It is a well known fact that the search engines simply love authority websites, and with each update, Google gives them more and more prominence in its search results. I have seen this sad scenario happening over and over: genuine, useful websites owned by small business owners lose their rankings, being pushed to the 2nd and 3rd Google pages. Their place is taken by huge brands, which often times don’t even have an optimized website page for that particular keyword.
The good news is that any small business owner can compete with an online giant. Sure, we can’t rent huge retails spaces like them, but we can fight with them and even beat them online. Read on to learn how to build an authority website from scratch.
Authority Websites Explained
But what is an authority website in the first place? Contrary to popular belief, it’s not a site that ranks #1 for a particular keyword, but one that has good rankings for lots of industry related keywords, often times without even trying.
As an example, a car rental company website that has a huge authority would easily rank on the first page of Google for almost any “rent a car city” keyword by simply creating a 100 words website page that targets that particular city. No time consuming content creation, no backlinks, no social media promotions… what’s not to love about this method?
Want to see a real life example? Wikipedia has such a big trust in Google’s eyes that it ranks for pretty much anything it wants to. To prove this, I have clicked the “random article” button in Wikipedia’s left side menu, and then I have googled the result: “Virgin Gorda League”. Here’s how the first page of Google looks like:
Authority Website Signals
OK, so how do we get ourselves one of these authority sites? First of all, you need to understand that building an authority websites requires WORK. Yes, that word was written in capitals on purpose.
You need a website that publishes top quality content on a regular basis and has a strong social media presence. Of course, since Google is constantly getting smarter at discovering the sites that try to game its algorithm, you can’t just buy 10,000 random Twitter followers and think that Google will boost the authority of your website because of that.
Social engagement has played a bigger and bigger role lately. And each authoritative website has the ability of producing great blog posts, which are then promoted through social media, stirring the fans, leading to discussions, blog comments, 100% white hat backlinks, shares, retweets, and so on.
You could always buy some social signals, of course, but it would be much harder to buy a blog mention and even a retweet from the industry thought leaders, for example. And since Google can understand who the industry leaders are, it’s quite clear that gaming its algorithm is almost impossible now.
So the first thing to note is that you need to create high quality content for your authority website – and lots of it! You don’t become an industry expert by writing five or ten good blog posts, not to mention that not all of your posts will be popular, no matter how well they are written.
Copying the Authoritative Websites
I know, it’s not nice to copy somebody else’s work, but if you go this route you’re only copying the website structure, and not the actual content pages. Find the top five authoritative websites in your industry, and then study their site structure.
Write down a list with the topics / categories covered by each one of the sites; this step is crucial, because your rankings can be negatively affected if you create irrelevant content categories. As an example, if your website produces and sells marketing videos, it doesn’t make too much sense to have an “affiliate marketing” category on your site.
By setting up proper categories, you will know where to focus your content creation efforts; Google will only consider your website to be an authority if it includes lots of articles that describe a specific industry topic in great detail.
Reinforcing the Existing Website Authority
This may come as a surprise, but Google already considers your existing website to be an authority. Sure, we are talking about a mini-authority site, but this scenario is much better than having a zero authority website, right?
I don’t know about you, but when it comes to Google’s data, I like to use Google’s tools as often as possible. So fire up Google’s own Keyword Planner tool (you’ll need a free Google account to log into it), and then choose the “Search for new keyword and ad group ideas”.
We won’t give Google any keywords to work with this time, but rather input our website URL in the “Your landing page” field and let it decide the best keywords for us.
Google’s results include “Ad group ideas”, a feature that organizes the keywords that your website should bid for into groups. But we aren’t doing a PPC campaign here; we will use the data to set up categories for our authority website.
Here’s what Google sees as “Ad group ideas” for Randombyte’s website; the first four categories could (and should!) be merged into “search engine optimization” (SEO) but all the other ones prove that I have managed to create content which tells Google what this site is actually about.
