How Does The Web Define Authority

secret identity The famous caption from The New Yorker cartoon reads, “On the Internet, no one knows you’re a dog.” This is most vexing for PR and marketing types who find themselves trying to reach out and understand which bloggers and social media types might be influencers, which ones have some kind of authority, and which ones might be cobblers and tinkerers. It’s a complex question, and I don’t pretend that I can fully answer the title of this blog post. Instead, I wanted to do two things with this post: give PR and marketing types a place to start, and also give others a chance to weigh in on their take on authority and how it’s measured on the web.

If you find your comments going long, feel free to blog it, and link to the post in the comments section. Why not spread the idea out there and get your community chewing on it as well?

How the Web Defines Authority

It would be easy to bog ourselves down in definitions of the word “authority” itself. In this case, let’s agree that the working definition as it pertains to this topic is: a blog or website or even an individual person and their credibility, knowledge, and reputation on the Web. Is this close enough? How would you change this? If we agree, or are close enough, let’s go on.

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**Update**: Most people did NOT agree. They said that what we covered with the methods listed below dealt with web celebrity. The comments first in line all say something similar.

Great, then do you have other tools that you’d say show how the web measures authority? If the tools below measure web popularity, where are the authority tools?

—————–

Google measures the authority of websites by way of PageRank. Understanding a site’s PageRank only tells you what Google thinks of a site. My site is ranked a 6, which is reasonable, but not extraordinary. Cross Google and they dump your rank fairly low. (SEO types, chime in here)

Technorati ranks your site by way of inbound links from unique websites over the last six months. Meaning, now that Seth Godin has linked to me here once, Technorati doesn’t care about Seth for another six months (as he relates to my site). Thus, your Technorati ranking is essentially a measure of whether you’ve written anything someone else has decided to link to in the last several months, and the number of somebodies is what determines your “authority.”

Alexa ranks your site via how many people visit it based on their statistics. I’ve heard conflicting information over the years as to how this actually is done. Instead of Alexa, I tend to use Compete, which I feel provides better, more actionable information. Just the same, knowing that more-than-a-few people visit a site gives one a sense of whether someone values it or not.

Yahoo provides a way to see how many inbound links a website has received via their Site Explorer. This again tells you whether someone’s efforts are resonating well around the web at large.

Hubspot puts lots of these together in one place with their Website Grader tool. (They also make Twitter Grader, and one for PR). It’s very useful in getting a quick sniff of a lot of the above results. (Maybe they’ll add compete.com?)

Other Ways to Determine Authority

As the web splinters out and content atomizes even more, there are new ways to determine someone’s reputation, potential level of influence, and more. But here’s where it gets a little wishy washy, and where I’m sure there’s more and more opportunity to dispute any of these ideas.

Social networks like Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn give one a relatively quick snapshot of someone’s online interactivity. You can do a quick scan of a Twitter user’s last few pages of tweets and see what they talk about. You can use Twitter Search and see how many people respond to that user. If nothing else, you could see how many people are connected to this individual.

I flinch a bit when I say this. It’s not a numbers game. And yet, do numbers tell us anything about a person? Maybe. What’s your thought on that one?

Googling someone to see just how much of a digital footprint she leaves is also one way to see if someone has a presence on the web. I did this once with a “social media expert” that I met at an event, and unless they use an interesting alias, I couldn’t find barely a trace of this person either directly on several social networks, nor via Google itself.

Your Thoughts

What does this all tell you? Where do you go with this? How does an organization start to learn who’s who on the web, who might have authority and influence, and get some sense of the scope of what this person is doing?

Is someone already doing something useful and powerful in this space?

And if you found the ultimate source for determining the above, would it still help you trust someone you knew solely from the web?

Photo credit, Juria Yoshikawa

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  • http://www.mymodernmet.com Alice

    Great questions you pose. How do we define authority – particularly in this massive space? Depends on who you are asking. I also hate to make it a numbers game but in the end that’s what most people will first look at.

