, don’t we all strive to create super awesome content? I don’t imagine many organizations sit down with the goal of creating mediocre, dull or derivative content… But creating truly useful and interesting content can be really tough. I’m not saying great content should not be your goal – it most certainly should. But creating super awesome content that everyone will just be dying to share, is just not a useful measuring stick for business content. It seems that creating content that is engaging, informative and audience-focused, just might not be enough any more.

Be Unique

We all want our content to be like snowflakes – with nothing else in the world existing exactly like ours. Again, this seems unrealistic. Especially for product driven sites. I truly feel for commerce sites that sell non-unique products. God forbid you use the manufacturer’s product description on your site. It is not unique and therefore must not have value to searchers. Businesses in the same industry will have overlap in their information – there is truly no way around this. We used to be able to focus on the search terms that people actually used to create useful content, but it seems that method is now considered passé (and will become virtually impossible to execute with the loss of Google organic keyword data, which still represents a solid 2/3 of the search activity).

It Better Be Shareable

I’ve written about this before – not all content is created equal when it comes to social sharing. Content need not be something you want to tweet or post to Facebook to be incredibly useful to you. And yet, we seem to be moving in a direction where the share will carry more weight than the quality of the content itself. I suppose the idea behind this logic is that only super awesome content will get shared. To that I say look at your Facebook newsfeed and see how many of those insipid “Name an animal that starts with the letter P” posts get shared. Enough said!

Your Awesomeness Will Be Noticed By Industry Gurus

This piece of advice is probably my favorite. If you can somehow manage to create something that is useful and totally shareable, it will have to be seen, read, enjoyed and then shared by a person of influence in the social world. That is a seriously high bar people! Gurus have worked hard to achieve their guru status and don’t generally share content from just anyone. Add to that the fact that the social space is heavily skewed toward tech, media and entertainment and what is a regular business to do? Just where does a local plumbing company fit into that mix? How about a community nonprofit foundation? Or an industrial manufacturing company? Short answer – they really don’t.

What Now?

I’ve been in this industry for almost 15 years now and I am really curious to see how this all plays out. Big brands will do well in this world order – they are already authorities in their industries. But it is getting harder and harder for smaller or local businesses to find organic traction, let alone reach authority status. Add to that Google’s increasing takeover of their search results with content from their network, beyond AdWords (local carousel, knowledge graph, map listings, etc.) and we are reaching major pivot point. The web used to be a place where size mattered less – the small could actually reasonably compete with the large. Now, becoming an authority seems more like the Ironman Triathlon – impossible but for the gifted few.

What are your thoughts about all of this? Is search moving in a positive direction with these developments? Is it still possible to become an authority? How many authorities can there be? Where do we go from here?



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