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Authority Versus Pure SEO

authority vs seo

Authority can be a difficult concept to grasp for some people, but I find the people who struggle most are those who are already successful using another strategy. Here is my expertly executed whiteboard diagram I whipped up for some successful affiliate friends over the weekend.

Before I describe it, let me give you some background.

Today I am traveling down to the big smoke and staying with my big bro while I spend a few days hanging out with affiliate folks at A4UExpo in London. On Wednesday I will be on a panel. This show is going to be jammed packed with affiliates and those who want to be. Of course while talking to friends who might meet me there I have had a lot of discussions about the right and wrong ways to build affiliate income.

It used to be that affiliates were SEOs or PPC people, but a good number are now looking at blogs. On the other side are the bloggers who might have traditionally looked to Adsense and banners for monetization who are now looking to affiliate stuff.

You will find the smarter affiliates are building blogs, and the more advanced bloggers are dabbling in PPC, but why?

Authority Builds Protection

The standard route for an affiliate is:

  1. Find a profitable niche
  2. Create a search-friendly site
  3. Build links
  4. Grow traffic
  5. Convert traffic

Seems like a good plan? Yes, it is, and it can be very profitable. Some folks use PPC instead of SEO, but it comes down to the right products, for the right audience, and sending a ton of traffic at well converting pages.

So what’s the problem?

As I described in my article about how Authority sites can survive an economic downturn better than others, there are two ways an Authority site beats a pure play SEO/PPC site.

The issues are with #3 in the list above, and the fact there is no #6!

Authority Link Building Versus Affiliate Link Building

How does a traditional affiliate site build links?

  • Article marketing?
  • Emailing for swaps?
  • Buying links?
  • Spam?

These tactics work, but they are not particularly sustainable and they create a very clear and fragile link profile. Ask yourself if Google wants to reward this kind of profile or punish it. I’m thinking the latter.

Compare this to an Authority site.

For a start, if you are going to do linkbait then a blog is a natural place to put it. Secondly, a good blog will attract links naturally, they will be voluntary, organic, and spread over time.

What do you link to? The landing or sales page of a commercial site with no reader value, or great articles that you readers would really love? Are there sites you link to more often than others?

Build a really good blog, an authority blog, and the pattern becomes self-reinforcing. You start to attract more links because you are an authority, and whatever shifts take place in search algorithms, if they don’t rank you then they are not doing their job. What would you think if you couldn’t find Techcrunch or Copyblogger in searches?

You Don’t Just Want to Generate Traffic

The second big issue is with the focus on traffic. Traffic at any cost. It is what I describe as “hits thinking”. Got to get those hits up. No, wrong!

A healthy business doesn’t just attract people through the door, you have to think longer term. As well as selling now, what are you doing about life time value?

Where those traditional affiliate sites go wrong is they have a cycle of constantly trying to create new customers, while abandoning their old ones. You need to have a strategy for keeping your visitors, to create loyalty. An authority blog is a natural solution to that.

Look at the Diagram Again

If you take another look at the diagram you will see on the left the Authority north sea oil platform, and on the right the good ship “Paris Lohan”. Further to the right a huge wave about to come crashing down.

Above sea level is what I describe as “visibility”. Both the Authority and Paris have good visibility. Under the surface though you can see that the Authority has “depth” and substance. Instead of “Expertise” you might say “talent” or “value”. Under “Personality” you might have “Loyalty” or “Community”. It doesn’t matter which definitions you use, nothing is supporting Paris, she is getting by on pure visibility.

North sea oil platforms are structures built to withstand waves 50-80″ in height.Β  They can face the worst the environment can throw. Authorities are the same when faced with search shifts, competition, economy and other harsh market factors. Unfortunately the little ship looks likely to sink at the first big splash.

Build Authority, Build Your Defenses

By building authority you create a defensible structure that can grow sustainably, fight off competition and can survive the highs and lows of your market.

If you want to build your defenses and be an Authority Blogger, you know where to go πŸ™‚

What do you think?

Agree? Disagree? How would you explain it? Let me know in the comments …


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  1. All I know is that I’ll see you at A4U πŸ™‚

  2. Very well wrtten article Chris! Personally I went through all the ‘s–t’ trying to earn an income online! Well, learn the hard way! through that journey I fully agree with you here! It is of utmost importance to brand yourself on whatever your business is! Credibility and your ‘voice’ ! Great stuff Chris and I am sure many beginners will benefit from your thoughts! thanks!

  3. Great post Chris as ever, see you tomorrow.


  4. That is the cutest octopus EVER.

    I found your post content confusing compared to its headline, because the affiliate link-building you describe is not by any stretch of the imagination “pure SEO”. The tactics you describe could be part of an SEO strategy, but only part. And there are plenty of new techniques, too, which supplement these somewhat dated ones, such as the use of content-sharing sites and social media.