    I run a social network called ‘My Modern Metropolis’ and I’ve noticed that authority goes hand-in-hand with authenticity. (Yes, that buzz word again.) As an example, my sister puts out her shopping/fashion posts and everyone flocks to read them mostly bc they know that consistently she puts out good shit. I can vouch for it and so can several others, in a real world sort of way.

    Authority comes with having relationships outside of the net and then building that relationship through everyday interactions. Compound that with people who can vouch for him/her and you have someone who people will listen to.

  • http://www.mymodernmet.com Alice

    Great questions you pose. How do we define authority – particularly in this massive space? Depends on who you are asking. I also hate to make it a numbers game but in the end that’s what most people will first look at.

    I run a social network called ‘My Modern Metropolis’ and I’ve noticed that authority goes hand-in-hand with authenticity. (Yes, that buzz word again.) As an example, my sister puts out her shopping/fashion posts and everyone flocks to read them mostly bc they know that consistently she puts out good shit. I can vouch for it and so can several others, in a real world sort of way.

    Authority comes with having relationships outside of the net and then building that relationship through everyday interactions. Compound that with people who can vouch for him/her and you have someone who people will listen to.

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  • Tiwa

    Authority is truly determined by the judgment of the listener/reader. As pointed to numerous times in the posts above, popularity, as judged through the analytics tools, can be easily skewed both online and offline. Therefore, it’s very difficult to use the tools to measure authority as there is too much “noise” that impact the numbers.

    If you look at the traditional medias, say a medical journal, authority is determined through review by peers that give validity to the content further validated through the readers and others referencing the content. Fundamentally, this is a function of the readers’ network of trusted relationships and/or relied upon sources which is determined through the readers’ judgment – not by the number of readers the journal has.

    Thinking about this from a personal perspective, I asked myself why I read chrisbrogan.com and trust the content. Simple answer – I’ve read his content and determined that the content is insightful, useful, intelligent, and provocative. Additionally, some of my trusted colleagues also follow Chris which further validated the “authority” classification.

    Another example is Jonathan Fields post to this article which, upon reading it, I consider insightful, useful, intelligent, etc… (I immediately opened his site in another tab and book marked it.)

    So, I don’t think there is going to be a tool that can measure authority with any accuracy in the near future. In the mean time, marketers need to stay engaged with their consumers, clients, and audiences to determine where the authorities and influencers are. It’ll require the tried and true method of asking them.

  • Tiwa

    Authority is truly determined by the judgment of the listener/reader. As pointed to numerous times in the posts above, popularity, as judged through the analytics tools, can be easily skewed both online and offline. Therefore, it’s very difficult to use the tools to measure authority as there is too much “noise” that impact the numbers.

    If you look at the traditional medias, say a medical journal, authority is determined through review by peers that give validity to the content further validated through the readers and others referencing the content. Fundamentally, this is a function of the readers’ network of trusted relationships and/or relied upon sources which is determined through the readers’ judgment – not by the number of readers the journal has.

    Thinking about this from a personal perspective, I asked myself why I read chrisbrogan.com and trust the content. Simple answer – I’ve read his content and determined that the content is insightful, useful, intelligent, and provocative. Additionally, some of my trusted colleagues also follow Chris which further validated the “authority” classification.

    Another example is Jonathan Fields post to this article which, upon reading it, I consider insightful, useful, intelligent, etc… (I immediately opened his site in another tab and book marked it.)

    So, I don’t think there is going to be a tool that can measure authority with any accuracy in the near future. In the mean time, marketers need to stay engaged with their consumers, clients, and audiences to determine where the authorities and influencers are. It’ll require the tried and true method of asking them.

  • http://warner-carter.com/blog Warner Carter

    The people (and their sites) who have authority are the people who have produced something that gets my attention and impresses me when they provide useful and interesting discussion.

    I remember these people. When I see they have said something new I want to see what it is. I want to share what they say on my blog and to my mail list. I respect their judgment and insight.

