How to Build an Authority Site


Hey everyone, my name’s Dom and I’m thrilled to be talking to you all on AuthorityWebsiteIncome today.

So far, you’ve learned a variety of things from how to come up with content ideas, to how to properly systematize everything. Adam really nailed his post about building his site and his systems. Let me tell you now that he’s stepped it up even more since then. Keep up with him if you can.

Today we’re going to step back and review some of the basics a little bit and talk about how to actually build out an authority site. Josh did a great job talking about Amazon reviews and list posts, and I’m going to talk about building an authority site in general.

Authority Sites vs Niche Sites

I think there can be a lot of confusion about the difference between an authority site and a niche site. For a start, authority sites still usually focus on a specific niche, and “niche sites” can grow to become authority sites, so there is a lot of overlap between them.

There’s also a lot of different information on the web. That’s because Internet Marketing is more than just one set of instructions. Everyone has their own way of getting success and their own interpretation of things.

However, the best definition I’ve ever seen for an authority site came from Stuart Walker, where he defines an authority site as:

  • A site with some of the best content in the niche covering all topics, questions and problems.
  • So good it gains natural links from around the web including other authorities in the niche, people outside the niche and press / media.
  • More than often the owner of the blog doesn’t write the content themselves but has a team of writers or pays already established names in the niche to write.
  • Huge followings on social media, blog post commentators and email subscribers.
  • Usually on a niche that is super enthusiastic and passionate.
  • On a topic that is in high demand and evergreen.

I think that’s a pretty good explanation, so I’ll run with it.

So while a “niche site” (how most people define them) might not get many natural links, might not bother with social media, and might be on a small topic like kettles, authority sites tend to be on much bigger subjects, and aim to dominate their niche.

Your Authority Site Toolbox

I first want to cover your toolbox and the basic things that every authority site really needs to include.

Premium Theme

This is an absolute must. Even if you are working on the smallest budget known to man, you’ve got to invest in your site’s design. You CAN start off with a free theme just for the sake of getting your site’s structure up and running and content getting indexed, but you really should switch to something more advanced later on.

Premium themes look better, they generally have better functionality, their code is not a mess (most of the time), and they set you apart in your niche. People are often complimenting me at HumanProofDesigns that my site looks really good. Personally I don’t think it looks that special, it just looks a LOT better than some of the average sites out there.

All I did was invest in a premium theme and get someone to make a custom homepage template for me.

It cost me less than $200 and it looks really professional. You can probably get something decent for $50 off ThemeForest.

Logo

I would also recommend a logo. You can find some decent ones on fiverr if you are on a tight budget, but if you have a bit more money, I recommend heading to the Warriors For Hire section of WarriorForum (I don’t really like that place, but the WFH section is decent).

You can find some people who will give you a great logo for $40 and you don’t need to pay unless you’re happy with the outcome.

Plugins

There will be a variety of plugins that you need to use, depending on exactly how you want your site to function, but here are some that pretty much everyone will need.

The list isn’t much different between an authority site and a niche site.

  • Backwpup. You can set this up to backup your entire site (either on demand, or on schedule) and send it to dropbox for you. Someone I know recently had his site hacked, and having backwpup set up really saved a lot of time fixing it.
  • SEO Plugin. If you’re familiar with SEO plugins and are comfortable doing your own optimization, use Yoast. If you’re a bit more of a newbie, use the All In One SEO plugin.
  • PrettyLink. You can use the free version or the pro version. Being able to cloak your affiliate links is one small benefit of pretty link. The best function is that if you want to change an affiliate link, you just have to change the target link once in the pretty link settings instead of every single link on your site.
  • Contact Plugin. There are loads of good contact form plugins out there. I use Contact Form 7.
  • Social Plugin. Shareaholic is a good one, but I recently switched to SumoMe as I like the design and functions.
  • Thrive Content Editor. I’m slowly falling in love with this plugin and have decided to include it in the sites I make for customers because it’s really powerful. You can just do so much with it, and the fact it’s drag and drop is brilliant. I spent just an hour last week adding a bunch of new call to action boxes on one of my affiliate sites, and the income is up 300%.
  • WP Edit. This is a simpler version of what Thrive does, and I use it sometimes for columns and jump links.
  • Optin Plugin. OptinMonster is the one for me, but I’m considering moving to ThiveLeads. Just need the time to test and compare.

Please note, if you want to build an email list, as well as an optin plugin, you’ll need a service like Aweber.

You might also want to consider some specific plugins like some of the Amazon plugins out there, but for now let’s move on.

