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The 5 Elements of Authoritative Content

This guest post is by Tito Philips, Jnr. of MADphilips.

Authority, in case you’ve forgotten, still rules!

ProBlogger is still relevant because of its authoritative content. If you’ve ever read an article on ProBlogger about a concept that is not relatively new, there’s an unusual approach the writer adopts that makes you wonder if you’re just learning about that very concept for the first time.

The same thing applies to mainstream blogs like ChrisBrogan, SethGodin, ZenHabits, LateralAction, and so on. You just can’t get enough of their content. Why? Because they’re authoritative!

Before you say what’s on your mind, let me help you out. These blogs are not authoritative because they have hit the mainstream, no. They are authoritative because they have certain attributes that makes their content authoritative.

1. Insight

Insight is the personal understanding gained as a result of coming in contact with particular information. Insight is the understanding gained from your own point of view. It is knowledge or information mixed with your personal experience.

Using that insight involves presenting information you gathered from somewhere else in such a way that it’s difficult to trace the similarity between your version and the original source, except when you make a direct reference. Insight is writing your own thoughts about the subject and not the author’s. It’s basically telling us what you think of the information or knowledge you’ve gathered on any particular subject.

Blogs, in most cases, are read because of the fresh perspective the authors bring to their chosen niches. This fresh perspective can only come from insight. It is the fresh perspective that makes your articles authentic, new, and authoritative. Remember: when knowledge passes from one source to another, it appreciates, rather than depreciating.

Here’s what I’ve noticed over time: people will never have enough of simple truths told in a simple manner with an unusual insight. While it is true that there’s nothing new under the sun, I believe there’s always a different angle for presenting information. After all, the only difference between how you present information you read or learned from someone else, the way they present it, is by communicating it in your own way. That is, saying it based on the unique insight you’ve gained as a result of taking in such knowledge.

Blogging would have been a joke if not for this key factor. What good comes from reading about the same stuff over and over again if it’s not appreciating in the transfer from author to author? It is the totality of your knowledge base as a writer, and the unique insight gained as a result of learning about a concept, that makes blogs worth reading.

2. Simplicity

Simplicity is about presenting information in an easy-to-understand manner. Simplicity is about making the information easily memorable by breaking it down from a complex whole to tiny understandable bits. Simplicity is the evidence of insight.

Your readers know how well you know your stuff by how simply you’re able to write about it. Complexity is evidence of incomplete learning and insufficient insight. After all, you can only give as much as you’ve received. Simplicity is the integration of the different aspects of an idea or concept in understandable and memorable manner.

Simplicity is important in blogging because people’s attention span is low. So, presenting your information in a simple manner not only shows you know your stuff, but also helps your readers to comprehend the insights you are sharing through your articles.

However, simplicity must not be confused with brevity. Simplicity deals with the presentation of the information in order to aid comprehension, while brevity refers to the length of the information in order to save time. Simple doesn’t really mean brief, and brief doesn’t really mean simple. The goal of simplicity is aiding understanding. So, if you have to say more in order for your readers to understand what you’re trying to say, you owe it to them to do so creatively.

3. Depth

Depth simply refers to how detailed your content is. Depth is about how well you’re driving home your point. Depth is the extent to which you break down the concept you’re writing about. It’s a matter of not leaving any stone unturned. I have a simple question I use to evaluate the level of depth an article has. Here’s that question:

If the reader had only till tomorrow to live and has to get something important done that my article is supposed to help them accomplish, will they be able to get that particular thing done well in such a way that when they eventually pass on the next day, those left behind can say, “Thank God he did this before dying?”

I know this is an unusual question to ask and answer with just one article or blog post. But what good is a solution that only half-solves the problem? What we must all realize as bloggers is that each post or article we write is supposed to help our readers get things done. So when we leave out any detail, no matter how insignificant it might seem, we have failed in helping them solve the problem they came to our site with. So, stop the assumptions and touch on all the vital areas of the concept you’re writing about.

The source of this problem is that we are always too quick to assume that the reader already knows about the subject in question, and they only need a little reminder. So we undermine the importance of details, and leave our readers hanging and wondering how and where else to go to in order to fill in the blanks.

The solution is to put yourself in the reader’s shoes and ask yourself, “If I were searching for information on this particular subject, what would the perfect or ideal information entail?”

Then go ahead and provide all the details of such information in your article.

I know what you are thinking right now: brevity rules right? Not all of the time! Brevity only rules if within your article you have hyperlinks to other articles that will help your readers find answers to the incomplete information you’ve provided. Besides that, you have only succeeded in making your readers more unsatisfied. Why? Because you provided incomplete information as a solution to a problem. So help your readers solve the problem you’re writing to solve. Don’t just provide a teaser, go the whole nine yards!

4. Breadth

If depth is about details, then breadth is about association. It answers the question, “How do the insights you’re sharing relate to other relevant concepts/subjects/principles/ideas familiar to the reader?”