    This is a subjective interpretation but I will stick with it as the primary definition of what authority is.

    This experience multiplied enough times will result in other definitions of authority that can be quantified more objectively and measured mathematically like page rank, subscribers, page 1 on Google, number of subscribers, but it happens one person at a time.

  • http://warner-carter.com/blog Warner Carter

    The people (and their sites) who have authority are the people who have produced something that gets my attention and impresses me when they provide useful and interesting discussion.

    I remember these people. When I see they have said something new I want to see what it is. I want to share what they say on my blog and to my mail list. I respect their judgment and insight.

    This is a subjective interpretation but I will stick with it as the primary definition of what authority is.

    This experience multiplied enough times will result in other definitions of authority that can be quantified more objectively and measured mathematically like page rank, subscribers, page 1 on Google, number of subscribers, but it happens one person at a time.

  • Anonymous

    Great post Chris!

    I think the seven fundamental criteria that the web ends up using are:

    • trust and credibility (old school ethos)
    • celebrity
    • unique or quirky
    • funny
    • useful
    • emotional & personal.

    I think you could add an eighth around issues like:
    • energy/movement/meme
    • community.

    Or perhaps real world trust and credibility (aka the Wall Street Journal)

    Three of the most helpful guides in terms of authority/search engine optimization are:

    Aaron Wall’s Work (Pretty) Comprehensive Guide to SEO
    http://www.work.com/learning-search-engine-optimization-1053/ provides a breakdown of how Google views trust and authority.

    This is a fantastic post from SEO Moz, which gathered statistical rankings from the top search marketers:
    http://www.seomoz.org/article/search-ranking-factors
    It provides a great rubric for understanding authority online.

    Dosh Dosh did an excellent post on perceived trust online, which also might prove helpful. Here is a different post, which provides action steps to becoming an authority in your niche: http://www.doshdosh.com/how-to-become-an-authority-in-your-niche/

    Google started something called “Trust Rank” which I thought superceded PR as a measure. For instance, some lower PR’s still show up higher than pages with higher PR.
    Check out the SEOBook Firefox plug in to see. (note: the article above from Aaron does only reference PR, not trust rank)

    Hope you manage to have some R & R over the next couple of days.

  • http://compassioninpolitics.wordpress.com Nathan Ketsdever

    Great post Chris!

    I think the seven fundamental criteria that the web ends up using are:

    • trust and credibility (old school ethos)
    • celebrity
    • unique or quirky
    • funny
    • useful
    • emotional & personal.

    I think you could add an eighth around issues like:
    • energy/movement/meme
    • community.

    Or perhaps real world trust and credibility (aka the Wall Street Journal)

    Three of the most helpful guides in terms of authority/search engine optimization are:

    Aaron Wall’s Work (Pretty) Comprehensive Guide to SEO
    http://www.work.com/learning-search-engine-optimization-1053/ provides a breakdown of how Google views trust and authority.

    This is a fantastic post from SEO Moz, which gathered statistical rankings from the top search marketers:
    http://www.seomoz.org/article/search-ranking-factors
    It provides a great rubric for understanding authority online.

    Dosh Dosh did an excellent post on perceived trust online, which also might prove helpful. Here is a different post, which provides action steps to becoming an authority in your niche: http://www.doshdosh.com/how-to-become-an-authority-in-your-niche/

    Google started something called “Trust Rank” which I thought superceded PR as a measure. For instance, some lower PR’s still show up higher than pages with higher PR.
    Check out the SEOBook Firefox plug in to see. (note: the article above from Aaron does only reference PR, not trust rank)

    Hope you manage to have some R & R over the next couple of days.

  • http://TrustEnablement.com Alex Todd

    Excellent discussion, which brings out many of the key issues. Here is my perspective.