How To Structure An Authority Website

As emphasis has grown on authority sites over the last few years, a lot of people have written some great guides into structure. Off the top of my head, Gael Breton’s “topic pages” stand out as a good example.

Let’s Talk About Silos.

A lot of people will build a silo for their authority sites.

A few years ago, these weren’t all that popular. If you look at many sites like AuthorityWebsiteIncome, you’ll see that they’re more along the lines of “Blogroll + Money Pages”.

This structure works too, and when you’re posting a lot of content it’s fine, but a silo will really help with SEO. I don’t believe in using a 100% rigid silo structure (I’ll go into this later), because I find in some cases it is counter-intuitive and doesn’t fully benefit the user.

What’s A Silo?

Here’s how it’s defined over at scratch99.com.

Siloing is an SEO technique that creates strong keyword related themes on your site, improving the relevancy of your site in the eyes of the search engines.

If that didn’t make sense to you, don’t worry.

Really all a silo does is build on the concept of “categories”, but stronger and with more seo advantage.

In a traditional “blog” structure, it might be something like this:

traditional structure

 

It looks organized, and it might be neat and tidy, but there’s no real relationship between pages and posts etc.

You’ve got your static pages like About and Contact, and the rest are posts. You might also have one or two “money” or “pillar” pages set up as well.

Even though your posts are sorted into categories, they are not regarded as that relevant and the seo structure isn’t very strong. The home page doesn’t really count as the top of a silo either, so even if you have category links in your navigation bar, this isn’t a silo structure.

For a silo, it’s a lot more rigid.

See the example below, I’m using a silo structure based on Home Theaters.

Each “tier” is actually a page of around 1,000 words with videos, images and everything you’d expect.

It’s not just a “category” page where all the posts in the category are listed together.

silo example

 

What this does is create a highly relevant structure for search engines (and people) to follow, and will mean that each post or page is contributing to the overall seo power of the site.

How A Silo Ranks

On top of that, when you add links to the top of the silo, link juice flows down and slowly ranks each tier in turn.

Your posts/reviews at the bottom of the silo will usually be the easiest to rank. They might only need 1 or 2 links to rank, which means that a handful of links added to the top of the silo will be enough. As you get more links added to the top, each tier ranks in turn, until you finally reach the top page.

Therefore, you want to  make the top of your silo the most difficult page to rank, and can expect to rank it last. It doesn’t always work out this way, but that’s the basic theory.

When doing guest posts, using PBNs, building broken links, or any other kind of link building, you should always try to get the links built to the top of your silo.

There’s also the argument that as a silo naturally increases pageviews, time on page, and reduces bounce rate, that will have a positive effect on SEO as well. This part depends on whether or not you believe Google when they say they don’t use analytics data for ranking.

Either way, more usability is always a good thing.

Important Notes

Ideally you don’t want silos to link to each other. You can link to the TOP of another silo (known as Uncle/Auntie pages), but you shouldn’t be linking to other pages in various tiers in parallel silos (known as Cousin pages). This dilutes the strength of the silo, and leaks link juice.

However, sometimes it just makes plain sense to link to other silos and some posts might appear in more than one silo. Given that this really helps usability and benefits your audience, I think it’s fine to do this. You’ll still have a pretty good silo and your SEO will be solid.

Viable Alternatives To A Silo

As I mentioned above, Gael Breton likes to use “Topic Pages”, which follow silos in some way, but are on a smaller scale and tend to follow a more “benefits the user” model. Link juice still flows down from the topic page to other posts and reviews though, so the theory is the same.

Here’s how a topic page structure might look:

topic page

 

Setting This Up

It can be quite a lot of work to set up the structure properly, which is why it’s only really recommended for a big authority site and not a small niche site.

If you use Thrive Content Editor, you can set up post/page lists on any page, which makes it really easy to have links between the silo tiers. For example, on your “Best Home Theater” page, you could easily add links, with thumbnails and excerpts, to the “Best Sound System” and “Best HD TV” pages, plus any other pages you wanted.

This looks like a really nice "related posts" plugin, but it's actually being generated on a page by the Thrive Content Editor.

This looks like a really nice “related posts” plugin, but it’s actually being generated on a page by the Thrive Content Editor.

This saves you a lot of time, but you can still do it manually by putting in thumbnails with links to the pages, and there might be some “page/post carousel” plugins around as well.

Posts vs Pages

If you’re using WordPress, you’re probably wondering whether to do a silo using posts or pages.