It’s time to get blog post ideas for each category. Simply open an ad group, and then isolate unique, relevant keywords; you will get plenty of ideas for your first few posts in each category most of the time. Then, run each relevant keyword through Google’s Keyword Planner once again and you will get hundreds of fresh, unique keyword ideas.
Make sure to get rid of duplicate and similar keywords; each keyword on the winners’ list should target a unique aspect of your industry. And when the Keyword Planner list is finally over, you can easily get more blog posts ideas by studying the top competitors’ blogs.
Website Authority Boosters
At this point you should have discovered the existing, relevant content categories for your website; it’s time to add the missing categories that appear on the top competitors’ sites. Use the Keyword Planner to discover fresh keywords for each one of the missing categories; this way, you will easily build a list with hundreds of blog posts for each new category. Here’s a diagram that shows how you should structure the categories and blog posts.
But maybe you are only selling merchandise that falls within a single category – why should you bother creating that much content? I can feel your pain, but it’s all part of the process of becoming an industry related authority website. Many people will only visit your site because they want to find out more about a specific topic, not because they want to buy something from you.
So don’t just produce “buy my product 1”, “buy my product 2”, etc types of articles, but take your time to create useful content that is aimed at making people spend a lot of time on your website. Not all your website traffic will convert to sales, of course, but by turning your website into a fantastic content hub, you will get more and more visitors, and some of them will become your customers sooner or later.
So now we have a nice looking diagram that contains our categories and several relevant blog post titles for each category; how do we set the things up? We can either create physical silos or virtual silos.
A silo is nothing more than a website category; it groups related information together. We want to create silos because Google chooses to rank a specific website (or not) based on one of its highly targeted pages AND its related, supporting articles. As an example, if you have created a website page that targets the “buy marketing videos” keyword, it will rank much better if this page is supported by a “marketing videos” series of articles that targets tens or hundreds of related keywords.
A physical silo uses actual website folders for categories; here is an example:
and so on.
Each silo would contain all the blog posts that belong to that particular category, just like this:
and so on.
The second option is the virtual silo solution, which works well for already existing, established websites, because it doesn’t need any site architecture change. In this case, the silo is created through the use of hyperlinks.
As an example, the “video production” silo is created by making sure that all the “video production” articles link to the “video production” page. With virtual silos, the blog posts don’t need to be placed in dedicated directories; the needed authority of the silo page is created by the links that come from the articles pointing to it.
Sounds a bit confusing? Just take a look at the picture below to see what I mean.
OK, so now we have gotten our entire authority site structure in place; the website menus should mirror it, with each menu entry leading to the proper category.
Authority Content Metrics
The time has come to create our fantastic content for each website page. Many people say that content is king, even though this isn’t necessarily true today. Still, with each new search engine algorithm update, Google improves its ability of determining the content quality.
As mentioned above, many authority sites are able to get top rankings without having to put too much content on their pages; the huge authority of their home pages allows them to rank pretty much any internal page without trying too hard. We don’t have access to this huge ranking power, though; and even if we did, it wouldn’t be wise to produce low quality content pages that may rank today, but are programmed to fail tomorrow.
So how do we know how our content pages should look like? What pages does Google want to rank at the top of its search results? The answer is once again very simple: study the top competitors’ website pages.
How many content pages do the top competitors have per category? And how many words do their pages have, on average?
If you have read some of my articles you know that I am a fan of the site: operator. Basically, “site:randombyte.com” (without using the quotes) will give you the number of pages indexed by Google for randombyte.com. This means that if you type:
in Google’s search box (one row at a time) you will find out the number of pages for each one of your competitors’ websites. But let’s move one step further; the “site:yourcompetitor.com targeted keyword” command will tell Google to return the number of pages that target a particular topic / fit a certain category. As an example,
returns 3 million pages that include “politics” or related keywords in their text. It’s a huge number, but the truth is that not all these pages are 100% optimized for “politics”. This is the perfect place to use the “allintitle” operator; its goal is to return the pages that have the specified keywords included in the page title – a much more relevant query.