    The question is not one of authority, but of “sources of trust”. In other words, to what extent does a person rely on the opinions or observations of any given source (what Chris calls authority) before taking a specific consequential action? For example, when hiring a candidate for employment the employer may rely on the candidate’s resume, an interview and three references. The “authority” in that case is the candidate (the candidate is the most authoritative source for their own credentials). However, trust is not based on the candidate’s authority alone. Authoritativeness is only one consideration. Here are some other examples of where authoritativeness is insufficient:

    - One thumb up by Siskel or Ebert was often not sufficient to persuade a moviegoer to see the movie. Two authorities had to be in agreement;

    - A driver’s license does not mean you are a good driver;

    - Holding a US passport does not guarantee you are not a terrorist; etc.

    By contrast, “the wisdom of crowds” can be far more reliable in some cases (read the book by James Surowiecki).

    Although it is helpful to identify the authority and the most credible source, it is not sufficient for trust. Trust is the ultimate objective, since it gives the relying party (the customer) the confidence they need to accept a value proposition. We should instead take a relying party’s (user’s or consumer’s) perspective about their preferred sources of trust and how they use them to attain sufficient levels of trust and confidence to make a consequential decision or take a consequential action.

    The more valuable question is “How does the consumer develop trust?”

    Finally to answer Chris’ question:
    “And if you found the ultimate source for determining the above, would it still help you trust someone you knew solely from the web?”

    Yes, it would help you trust that person for something very specific. However, it would not allow you to have absolute trust in that person for everything (which is what the question implies).

    Absolute trust does not exist. Even self-trust (how much you trust yourself) is conditional, affected by your mood, hormones, hunger, alcohol consumed, etc. Trust is contextual. “A” relies on (or trusts) “B” for a specific “C”.

    BTW, I am currently running an Insider’s Poll on Trust in Online Social Networks. It only takes 3 minutes to complete and you will receive the results. We already have more than 270 responses that are delivering a compelling message with profound implications for management (marketers included). The poll closes Friday, September 19th at midnight eastern time, so you only have a few hours from this posting to weigh in and receive the results.

    Here is the link to the poll: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s.aspx?sm=QQIMGDHTJPgVAQVdkaulUw_3d_3d

  • http://TrustEnablement.com Alex Todd

    Excellent discussion, which brings out many of the key issues. Here is my perspective.

    The question is not one of authority, but of “sources of trust”. In other words, to what extent does a person rely on the opinions or observations of any given source (what Chris calls authority) before taking a specific consequential action? For example, when hiring a candidate for employment the employer may rely on the candidate’s resume, an interview and three references. The “authority” in that case is the candidate (the candidate is the most authoritative source for their own credentials). However, trust is not based on the candidate’s authority alone. Authoritativeness is only one consideration. Here are some other examples of where authoritativeness is insufficient:

    - One thumb up by Siskel or Ebert was often not sufficient to persuade a moviegoer to see the movie. Two authorities had to be in agreement;

    - A driver’s license does not mean you are a good driver;

    - Holding a US passport does not guarantee you are not a terrorist; etc.

    By contrast, “the wisdom of crowds” can be far more reliable in some cases (read the book by James Surowiecki).

    Although it is helpful to identify the authority and the most credible source, it is not sufficient for trust. Trust is the ultimate objective, since it gives the relying party (the customer) the confidence they need to accept a value proposition. We should instead take a relying party’s (user’s or consumer’s) perspective about their preferred sources of trust and how they use them to attain sufficient levels of trust and confidence to make a consequential decision or take a consequential action.

    The more valuable question is “How does the consumer develop trust?”

    Finally to answer Chris’ question:
    “And if you found the ultimate source for determining the above, would it still help you trust someone you knew solely from the web?”

    Yes, it would help you trust that person for something very specific. However, it would not allow you to have absolute trust in that person for everything (which is what the question implies).

    Absolute trust does not exist. Even self-trust (how much you trust yourself) is conditional, affected by your mood, hormones, hunger, alcohol consumed, etc. Trust is contextual. “A” relies on (or trusts) “B” for a specific “C”.

