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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