It’s not super important, but most people will set up a silo using pages, with the posts being the final tier. This is another reason why Thrive helps, because you can add either posts or pages to a list and drop it into a page.

You can also assign pages as parents, which helps slightly with SEO and also makes sense from an organizational point of view.

If in doubt, use a page for everything, but on the bottom tier link to the posts from that category.

Better To Do It From The Start

It’s better to get the structure right (or at least an outline) from the start, but as we’re already a couple of months into the challenge, I wanted to reassure you that it’s not the end of the world if you haven’t done this yet. It just takes a bit of work to restructure.

It would still recommend doing it though. Recently I published a post on my site where a member of my audience completely restructured his site to a silo, and saw instant benefits.

Day To Day Posting

Once you’ve got the structure of your silo in place, and you’ve created the main tiers and pages, for the most part you can forget about it. The day to day posts that you do will mostly be posts at the bottom tiers, and you can just publish them, then add them to the right category.

You still want to interlink posts and link them to other tiers in their silo (or the top of other silos), but you shouldn’t need to worry about this as much.

Just think “If it makes sense to link to this page, I’ll do it”, and then don’t worry about the rest of it.

Gary wrote a great post about on-page SEO here as well.

Money Pages And Pillar Articles

I know that a lot of people will be using money pages or pillar articles. These are basically the pages on your site that you link a lot of your posts to. The kind of “core” or backbone of your site.

When you just have a blogroll, linking to these pages is easy to get your head around, but what about when you have a silo?

Should the money pages or “pillar articles” be the top of the silo? Should you do things differently?

Not necessarily.

On my 6-figure site, I have a couple of “Best Of” list pages, and a few reviews that will do most of my earning (hopefully!).

The list pages are in the second and third tiers of their respective silos, and the review posts are right at the bottom. Fit your money pages in where they work out the best, and don’t worry about prioritizing them.

Obviously though, if you’re going to rank your top tiers for big keywords, you would want to have a reason for choosing those keywords.

When it comes to choosing your money pages, you’ll have to be the judge of what they are. I like to have some low competition “review” posts, and some high competition (but highly searched) pillar posts. A pillar post is basically one of those posts/pages that you will link to again and again.

Got an article about a product that is the best in its industry? Every time you review a different product, you’ll want to link back to that review right? That’s your pillar article. Where it fits into the silo isn’t super important, but if you can make it near the top, the juice will flow down well.

This is another reason why I don’t strictly follow a silo structure. There will be “topic pages” or “pillar articles” that make more sense to direct users to, and you’ll likely do a lot of internal (and external) linking to them.

It makes more sense to have a basic silo structure, but not force yourself to follow it when linking.

Using Keywords

Since a silo is designed for SEO purposes, it makes sense to use keywords. Whether you use keywords for EVERY pillar article or silo page is up to you though. After all, some articles you write might attract a lot of links, but have no real keyword of note.

Should you rule this kind of post out? Nope, because the links they attract will be very valuable to the site as a whole. Imagine if you had one page that went viral, or attracted dozens of links. This one page would increase the Domain Authority of your site massively.

The increased DA would mean that all your other posts, those ones with keywords, rank a lot better.

It’s always worth writing a piece of content for your site that will add value. Plain and simple.

If there’s a keyword for it, fantastic. If not, it’ll still benefit you.

Closing Thoughts

Building an authority site and getting the structure right is definitely different from dealing with a smaller, niche website. However, you CAN still succeed with an authority site that has a simpler navigation structure, it’s just not going to do you any favors.

I’d also like to mention that at HumanProofDesigns, we specialize in building sites for others, so whether you’re looking to build out a niche site, or an authority site, we’re at your service. I’ve shown you today how to do it yourself, and if you’d rather not go to that much effort, get in touch with us and request a site build out.

We even include Thrive with our sites.

I hope this post has been of use to you! I’ll hang around in the comments and answer any questions you might have. I’m also keen to find out how the rest of you approach authority site building as well.

Do you bother with a detailed structure, or do you just use posts and categories?

 

About the Author Jon Haver

I am a 31 year old husband, father of 2, engineer and a huge fan of developing systems to build useful and profitable websites. The reason I build online businesses is to provide financial independence for my family and yours. I am not a GURU but just a regular guy who is grinding out 12+hr days to build a life for my family on terms.
Jon Haver, Online Entrepreneur

Leave a Comment:

19 comments
George Meszaros says March 12, 2015

Excellent detail in your post. Do you have any “Best of” post examples? It would be great to see a few.