Breadth helps the reader to move from abstract to practical. It bridges the gap between theory and practice. It helps the reader to make sense of what your content is all about, as they can easily associate your idea, concept, or principle with one that’s already familiar to them.

There are three key ways to bring breadth into you content:

  • Storytelling helps your reader to associate the information you provide with a similar concept that’s familiar to them. It helps your readers get familiar with the ideas, concepts, or principles your content is trying to get across to them. The way our mind works is by associating new information with that which we already understand. So by telling a story in your article, you help readers to better apply the content to their own unique situation.

    Storytelling adds to the authoritativeness of your content as it helps the reader answer the question of whether your argument is valid or not. When you relate an idea, concept, or principle with a story, the reader gets a feeling that you are not the only one who invented the idea or principle you’re sharing. As humans, we are configured as social animals. We validate things based on how much acceptance they’ve gained from others. So a story helps readers to trust your information, as they can associate it with reality.

  • Referencing others is another approach to bringing in breadth into your content. This is a very powerful way of increasing the credibility of your content. That experts other than you also share the same opinion or views about the topic helps to make your readers put more trust in you.

    The mere fact that you have read the work of some other person your readers consider an authority on a particular issue puts you in a position of authority yourself. Why? Because it suggests to the reader that you do your homework well. You don’t just come up with solo ideas, but build up on the ideas of others that your readers consider experts. In other words, if the reader thinks the idea you’re sharing makes sense, then it really does make sense, and they will be grateful you took the pain to make the reference available. As a blogger, your content must be built on solid and credible principles for which you can creatively provide sources of reference. Also, it means you have to be an avid learner and acute observer, taking notes and keeping in touch with thought leaders in your particular industry.

    Your reference could also come in form of statistical information about certain phenomena. Facts and figures and their sources are also great ways of adding breadth to your content through referencing.

  • Using Analogies: this is similar to storytelling. But analogies are not as lengthy as stories; they are short and to the point. The use of analogies can help your readers grasp the underlying message in your content.

5. Relevance

The whole point of providing authoritative content is to help your readers solve a pressing problem. People don’t read for the mere fun of reading: they read because they want to learn and apply knowledge or information creatively in order to solve a problem.

So here’s the big question: are your contents relevant to the audience you are writing them for?

All of the techniques listed above will be totally useless if you’re providing a content that is not relevant to your readers. For example, I basically write about business development and entrepreneurship. When the idea of this post came into my mind, there was no way I was going to write about this on my blog, because of its unique audience—entrepreneurs. As you know, entrepreneurs are not limited to online businesses alone, so I had to find some other place where this content would be relevant. The first two places that came to my mind were ProBlogger and CopyBlogger. Why? Because that is where Internet entrepreneurs gather to learn about blogging and Internet marketing.

This point is pretty clear and needs very little explanation. The basic thing to keep in mind is this: write the right content for the right audience. Guest blogging, apart from its marketing intention, was created for this purpose. Let your blog as a whole stick to what it has promised readers.

Your turn. Are there other ingredients to writing authoritative content? Please share your views and ideas below.

Tito Philips, Jnr. is an unusual Nigerian that is passionate about helping people, businesses and lives become significant [different and making a difference]. He’s the CEO of MADphilips and the publisher of naijapreneur! a business development blog. Connect on twitter @MADphilips

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Comments

  1. I especially liked this post because the content and the style were totally in sync. Even if you didn’t understand the words but looked at the structure you could get the message from that, the repeated use of the titles of the different sections. Excellent.

  2. RESEARCH- I blog about investing in Kenya and what gives me authority is my quality of research I feed my audience

  3. Focusing on these 5 elements is brilliant, thank you for posting. I have to especially agree with your point on simplicity, because people today do have very short attention spans. We all crave bullet pointed lists. I will refer people to this post to help drive these very important points.
    Thanks.

  4. I do agree with you on your points but do you mind give some tips on how we, especially new bloggers will be able to get such qualities in our writing?

    I’m sure major part of it is experience. What about other than that?

  5. Nice post, Tito!

    I think relevance stands out to me the most, because if you’re not being relevant, then you’re just not worth anyone’s time.

    I’ve been listening to Internet Marketing for Smart People (Copyblogger’s weekly radio show) lately, and Brian keeps driving the point that you need to identify what your potential readers want … what they’re interested in, what they need, what they like … because if you don’t produce content for them, then you won’t attract them.

    As much as I hate research, looking into what people are searching for with search engines is such a great way to find what your target readers want.

    • Relevance is the essence of what we all do as bloggers. We help our readers solve pressing problems through the contents we create. The more reason why we must focus on helping them than on just speaking our minds or showing up just because of the money.

      Know your audience and focus on making a difference in their lives, then watch your authority as a blogger shoot through the roof.

