If there is one thing that most online businesses need to understand, it's this: you can't become an authority overnight. This is especially crucial to come to terms with when you realize that it takes a certain element of "authority" to compete against other websites in the search results.
The whole point of Destination Search Engine Marketing is about achieving rankings because you have earned the right to be there, rather than having outsmarted the search engine algorithm. In non-competitive areas, achieving top rankings often doesn't take much effort. But when you're targeting keywords in more competitive fields you're going up against other websites that have already established themselves in that space. Many of those competitors are are, in fact, the authority for those keywords.
That's not to say that these sites can't be uprooted from their firmly established top positions, but to do so you're going to have to prove that your site is of even higher value to your target audience. And to do that you'll have to do more than just show up on the playing field.
Building an authority takes time
Almost universally, to become considered as an authority on any topic takes time. People who write topical books that vault to the top of the bestsellers lists often have had years of experience under their belt. Businesses that are known as "the place to go" for certain things have gotten to that point because they have spent years demonstrating to customers what they can achieve.
You can't set-up a website and expect it to outperform other sites that have been established for a long time. In fact, if anything, it's much more difficult to do with websites than with brick and mortar stores. Online, it's not just what people are saying about you now, it's about what they've said about you in the past. Yesterday's authority can still outperform today's authority simply because time is working in their favor.
Let's say Store A was a very popular store for several years. It was the talk of the town. Newspapers wrote reviews and news stories about it, friends told their friends who told their friends. But over time Store A stopped being innovative. They still do what they do well enough, but not exceptionally well. Positive newspapers reviews came to a trickle and friends stopped telling their friends as often.
You see an opportunity here so you open up Store B. You offer something similar as Store A but add the excitement and innovation back into the game. So now people start talking about your store, newspapers start writing reviews and news stories and friends start telling their friends who tell their friends.
Over a few month period you've firmly established yourself in the field. Everybody who's visited your store know you're better than Store A in all aspects. By all accounts, you would be the store that deserves the better search engine rankings. The problem is, Store A was the go-to destination for several years before you even came along. All the news stories, reviews and word of mouth they achieved over those years is still working hard for them when it comes to the search engine algorithms.
Why is that? Because online, news stories, reviews, word of mouth mentions and the like are all permanent. These are done in the form of links, and as long as those new stories, reviews and word of mouth mentions remain online with active links, they continue to be votes for Site A. In fact, even current mentions of how Store A isn't as great as it once was can also be seen as favorable to the algorithms.
So how do you surpass this former authority in the search results? You have to continue to get reviews, news stories, and word of mouth mentions. You have to build upon your relevance and hope that the relevance of the other site diminishes. You have to focus on building your site up and let all the goodwill from your visitors accumulate into more and more links.
And that takes time.
Building an authority takes presence
Time alone is not enough to earn search engine rankings, you have to be sure you are building up your presence as an authority. Sure, you can be an authority, you can have great content and provide a fantastic user experience but unless you're able to establish your presence among your target audience, none of that will make any difference.
In our example above we noted that both Site A and Site B were able to achieve favorable reviews, news stories and excellent word of mouth. Those things were helping those sites establish their presence as an authority. They were crucial.
Let's look at the above story a different way. Let's say Store A is still considered the go-to authority. People still love Store A and over years it's accumulated many favorable reviews, news stories, word of mouth, etc.
Along you come with Store B. You found a weakness in Store A and fill that gap. You feel that you are superior to Store A and you believe that others will too. The problem is, people are not that interested in going to a new store. Store A is comfortable. They know where it is, they understand how it works, they know how to move around and find what they want from it.
You've been able to improve upon all the things that people like about Store A, you just got to let people know about it. You invite people to come to your store in hopes of getting some positive reviews, news stories and word of mouth. After a few months you've been able to get some of those things happening, but nowhere near the amount of reviews, positive mentions and word of mouth that Store A continues to get.