Reply
    Dominic Wells says March 12, 2015

    There are lots of different ways of doing them. I normally list 5-10 products with the pros and cons of each one, then a summary/comparison at the end. Once a page has some traffic I will usually fiddle around with the structure to see if it affects rankings, so I might put a big product box near the top and/or bottom saying “No 1 choice” or something like that.

    You can also link those posts to the review posts themselves, if you have them.

    Reply
David Goecke says March 12, 2015

Dom, Excellent post here and it contains a lot of resources to help, which is awesome and certainly beneficial.

Question for you and the audience: Is there a specific way to systematize your silo content structure that you find most efficient, cost effective, and beneficial?

Cheers!

David

Reply
    Dominic Wells says March 12, 2015

    I approach each silo different depending on the niche. Some sites might only need 2 silos, some might only need 1, others might needs half a dozen, so it’s hard to systematize that.

    Once you understand the theory and how a working silo should look, it should be quite easy to figure out which pages to put where.

    Reply
Dave says March 12, 2015

I currently use the Silo structure on my site. It is very work intensive and requires a lot of planning to execute well.

I did enjoy your write-up on the internal linking structure and giving more attention to linking within the respective silo. I’ll give this more attention in my future posts.

Thanks again.

Dave

Reply
    Dominic Wells says March 12, 2015

    It’s definitely a lot of work Dave, but the result is a strong foundation and a solid structure. The pay-off is definitely worth it as well, but as I mentioned in my post, I wouldn’t bother using a silo for a small niche site.

    Reply
Mauricio says March 12, 2015

Hey Dom,

Thanks for the great post. I have a question regarding outsourcing the custom homepage template. Can you provide the details of the job description you used to hire someone for this?

I’ve never actually done this and would like more information.
Thank you!

Reply
    Dominic Wells says March 12, 2015

    I didn’t post a job for it. I have somebody I use as my “go to guy” for coding work, and I just worked with him directly. What I did was actually use a notepad and pencil to draw out how I wanted the homepage to look, with annotations etc, then took a photo and emailed it to him. He made a mock-up, asked questions, and got a rough idea, then got to work on it.

    He quoted me how long he thought it would take him, but about midway through he came back to me saying it would take longer and asked if it was OK.

    I was going to post a job, I’d probably just give as much info as possible initially. “Here’s what I want, here’s what I’d like you to do, please give me a quote”. You definitely want to try and make this a flat-fee job rather than per hour.

    Reply
Eleonora says March 12, 2015

Thank you for diving into the silo concept. Now it is much more clear to me. It would be extremelly nice to see a SEO case study of the same web site/same content before and after a silo is implement.

Cheers,

Eleornora

Reply
    Dominic Wells says March 12, 2015

    No worries, glad that my monster post actually made some sense in the end!

    Reply
Yengshai says March 12, 2015

This is such a good post on silo sites! Keep it up! Silo structure is a must for new websites!

Reply
    Yengshai says March 12, 2015

    Who needs help install

    Reply
Tom Attenborough says March 13, 2015

Legendary post Dom!

Unfortunately I don’t have my current Authority site structured in a Silo but I might have to go back and do that at some point. Do you have any live examples of a site that you would consider to have a good silo structure for us to have a look at?

Sounds like your making great progress anyway!

Reply
Lee says March 14, 2015

Nice post, I’ve been using Thrive for a while now, one of the best things I ever purchased.

One of the things you mentioned was building an authority site you’re passionate or enthusiastic about. The authority site I’m building has great potential, and while I do find the product and content quite interesting I’m not overly passionate about it either. Do you think that’s the wrong way to go about building an authority site?

I would eventually like to hire writers who are passionate about this topic, and this site has huge potential for growth (which gets me very excited and keeps me working).

I guess you could say I have passion for growing a business and creating an income for myself, rather than the niche itself.

Reply
Fred says March 18, 2015

Hi Dom, how do you link to category posts from the final tier pages? And what does that final tier page look like to the visitor? Fred. p.s. Thank you for explaining this “silo” concept so easily. I remember searching for an explanation 6 mos ago and never found one.

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Pam says March 19, 2015

Hi, I’m curious. I am setting my sights on putting up an authority site off of a hobby. However, if I have to rely on actual experience, it may mean a limited audience for the site. I am thinking about creating specific topics for certain places abroad that I have not set foot on – will that make me fake? I am just curious on how to go about this.

Reply
Justin Williams says March 18, 2016

Very helpful and you solved my problem! Thank you so much.

Reply
Bican Valeriu says July 25, 2016

Any premium theme recommendations ?

Reply
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