    BTW, I am currently running an Insider’s Poll on Trust in Online Social Networks. It only takes 3 minutes to complete and you will receive the results. We already have more than 270 responses that are delivering a compelling message with profound implications for management (marketers included). The poll closes Friday, September 19th at midnight eastern time, so you only have a few hours from this posting to weigh in and receive the results.

    Here is the link to the poll: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s.aspx?sm=QQIMGDHTJPgVAQVdkaulUw_3d_3d

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  • http://www.dougfirebaugh.squarespace.com Doug Firebaugh

    Great post Chris-Authority on the web seems to be evolving daily-if not hourly. There is much written on it, sites with “experts” that train on it, but yet no one can explain why certain things happen dealing with authority on the web. Hot post and very thought provoking.

  • http://www.dougfirebaugh.squarespace.com Doug Firebaugh

    Great post Chris-Authority on the web seems to be evolving daily-if not hourly. There is much written on it, sites with “experts” that train on it, but yet no one can explain why certain things happen dealing with authority on the web. Hot post and very thought provoking.

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  • http://dantcer.multiply.com Linda

    Web authority = credibility. Many may not like the message, but as long as the messenger is credible, you’ll have readers.

  • http://dantcer.multiply.com Linda

    Web authority = credibility. Many may not like the message, but as long as the messenger is credible, you’ll have readers.

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  • http://www.tribebuilding.com Ed Welch

    Hi Chris:

    Ideally, the web should emulate the best practices people have used for many years. Authority should be no different. For example, you probably define authority the same way I do – by watching who experts consider to be experts.

    For example, before I became a member of Seth’s Triiibes.com – I had never heard of you – nor had I visited your blog. However, Seth has a few recommended blogs listed – one of which happens to be yours. Placing tremendous value on Seth’s recommendations – I automatically consider you to have tremendous authority.
    Now I visit your blog and pay attention to what you write.

    Unfortunately, the web has yet to develop a good system to emulate this. Google’s PageRank is probably the closest – but it’s unreliable and suffers from several flaws. The biggest flaw – IMHO – happens when only a few top blogs in a certain niche consistently regurgitate links to one another. We all do it – it’s much less time consuming to have a pool of X number of blogs we follow and 95% of our links go to those blogs. This creates a type of “good ole boy system” where authority is skewed tremendously.

    The solution I propose would be based on the way we determine authority naturally (as described above).

    However, I’m not sure it could be completely automated.

  • http://www.tribebuilding.com Ed Welch

    Hi Chris:

    Ideally, the web should emulate the best practices people have used for many years. Authority should be no different. For example, you probably define authority the same way I do – by watching who experts consider to be experts.

    For example, before I became a member of Seth’s Triiibes.com – I had never heard of you – nor had I visited your blog. However, Seth has a few recommended blogs listed – one of which happens to be yours. Placing tremendous value on Seth’s recommendations – I automatically consider you to have tremendous authority.
    Now I visit your blog and pay attention to what you write.

    Unfortunately, the web has yet to develop a good system to emulate this. Google’s PageRank is probably the closest – but it’s unreliable and suffers from several flaws. The biggest flaw – IMHO – happens when only a few top blogs in a certain niche consistently regurgitate links to one another. We all do it – it’s much less time consuming to have a pool of X number of blogs we follow and 95% of our links go to those blogs. This creates a type of “good ole boy system” where authority is skewed tremendously.

    The solution I propose would be based on the way we determine authority naturally (as described above).

    However, I’m not sure it could be completely automated.

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  • http://www.syedtaha.com/link-building/list-of-free-web-directories/18/ List of free directories

    great article. building an authority website on a new niche seems to be easy than getting on an existing one.

  • http://www.syedtaha.com/link-building/list-of-free-web-directories/18/ List of free directories

    great article. building an authority website on a new niche seems to be easy than getting on an existing one.

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  • http://www.advanceddatarecovery.co.uk data recovery

    yes, I agree to you that building an authority website on a new niche seems to be easy than getting on an existing one.

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  • http://temusados.com.br Temusados

    great post, thx to share with us.

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