Amanda Milligan podcast interview – how to build authority in digital marketing

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The awesome Amanda Milligan joins me on the show to discuss how to build authority in digital marketing.

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(Full transcript at bottom of page.)

Amanda Milligan is the Head of Marketing at Stacker, a data journalism platform and newswire that also partners with brands to create and distribute content to build brand awareness and links. With a degree in journalism and a decade in content marketing, she’s spent her career helping brands harness the intersection of content and SEO. Her expertise has been published in Entrepreneur, Forbes, TechCrunch, Search Engine Land, Moz, The Next Web, and more, and she’s spoken at industry-leading events, including SMX, MozCon, BrightonSEO, and Pubcon.

In this episode, we discuss:

  • How to define authority
  • What makes a brand authoritative
  • The value there is in brands seeking to build/grow their authority
  • The common mistakes people make when going through this authority building process
  • How brands with more authority stand out from those who don’t
  • What response she would give to a C-suite/senior manager who isn’t interested in building authority

…and much more!

Useful Links:

Podcast Anchor Page: https://anchor.fm/azeemdigitalasks

My Twitter page: https://twitter.com/AzeemDigital

My website: https://iamazeemdigital.com/

Sign up to “The Marginalised Marketer” newsletter: https://iamazeemdigital.com/the-marginalised-marketer-newsletter/

Amanda’s Twitter: https://twitter.com/millanda

Episode Transcript:

Azeem Ahmad:
Hello, and welcome back to the Azeem Digital Asks podcast. A brilliant episode I’ve got for you today, an absolutely brilliant guest, someone who is probably right up there at the top of my list of people who I would love to bump into at a conference, and just pick their brains, the absolutely awesome Amanda Milligan.

Azeem Ahmad:
We’re talking all about, how to build authority in digital marketing. Amanda, welcome to the show.

Amanda Milligan:
Thank you so much for having me. I am thrilled to be here, and honestly, every time we chat, it’s just a delight. So thank you.

Azeem Ahmad:
Ah, that’s made my day. Thank you so much. You are an absolute legend. For those who shamefully do not know who you are, and what an awesome person you are, would you love to give a little intro to yourself?

Amanda Milligan:
Sure, yeah. I’m the head of marketing at Stacker, and stacker is a news wire, essentially. It’s like digital journalism news wire.

Amanda Milligan:
So when you think of the AP for breaking news, or Reuters for financial news, it’s that for digital journalism, which is really cool, or data journalism … I don’t know why I said there’s digital journalism.

Amanda Milligan:
Data journalism, which was awesome when I discovered what they do, because I had no idea this model existed. And my background has been in a lot of data journalism, when I was back at Fractal and other marketing stuff that I’ve done, a lot of content marketing, digital PR work.

Amanda Milligan:
So they have started about a year ago. They work with brands now, and brands will underwrite content, and get the benefit of authority, as we’ll talk about today, in addition to canonicals and backlinks, and all that fun stuff.

Amanda Milligan:
A lot of what I’ve done is in the authority realm, through content. I’ve been in this industry for about a decade, and I love talking about it. Hopefully, we can keep me to the 20-minute time slot, so you don’t think I am totally rogue.

Azeem Ahmad:
Awesome. Right. As I mentioned, the episode is all about how to build authority in digital marketing. I think the best place to start, really, is how would you define authority?

Amanda Milligan:
Sure. I mean, in the most fundamental way, I just think of it as knowing what you’re talking about, and coming across that way. So literally, demonstrating your expertise in a topic, right? That’s what it comes down to.

Amanda Milligan:
I think we’ll talk a little bit about this more, and we’ll dive into it now, but I think a mistake a lot of people make is, most companies have so much expertise internally, and they’re not doing everything they can, to showcase that through marketing. It’s just, they have it, but they’re not harnessing it in any way, people don’t realize, and they try in sales to overcompensate for it.

Amanda Milligan:
But there’s so much you can do in marketing to tell that story, and show know that there are people here who know what they’re doing, and they know how to fix your problems. We’re just not explaining it very well.

Azeem Ahmad:
Love that. I also love the fact that you are such an excellent marketer, that in that answer there, you’ve already given a hook for people to carry on listening to the rest of the show. So, fantastic.

Azeem Ahmad:
Let’s move on. What do you think makes a brand authoritative? What makes a brand authoritative for you?

Amanda Milligan:
Sure. I think there’s a lot of answers to this question, and that’s the fun of the marketing side, because there’s so many different ways that you can demonstrate authority.

Amanda Milligan:
For example, perhaps the founder or somebody else at the organization is very public facing, and they share a lot about their perspective. We see this in the marketing industry all the time, right?

Amanda Milligan:
I mean, brand is the reason why a lot of people trusted Moz in the first place. But there’s so many agencies, there’s so many companies where people really respect the founders, or the head of marketing, or whatever it is.

Amanda Milligan:
So that’s a way to be authoritative, is doing it through your people, the people who know what they’re talking about, getting them front and center, and allowing them to communicate out to the public. That’s one way your brand could look authoritative.

Amanda Milligan:
Another way is to create your onsite content in a way that it’s solving people’s problem. I mean, this is On-site Content 101, answering questions, the keyword research that helps you decide what people need help with.

Amanda Milligan:
But if somebody’s turning to you, if they have a question or a problem, or even a curiosity, and they’re landing on your page, and thinking, “That answers my question. This site, this brand, this person understands what I was going for, and they had the answer.” That’s a way to build authority and show that, you know what you’re talking about.