  6. Clarity says:

    I find this post very well written and informative.

  7. Lea Sadler says:

    Insight is oh, so important. So much of what we see out there is simply regurgitated info from one source to the other. And facts are important to have, of course! But what will put that truly unique twist on any fact is what it means to you, the writer, with all the experience you possess. And that’s so much more than a simple fact, because it connects the dots for your readers in a way they may never have thought of.

    And that’s really worth something.

  8. Joy says:

    A very nice post that gives new bloggers something to aim for. I was wondering exactly what made an authoritative blog and now I know.
    Relevance and insight is what has stood out the most for me here. Cheers.

  9. David says:

    A good Web designer should have some basic understanding of the concepts of Usability. Usability is the study of how humans interact with Web pages.

    I agree with you on your 5 elements of Authoritative content.

  10. Tito Philips, Jnr. hmm! This is a great post on writing Authoritative Content. Thanks for sharing

  11. Shelley Heath says:

    On the whole I think it is a great article, but if you have not undertaken studies/experiments yourself you should always reference where that initial idea came from, even if you come up with a unique and creative angle; then people can read more on it, even if it is to satisfy their curiosity. I don’t think the references need to be provided creatively… more simply and truthfully…. as you say no idea is really unique. To that end references are equally important to depth. With breadth you include references to information that may extend your audiences knowledge beyond your article but in depth you authenticate your article.

    I also disagree with this sweeping statement of yours…
    “People don’t read for the mere fun of reading: they read because they want to learn and apply knowledge or information creatively in order to solve a problem.” (Philips 2011)
    I read for a variety of reasons… to be entertained… to be informed… to be educated … out of curiosity and yes just for fun as well.

    One subject you did not cover is that of copyright, ie people should respect other’s copyright with respect to photos, diagrams, tables etc. Rule of thumb, if you didn’t produce it you need to provide a picline referencing the original creator/designer that is after making sure you have permission to reproduce the picture etc (i.e. is the picture licensed under Creative Commons? If so what is the license? If not approach the creator and ask for permission (note this is not always free)).

    Also another is Plagiarism which is closely related to copyright… if you use the words of another verbatim you should include these in quotation marks and add a reference to the original source (if it is on the web it needs to be a link).

    Well that is my two cents worth.

  12. Himanshu says:

    deep thought into content writing. liked the post very much. thanks

  13. Andrew Hill says:

    Thanks, Tito, for those tips. Perhaps another element could be photos, images, diagrams and artwork, if chosen carefully to support the written message. I think these things help to make a post more memorable, especially when they complement any stories and analogies included in the post. Diagrams and charts, too, can enhance the authority of a post by conveying a lot of supporting information at a glance.

  14. Emmanuel says:

    Thanks Tito,

    What I actually do is get these “Authority Bloggers” to say some things in their own words and it is working quite well on my site.

    Emmanuel

  15. Very helpful!! I will make sure that I apply this to my blog everyday. Thank you

  16. You should believe in what you are writing and that belief comes when you have tried and tested your information and can vouch for it. If you know something works and you have tried it first hand, then only recommend it to others… do it and then share.

  17. Eric Chaump says:

    Tito

    Excellent post! I just started blogging to build my personal brand for an MBA class. These tips are really going to help me. I hope you don’t mind if I share this with my classmates.

    Thanks,
    Eric

  18. Simon Little says:

    Good post Tito, I think one of the key elements to the last point is that it is easier to become an authority on a very specific, niche topic – in other words, that if you are writing material that is relevant to a very small group you will naturally be an authority within that small sphere of people

  19. Chris Arlen says:

    Love the simplicity. Quote from a character in one of Kurt Vonnegut’s novels, paraphrased here: “If you can’t explain something to a five year old, then you don’t know what you’re talking about.”

  20. Allen Walker says:

    Another vital ingredient I think is marketing. :) Without marketing, it’s hard to put your content across as being authoritative from a perspective point of view.

  21. Belize says:

    I believe positioning is extremely important and can make a huge difference in how your blog is regarded within an industry. Being immersed in your niche can put you over a competitor, that for example visits once a year to update stats and then goes away.

    Living in the niche area that you cover, for example a travel blog devoted to a geographical area, can more easily make you an authority. Research of course is critical, but like in the real world, location, location and location can make the difference.

  22. To me the most powerful too in showing me how much someone knows about their subject matter is depth. Judging from how in-depth this article is, you’re a freakin’ expert! Cheers!

  23. Kerry Lea says:

    Interesting read and good advice on keeping a blog fresh and easy to understand. At the same time having the right content for the right audience. Thanks.

  24. Benleem says:

    Eye opener and intensely in-depth. Great work.

  25. John says:

    This article is really an eye opener for me, tell me if I can write articles such as this big, will it be acceptable by my readers,search engines to read short articles which is accurate to the point.