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What is authoritative content and how is it used?

In our last post, we talked about how content quality is more important than ever. Search engines such as Google want high-quality content, and authoritativeness is one of the most important factors they consider when evaluating material. But what does it mean for content to be authoritative, and why is that relevant?

What is authoritative content?

As Darrell Mordecai of similarweb notes, discussions of ‘authoritative content’ can often be lost in an impenetrable fog of buzzwords like YMYL and EEAT. This has the unfortunate side effect of making something that is fundamentally quite simple seem hopelessly esoteric. At its core, authoritative content is simply content that provides meaningful information to readers. Or as Tyson Braun of SEOClarity puts it, “[authoritative content] provides valuable insights, in-depth analysis, and well-researched information. Often, it is also written by experts in a particular field or backed up by credible sources.” 

What makes authoritative content?

ProBlogger defines authoritative content as having the following features:

  • Insight: this is when an author synthesizes information without simply regurgitating facts. Every author has their own unique strengths that they can bring to bear when discussing a subject. For example, the NYTLicensing blog suggests that you might incorporate things like actionable tips, statistics, or case studies. Let’s say you wanted to write a post about Tutankhamun. Instead of just giving your reader a list of basic facts, give them something a bit more unique. You could, for example, discuss how forensic evidence and the presence of numerous walking sticks in his tomb suggests that he had a disability.
  • Simplicity: you’ve probably heard the acronym KISS (‘Keep It Simple, Stupid’). Well, this applies to online content as well. It might be tempting to assume that this means being as brief as possible, but that’s not necessarily the case. Instead, you want to make sure you’ve distilled your information as much as possible. Going back to Tut, that could mean focusing on a specific subject rather than trying to provide a comprehensive overview of his life, reign, and tomb.
  • Depth: you also want to make sure you’re giving your reader enough information. This might seem obvious, but it can be easy to forget that not everyone is as knowledgeable about a topic as you are. With our Tut example, you shouldn’t assume that your readers already know everything about him, from his original name to the significance of the Restoration Stela. 
  • Breadth: it’s important to help your readers connect the dots. You want to help them link the information you’re giving them to other subjects. So if you were writing about Tut’s tomb, you might discuss how his tomb compares with other New Kingdom pharaohs. You could also draw your readers in by including a story-like narrative.
  • Relevance: it’s important to make sure you’re giving your audience information that they can actually use. It can be tempting to treat your publication like a smorgasbord, but it’s best to resist that temptation. In other words, if you have an Egyptology blog, don’t suddenly switch gears and talk about the career of the RMS Queen Mary.

It’s important to EEAT

Since Google is the leading search engine on the web, it pays to think about the kind of content they want. As we discussed last week, they judge criteria on the basis of:

  • The first-hand experience of the creator
  • The expertise of the creator
  • The authoritativeness of the creator, the content itself, and their site
  • The trustworthiness of the creator

They refer to these factors with the acronym ‘EEAT.’ They’ve also said they’re looking for what they call ‘people-first content.’ In a nutshell, they want the kind of material you might find in a traditional encyclopedia or a major magazine. You should avoid typos or obvious factual errors (they might want to remind their new AI of that last one!). You should also focus on a specific area instead of trying to be everything to everyone. And definitely don’t cram keywords into your content like it’s a Stephenie Meyer sentence.  And while AI can help you produce content, using it to churn out tons and tons of shlock is a bad idea.

How is authoritative content used?

You might be wondering why authoritative content is so important. The simple answer is that professionals in a wide range of fields rely on it. To use our trusty, hypothetical Egyptology blog as an example, imagine that a journalist is writing a piece to coincide with the fact that February 16, 2023 marks the centenary of the opening of Tut’s burial chamber. They don’t have a background in Egyptology, and so they desperately need background information to write their article. Luckily, they find your publication, which offers a wealth of information about ancient Egypt. Of course, journalists aren’t the only ones who use authoritative content. Professionals such as lawyers, government officials, academics, and businesspeople need it as well.

Here are some specific examples of authoritative content, courtesy of OKWrite:

  • Tutorials and Instructables: help people complete a task like changing a tire
  • Blog posts or long-form articles that educate the reader about a topic
  • Buyer guides that help people make purchasing decisions
  • Videos that make it easier to learn about a product or see its action
  • Evergreen content that speaks to the target audience’s interests and won’t become dated

Of course, Tyson Braun reminds us that we need to be mindful of the many ways people can now find information when we create authoritative content. This helps us achieve our goal of giving readers the material they need in any given situation. 

How can Newstex help creators of authoritative content?

Many people who need authoritative content turn to information databases such as ProQuest or LexisNexis to find it. Because they offer a curated range of material, it’s often easier to find what you need there rather than turning to the open web. Newstex partners with these information databases to provide the kind of in-depth material professionals need (if you’re wondering if your publication might be a good fit for one of these databases, you can take our quiz here)  

Creating content with integrity

Creating authoritative content isn’t easy, and it can be tempting to seek out shortcuts. But you need to be careful that you aren’t crossing any ethical lines. For example, you might be tempted to let a generative AI tool such as ChatGPT do the writing for you. And this can indeed be a great way to come up with preliminary drafts. But that doesn’t mean you can hit ‘generate’ and then immediately publish the results. AI tools aren’t perfect, and they can provide you with blatantly false information (last year, two New York lawyers got into trouble with a judge after they used ChatGPT to compose a brief that ended up citing six fictional cases). AI can also open the door to plagiarism since it’s trained on existing works. You’ve worked hard to build your reputation. Don’t throw it all away just to save a bit of time.

Content relevance and accuracy

If you’ve ever had to buy textbooks for a college course, you’ve no doubt noticed that they’re constantly being revised by their authors. They’re not just doing this to make more money; they’re also trying to ensure that their work always includes the most up-to-date information. If you’re creating authoritative content, you should strive to do the same thing, especially if you’re writing about highly dynamic fields such as science or technology. Updating your existing posts helps your content stay relevant and demonstrates your mastery of your field. 

An air of authority

Authoritative content is more important than ever. Google and other search engines like material that’s grounded in facts, well-written, and brings something new to the table. They also like it when authors stick within their expertise rather than throwing everything at the wall and hoping something sticks. Not only will this please Google, but it’s also likely to please your readers, too. After all, they’re more likely to remember you if you’re saying something new instead of simply repeating what everyone and their uncle has already said.

The Newstex blog has a number of posts about different aspects of high-quality content creation. “5 steps to verify social media accuracy for publishers” has tips on verifying material on social media. “Authoritative content: creating helpful, reliable people-first content” can help you write for people rather than algorithms. And “How to structure authoritative content for greatness” teaches you the best ways to arrange your content.