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How to Make Your Online Authority Authentic

10 min read

As a followup to her recent guest post on online authority, Amy Aitman sits down to discuss building authority in more detail with MarketMuse Co-founder and Chief Product Officer Jeff Coyle. After the webinar, Amy took the time to participate in an ask-me-anything session in our Slack Community, The Content Strategy Collective (join here). Here are the webinar notes followed by a transcript of the AMA.

The Webinar

Your Target Audience

Set yourself up for success by doing the research ahead of time. Determine the potential of a niche audience to see whether it can be monetized and that there’s a solid trend forming. With our portfolio of 40 sites, we have access to some rather unique trend data which factors into the early days of establishing a site. Keyword research helps you find the clusters of topics around which you can create content and establish authority.

Use Experts

Make sure writers have expertise on the subject matter about which they write. For example, on our travel website, we use writers that actually travel so they have a unique insight. They can answer all the questions that a reader would have about the subject. Writers without that subject matter expertise just can’t do that.

Keyword Research

Don’t just focus on the major competitors; look at smaller competitors who are also successful. Often, they don’t have the technical resources to execute properly. Their success suggests that you may be able to grab that niche advantage if you do everything right.

Google Updates

Sites with quality content may be affected by Google updates, but nothing to the extent that you’re losing your shirt. Don’t forget that author profiles and bylines go a long way to building credibility. It’s an important factor in establishing expertise, authority, and trust (EAT) and is part of Google’s Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines (pdf). 

Leverage Data

Update and improve your old posts, even if they’re currently receiving lots of traffic. Do nothing and you risk becoming a zombie site, attracting competition to your niche. Potential competitors see how little you do and look to exploit that error.

Pillar Pages

Pillar pages (and topic clustering) are best practices for building an authority site. We’ve seen from our incubator sites that performance is exceptional when we focus on this practice right from the start. Don’t neglect orphan pages and those sitting multiple levels down in the site architecture. Building fresh content around these pages can do wonders.

Topic Clusters

When we want to be known as experts on a specific topic we make sure to link together all the relevant content on our site. It works both for our readers and search engines.

Internal Linking

Venture 4th Media mostly links to their own content. They’ve done quite well at attracting links due to the quality of their content. With no formal outreach program for link building they haven’t spent much time in this endeavor. 

They’ve experienced great success from focusing on internal linking. As a result, they don’t feel that backlinks are the be-all and end-all tactic.


Our Slack Community, the Content Strategy Collective, recently held an ask-me-anything with Amy Aitman, COO of Venture 4th Media. Here’s the transcript.

Do you have any publications or thought leaders that you read regularly and would recommend?

I really love the SEJ blog & Ahrefs blog as well. Thought leaders? Hmmm, well anyone that’s been on a MarketMuse webinar, you guys have had some amazing guests!

Do you do direct affiliate agreements with vendors or just through networks?  Would that be a good idea to combat things like the Amazon affiliate payment changes?

Both. Relationships are always good to build in the affiliate marketing business if you have the bandwidth.

Would that be a good idea to combat things like the Amazon affiliate payment changes? — For Amazon, having more than one monetization source is key but remember, people are shopping more because of recent events, so payments are not always as dramatically dropped as one would think.

What are some drastic changes you’ve witnessed with the May Google Core Update? 

With the May Google core update? The major changes I’ve seen are on sites outside of the V4M / CKM portfolio, so any sites that use databases to create content, have a lot of thin content, that kind of thing. Our portfolio has been pretty untouched with that update, to be honest.

How do you monitor traffic, rankings, etc. during and between updates?

How do you monitor traffic, rankings, etc. during and between updates? — I would monitor traffic rankings, etc. the same way I always do — look for those early indicators of success with new content or updated content (are you picking up more keywords), then keep track of growth metrics.

What intent signals mean the most to you, and what tech layers/third party sources do you rely on?

Honestly, this might not be the answer you are expecting, but for intent signals, I really just like to look at the buyer journey — where does our content fit into there and actually look to see how Google is displaying that content (that shows intent too), like if they are giving eCommerce sites love, you know the user is looking just to buy, if they are giving content sites some love, you know the user is in research mode, about to buy. We also track keywords in Ahrefs of course.