This time we have got about 6,000 results, a much more manageable figure.
Finding out the average work count per page is not difficult if you use the proper tools. Download and install the SEO Quake toolbar, visit the URL that interests you, and then click the toolbar icon and choose “Page info”; you will see a window that includes a lot of useful information, including the number of words, the keyword density, and so on.
But don’t just judge a site by looking at the amount of content on its home page; its categories and blog posts could have much less or much more content. Do your homework, visiting each category page of the competitor sites, and then compute an average for at least 10-20 blog posts per category.
Your goal is to have more words on the page than the average. And since you have taken the time to visit the top sites, you should write down the best ideas that can be found on your competitors’ pages, add your own unique ideas to the mix, and then create the best industry related category page ever – how cool is that?
What about keyword density? It used to matter in the past, but those days are gone for good now. Still, if you are targeting a specific keyword, it makes a lot of sense to include it in the page content a few times.
Don’t forget to use the targeted keyword in the page URL, the page title and the description tag. Study your competitors’ page titles and description tag to see how they do it, and then learn from them.
Content Creation Shortcuts
At this point you may feel a bit disappointed; setting up an authority site really means a lot of work! While this is true, it is important to remember that by following these steps we are building a solid online business that has the potential to bring us money for decades. The good news is that there are quite a few methods that will help you get fresh content without working too hard.
1. Content curation
Content curation is the process of discovering great information published on other industry related sites, citing it, writing insightful comments that complement it, and always linking back to the source. A good content curator will discover the best resources that address a particular industry topic, combining high quality information from several blog posts and adding his own valuable insight.
With so much information being published each day, you are bound to find powerful resources that will help you create plenty of content for your website. And as you curate fresh content, you will find out that you are also learning more and more about your industry.
It won’t take you more than a few weeks to discover a small list of websites that publish outstanding content on a regular basis. Until then, you should use Google Alerts to have industry news sent to your email each day. Another powerful content curation resource that you should make use of is Scoop.it!
2. Set up a forum
Did you know that by setting up a forum you can easily add thousands, if not tens of thousands of pages to your website within a year? It is true that your products or services might not attract thousands of forum users, but maybe you can create an industry related forum that addresses a more general topic.
As an example, if you work in the car rental industry, you won’t be able to get people to talk about your services, but you can create a forum where people discuss their best and worst car rental experiences.
Setting up a forum is very simple; Hostgator offers automated installs for various forum software packages like bbPress, MyBB and phpBB, for example.
3. Add a Q&A section to your site
A Q&A platform will quickly help boost the authority of any website. OSQA is a good example; it actually helps you create an entire community around your Q&A site section. Sure, you will have to spend some time moderating the posts, answering some questions, etc, but this is an efficient method of creating useful, high quality industry related resources.
4. Reviews, Testimonials, Comments
Encourage your website visitors to get involved by giving testimonials, writing product reviews, commenting on your articles, and so on. This method is pretty much self-explanatory; just look at what Amazon is doing with its product reviews. Sure, you can’t compete with Amazon, but you can bribe your customers to leave a review by giving them a 15% discount coupon for their next purchase.
Use at least some of these content creation shortcuts to build up high quality content fast, but don’t just rely on them. Nothing beats a well researched 1,000+ words article that is then promoted on social media and attracts lots of retweets, likes, +1s, etc.
A Quick Recap
Setting up proper categories / silos for your website, and then populating those silos with high quality content is crucial. Get your top competitors’ silo ideas, add your own silos, and then implement them as physical silos (themed directories) or virtual silos (backlinks pointing to the targeted page from each relevant article).
Determine your competitors’ amount of content pages per category, and then compute the average page / blog post word count. Use content creation shortcuts to get started as quickly as possible, and then start producing fantastic content pieces, promoting them through all the major social media channels. Do this and your website will gain more and more authority, getting more and more visitors and thus becoming a very valuable business asset.