    And I certainly agree that an authority blog can weather just about anything that comes its way. πŸ™‚

  5. @Joost – Looking forward to your session πŸ™‚ If you spot me, say hi!

    @bokjae – Thanks πŸ™‚ Yeah I think now more than ever it’s not just about the traffic but what and how you present, and how many of those visitors you delight and keep

    @Doug – Thanks Doug, and beware I am bringing my camera πŸ˜‰ In fact, it would be great to hit you up for an interview if you get time πŸ™‚

    @Michael – Ah, well perhaps I have been unfair, but I don’t regard social media as “pure SEO” so we might be differing based on definitions πŸ™‚ Perhaps I should have said “old SEO” instead? I think any strategy that incorporates blogs and social media is newer, smarter SEO πŸ™‚

  6. Do I see a future in cartooning for you Chris? Love it!

  7. Heh, up until leaving school I did actually have plans to be a cartoonist or illustrator. My choices were University, computing jobs, or art. I even sent some samples off to Hallmark to try to join their greetings cards staff, but instead I decided to follow my geek genes πŸ™‚

  8. @Chris – I don’t think I’m helping anything by adding those other techniques, because they’re not pure SEO either (as you pointed out). That’s just me writing “off the top of my head”. πŸ™‚

  9. Keep writing off the top of your head, it’s interesting stuff πŸ™‚

  10. Sweet, you said, “a good blog will attract links naturally, they will be voluntary, organic, and spread over time.” This is part of the challenge blogs face, among others. Getting to a place where you don’t have to ask for links, they come naturally. πŸ™‚

  11. I agree with the idea that being an authority will help you weather an economic downturn, but…

    1. Getting links other ways (article marketing and swapping links) can’t hurt.
    2. (and this is more important) WHAT topic you or your site is an authority about is REAL important to weathering the storm. If you are selling business advice and stuff that saves people money you are in good niche, if you are selling something people are cutting back on it’s going to be harder to weather the storm even if you are an authority.

  12. Thanks!
    A clear explanation of the concept for a newbie.
    I appear to be doing some things right, but the learning curve can be steep.

  13. Thanks Chris.

    I entirely agree . . . But (you saw that coming didn’t you).

    In the early days I don’t think links come organically. When starting out no one knows about you and you need to let people know.

    Even the SEO lot don’t want to just generate traffic – as you point out the next step is conversion. A good blog will lead to loyalty for sure, whether this will lead to automatic sales I’m not sure. I’ll leave that to others with very successful blogs to talk about.

  14. Chris,

    I like this post. Of course you’re preaching to the choir here, and I agree about the strength of authority blogging. My favorite part of this post was how you let the illustration hang there until the end… I stared at it, got most of the point, then read until finally you explained the shallow clicks-hog the SS Paris. Well-played. It really helped to drive home the point.

    Must go work on my pylons now. πŸ™‚



  15. hey chris, love the diagram, man. and your pillars of “Expertise” and “Personality” – the foundation of an authority… blog or otherwise.

    i actually featured these in a recent post but termed them Content (expertise) and Character (personality.) the two most attractive aspects to a blog… the content provides value and the initial visit, the character is the hook that keeps folks entertained.

    folks might be able to copy one of those pillars but they’ll never be able to fully remove or replicate your entire foundation.

  16. Great article, and a great reminder that it isn’t just about being found, it’s being liked and trusted. Thanks!

  17. Secondly, a good blog will attract links naturally, they will be voluntary, organic, and spread over time.

    I think this pretty much says it all. When something is ‘good’ things will happen naturally….

  18. Just trying to decide whether I’d prefer your expert whiteboard diagram on a poster or a T-shirt. Maybe a desktop graphic? Any road, it’s about the best explanation I’ve seen of “authority” and why it’s worth building. (Well, it should be, from this source!)

    Yes, as Michael suggests, there’s a lot of shady grey when one gets into defining terms like SEO and categorizing the techniques – but since a lot of blogs and websites tend to fall on a continuum rather than into a rigid category, and human thinking tends to be quite fuzzy anyway, sometimes it’s necessary to describe the two extremes in order to be clear about the difference.

  19. Chris, I really just want to talk about how lovely the drawing is. Michael is right, that is the cutest octopus ever . . .

  20. Hi Chris,

    I agree with Michael on confusing at first. I didn’t get what you meant between affiliate and authority. But then I grasped the picture idea of the SS Paris. But that might be because I’m a picture person. People learn all different types of ways.

    Also, what is PPC? If someone suddenly comes to your blog and has no idea of what these things, these acronyms, mean, and I know a little now since I’ve been around the block a few times, how would you explain it? Or is that even important to you? Maybe not.

    I know about content and personality, it’s these damn business bloggery terms I’m worried about! Thanks.

    Have fun in London.