This is because you have yet to truly establish yourself as a contender in the field. Those that find you find you favorable to the competition, but so far only a few are finding you. You don't have enough presence yet to draw the people that'll write the big news stories, publish the reviews that get in front of more eyeballs, and spread the word to the bigger crowds.
You can see where where time and presence go hand in hand. Presence is often a slow build, unless you have an already established name behind you. Why do you think companies try to get celebrity endorsements? The celebrity endorsement helps them build a presence that they wouldn't otherwise have. They've circumvented time by buying the presence.
How to become an authority
There are two ways to become an authority. One way, as I mentioned above, is to buy it. You can't buy time, but you can buy presence. Online this is done by purchasing links, blog reviews, etc. If you're making an outright purchase then you really don't have to establish yourself as an authority, you're paying other people to do it for you.
The other way to become an authority is to earn it. Earning it, of course, takes time. But over time, do the following:
Establish credibility: The more customers you serve and the better job you do of meeting their needs, the more credible you'll be. You have to prove yourself as a legitimate business that truly understands the needs and wants of your target audience.
Customer service: It's not enough to provide a product or service to your customers, you actually have to meet their wants and needs. You have to go out of your way to ensure customer satisfaction.
Build relationships: As you serve your customers, build a relationship with them. You can do this by keeping the doors of communication open, whether through a blog, product reviews, support line, etc. Listen to their needs and work hard to fill any areas that are unmet.
Nurture business ties: You can go a long way doing nothing more than just serving your audience, but you'll go a lot further if you nurture your relationships with others in the industry. They don't have to be direct competitors, maybe even distributors or suppliers, but either way, build up those ties as they can be beneficial to you.
Get testimonials: Testimonials and product reviews go a long way to building up your presence and authority. Look for opportunities to get testimonials that can be published on your website and encourage your satisfied customers to write reviews at the appropriate places.
There is also a third way to build authority, and that is a combination of the first two. Attempting to purchase it outright is counter-intuitive to Destination SEM and does nothing to build a Destination Website that visitors flock to. On the other hand, if you are establishing yourself as an authority in the truest sense, purchasing a little exposure never hurts.
I'm not suggesting you go out and buy a bunch of crappy links. Quite the opposite. Just as some companies use celebrity endorsements, you can look for ways to get the word out about your Destination Website. Hire a firm to do some social media marketing, create some link worthy material, optimize your site for targeted keyword phrases, start making industry contacts and establishing links, etc.
The goal here isn't to circumvent the process of becoming an authority. It's about becoming an authority and finding ways to reduce the amount of time it takes for others and the search engines to know this. You don't have to be in business for years to deserve top rankings, but time can be an essential momentum builder.
Read more about Destination Search Engine Marketing:
Part I: Do you Deserve Top Search Rankings?
Part II: What Would Sudden Exposure Get You?
Part III: Standing Out in a Sea of Thousands
Part IV: It's Not Just Marketing as Usual
Seven Building Blocks of a Destination Website
#1: Expert Information
#1b: Seven Types of Expert Information
#3: Website Design
#4: Unique Value Proposition
#5: Time and Presence
#7: Trust and Credibility
Stoney deGeyter is the President of Pole Position Marketing, a leading search engine optimization and marketing firm helping businesses grow since 1998. Stoney is a frequent speaker at website marketing conferences and has published hundreds of helpful SEO, SEM and small business articles.
If you'd like Stoney deGeyter to speak at your conference, seminar, workshop or provide in-house training to your team, contact him via his site or by phone at 866-685-3374.
Stoney pioneered the concept of Destination Search Engine Marketing which is the driving philosophy of how Pole Position Marketing helps clients expand their online presence and grow their businesses. Stoney is Associate Editor at Search Engine Guide and has written several SEO and SEM e-books including E-Marketing Performance; The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period!; Keyword Research and Selection, Destination Search Engine Marketing, and more.
Stoney has five wonderful children and spends his free time reviewing restaurants and other things to do in Canton, Ohio.
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