How Does The Web Define Authority

secret identity The famous caption from The New Yorker cartoon reads, “On the Internet, no one knows you’re a dog.” This is most vexing for PR and marketing types who find themselves trying to reach out and understand which bloggers and social media types might be influencers, which ones have some kind of authority, and which ones might be cobblers and tinkerers. It’s a complex question, and I don’t pretend that I can fully answer the title of this blog post. Instead, I wanted to do two things with this post: give PR and marketing types a place to start, and also give others a chance to weigh in on their take on authority and how it’s measured on the web.

If you find your comments going long, feel free to blog it, and link to the post in the comments section. Why not spread the idea out there and get your community chewing on it as well?

How the Web Defines Authority

It would be easy to bog ourselves down in definitions of the word “authority” itself. In this case, let’s agree that the working definition as it pertains to this topic is: a blog or website or even an individual person and their credibility, knowledge, and reputation on the Web. Is this close enough? How would you change this? If we agree, or are close enough, let’s go on.

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**Update**: Most people did NOT agree. They said that what we covered with the methods listed below dealt with web celebrity. The comments first in line all say something similar.

Great, then do you have other tools that you’d say show how the web measures authority? If the tools below measure web popularity, where are the authority tools?

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Google measures the authority of websites by way of PageRank. Understanding a site’s PageRank only tells you what Google thinks of a site. My site is ranked a 6, which is reasonable, but not extraordinary. Cross Google and they dump your rank fairly low. (SEO types, chime in here)

Technorati ranks your site by way of inbound links from unique websites over the last six months. Meaning, now that Seth Godin has linked to me here once, Technorati doesn’t care about Seth for another six months (as he relates to my site). Thus, your Technorati ranking is essentially a measure of whether you’ve written anything someone else has decided to link to in the last several months, and the number of somebodies is what determines your “authority.”

Alexa ranks your site via how many people visit it based on their statistics. I’ve heard conflicting information over the years as to how this actually is done. Instead of Alexa, I tend to use Compete, which I feel provides better, more actionable information. Just the same, knowing that more-than-a-few people visit a site gives one a sense of whether someone values it or not.

Yahoo provides a way to see how many inbound links a website has received via their Site Explorer. This again tells you whether someone’s efforts are resonating well around the web at large.

Hubspot puts lots of these together in one place with their Website Grader tool. (They also make Twitter Grader, and one for PR). It’s very useful in getting a quick sniff of a lot of the above results. (Maybe they’ll add compete.com?)

Other Ways to Determine Authority

As the web splinters out and content atomizes even more, there are new ways to determine someone’s reputation, potential level of influence, and more. But here’s where it gets a little wishy washy, and where I’m sure there’s more and more opportunity to dispute any of these ideas.

Social networks like Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn give one a relatively quick snapshot of someone’s online interactivity. You can do a quick scan of a Twitter user’s last few pages of tweets and see what they talk about. You can use Twitter Search and see how many people respond to that user. If nothing else, you could see how many people are connected to this individual.

I flinch a bit when I say this. It’s not a numbers game. And yet, do numbers tell us anything about a person? Maybe. What’s your thought on that one?

Googling someone to see just how much of a digital footprint she leaves is also one way to see if someone has a presence on the web. I did this once with a “social media expert” that I met at an event, and unless they use an interesting alias, I couldn’t find barely a trace of this person either directly on several social networks, nor via Google itself.

Your Thoughts

What does this all tell you? Where do you go with this? How does an organization start to learn who’s who on the web, who might have authority and influence, and get some sense of the scope of what this person is doing?

Is someone already doing something useful and powerful in this space?

And if you found the ultimate source for determining the above, would it still help you trust someone you knew solely from the web?

Photo credit, Juria Yoshikawa

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