How to get started building a good backlink profile, and what a reasonable time commitment would be. 

I would have to say that I am not a backlink expert either. We strive to create killer content and that naturally gets backlinks, we also build relationships with key people in that niche, so backlinks can happen naturally there too. Time commitment — depends on your goals. Our focus has always been content first, the backlinks will follow naturally so how long does it take to create a killer piece of content?

Do you have any advice for e-commerce sites to ensure a strong internal linking structure? In particular, linking between informational and product pages. 

The issue with eCommerce sites is you may not have a lot of supporting articles to interlink, but you do have informational and product pages. There are other opportunities to include more internal links if you have supporting content (even informational pages) if you literally think like a user — Like, I’m reading this, do I want more information about this? Do we have a page on this? Native internal linking is so important and you can do that on an informational page quiet easily.

For internal linking to work, you have to look at why your user is there, what they need to know to make the decision — some quick wins and answers, and some more detailed information — all of that can be achieved with internal linking.

As a follow-up – what tools/processes do you use to understand the internal linking structure of a site and find opportunities to optimize?

A tool that we like to use is Sitebulb — this can show you visually how your site is structured and you can literally see the clusters of content. If you think about how people are using your product, what they need to know, what kind of questions they ask, internal linking becomes a lot easier. Of course, Market Muse can give you some serious hints as well as far as topical keywords that you may have not thought of as well. I’m sure your products interconnect a lot more than you realize.

How are bylines handled when the content is written by a writer pool that could be writing for multiple websites? Is it the in-house reviewer?

Do the writers expect to get attribution? and if so, why? We use writers for multiple websites because their subject matter expertise is relevant in more than one niche, I’ll give you an example — We have some writers write for our parenting blogs, but they also write for a travel blog, because guess what? They are writers, who are parents, and who travel.

You can also create an avatar or site persona — which can work as well, but I would say, make sure you have some ‘outside’ your site accounts linked to that avatar.

What cadence do you think is necessary to someone just starting out to start gaining some authority?

The first thing to do is map out what you want to be known for, what topics you want to have authority on. If you don’t know that, take some time,  literally just mind map it. Then I would do some competitor research (both the big blogs and the smaller, niche ones) to see if you can fit in somewhere. I like to think of authority in content chunks — so there are a few approaches you can take as far as publication goes, but obviously, putting out ‘enough’ content is key.

How do you optimize roundups (top 10 products, best products) and category pages for e-commerce?

For the roundups, best of products the best way to optimize these types of posts is to make sure these are ‘fresh’ — like not including old product recommendations, using the date, time and updating these quite frequently. They can be an important part of a site but they need constant love.

Category pages for e-commerce — that’s a tough question for me because I have way more experience with content sites, but I can tell you most templated themes or stores are not necessarily set up optimally for site structure and SEO.

We don’t use the WP site structure, re: category pages the way others intended, we have pillar pages as category pages, and supporting topical posts to bolster that pillar content. We do ‘categorize’ content, but that is mainly so we are internally linking all the content within a category and for some themes, the categories are still displayed as well.

Instead of ‘trusting’ WP theme site architecture, we create our own that is way more user-friendly and content forward-facing if that makes sense.

What’s the best way to leverage the knowledge of a subject matter expert when they don’t want to write (or aren’t a good writer)?

I love how Jeff talked about brain dumping his thoughts and getting a writer to polish them up. Depending on budget, I think there are several ways you can do this. For example, we might have the more prolific writers create the ‘core’ content pieces for a site and have the high level (more expensive) subject experts write some additional content to bolster that core content. I also love hiring serious subject matter experts for editorial reviews as well.

I have also literally sat on the phone with a subject matter expert to ‘fact check’ information, or respond to comments on posts that maybe another writer, with a bit less experience has created. Not every single writer has to be the top subject matter expert, there are all levels. 

This is another reason we let our pool of writers self-select topics. We want people to write about things they know, love, use. Hands down.

What you should do now

When you’re ready… here are 3 ways we can help you publish better content, faster:

  1. Book time with MarketMuse Schedule a live demo with one of our strategists to see how MarketMuse can help your team reach their content goals.
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Stephen leads the content strategy blog for MarketMuse, an AI-powered Content Intelligence and Strategy Platform. You can connect with him on social or his personal blog.