Amanda Milligan:
Or even just, when you create content like that, ranking for it. Because then you’re getting the signal that other people have found this useful, and Google agrees that this is probably the best resource for what I’m looking for.

Amanda Milligan:
So that’s a lot of reason why, obviously, organic traffic is the reason why people want to rank. But it’s also an authority signal, and I think people overlook that a lot. Just seeing that brand name at the top of the surfs says something pretty huge.

Amanda Milligan:
Then there’s the stuff, the industry section that I’ve worked in a lot, which is the PR, the media side. Brands want to be mentioned by authoritative sources, and this is where it’s good to think, “Okay, I can build my own authority, but I can also associate and be trusted by other authorities. That helps amplify my own.”

Amanda Milligan:
If you’re getting mentioned in the news, that means that those respected publications are trusting what you have to say, or you do something co-branded with another brand that people really trust, or get another, an influencer. So many different ways to get at demonstrating your authority, but it’s important to make sure you’re tackling it from a few different ways, just to increase the chances that people can access this. You might not be reaching a wide enough audience with these demonstrations of your authority.

Azeem Ahmad:
There’s so much to unpack there, but a lot of it you mentioned was about building and growing your authorities, and naturally, that’s where I’m going to go into. What value is there in brands that are seeking to build or grow their authority?

Amanda Milligan:
Sure. There’s two perspectives for this. There’s the perspective of the users or the potential clients and customers, right?

Amanda Milligan:
If you were to give them two brands to choose from, and they hadn’t heard of one and the other one, they’re like, “Oh, I know that founder. I’ve seen their stuff.” Or, “Oh, I’ve read their blog, and I trust what they have to say, and it’s helped me.”

Amanda Milligan:
Authority is not tangible in a lot of ways, but it will definitely make an impact on decision making. That’s why concept marketers always struggle with this.

Amanda Milligan:
It’s being able to measure the impact of certain things, awareness authority being two of the major components that is really hard to explain the full impact of. But authority is certainly one of those things that just permeates into every single thing that you do, in marketing, in sales, pretty much in every stage, even when you’re already engaging with somebody.

Amanda Milligan:
So you think about it from that perspective. But there’s also the more SEO focused, Google perspective of authority. We know EAT. I’m not going to get into the whole debate of whether that’s a ranking signal or not, but just, authority does matter, regardless of exactly how Google’s implementing it.

Amanda Milligan:
Obviously, if Google’s trying to rank, what’s going to be the best answer to something. If they have two articles that are not exactly the same, but just as valuable as each other, “Oh, these are both good,” let’s go with the one where we already know this site has proven that they’re authoritative.

Amanda Milligan:
It’s just a better bet, right? So Google determines authority, and whether it’s just the content itself, but also links. That’s why that comes up a lot, because you’re trying to prove, “No, it’s not just us saying that we’re good. Other people are confirming that we know what we’re saying, and that we can be trusted.”

Amanda Milligan:
So I think you come at it from both of those perspectives. It’s not just the search engines, it’s also the user experience. An authority can influence so many things from both sides of that coin.

Azeem Ahmad:
Again, I’ve got so many more questions to ask, I’m probably going to have to get you back, and just do a whole other episode.

Azeem Ahmad:
This is, honestly, really, really fascinating. Thank you for sharing this. Things that are just ticking through in my head now. I need to write them down for sure.

Azeem Ahmad:
So there’s a lot out there about building and growing authority, like you mentioned, both from a user’s point of view. But also, for example, from a search engine’s point of view as well.

Azeem Ahmad:
One of the things that I’d love to cover off and learn from you is, trying to avoid that the most common pitfalls, or what do you think are the most common mistakes that people make when they’re going through this process?

Amanda Milligan:
Yeah. So I alluded to this little earlier, where people aren’t really doing a good enough job reaching a wide enough audience with this authoritative information. And I think a good way to think about it is applying authority to every aspect of the marketing funnel.

Amanda Milligan:
I think where a lot of people start, and this makes total sense, and they should, is the bottom of the funnel. So, “Okay, let’s make sure we have case studies and testimonials, and explanations of our product or service,” or whatever it is.

Amanda Milligan:
You definitely want to have all of that foundation set up, and make sure that you can tell that authoritative story when someone’s ready to buy, obviously. But I think a lot of people stop there.

Amanda Milligan:
And I think that’s a shame, because you’re working harder and hard and harder in your other marketing tactics, to get people to that point, where now they trust you. Get them trusting you way sooner, and the process gets much easier, right?

Amanda Milligan:
Literally, if you sit there and you map out, “Okay, how are all the ways we’re building authority? And are they all at the bottom of the funnel? Is there other stuff we can be doing?” Top of the funnel is where you get into, “Maybe this is more tangential,” and this is what I talk about all the time, tangential content, so stuff that’s not directly tied to your brand offering.

Amanda Milligan:
It’s not directly about your products or your service, but it’s about something that is still relevant to your target audience, and perhaps even a wider audience, so that other people, it’ll rank for higher volume terms, it’ll be covered in the media, because a wider audience cares.

Amanda Milligan:
Whatever it is, you’re reaching a wider audience. You’re building other authority signals that’ll help get people into the funnel, to then understand exactly how authoritative you are in your niche.

Amanda Milligan:
But overlooking that, I think, is something that’s very commonly done, and people are afraid to deviate too much from their core branding, and I understand that. It’s not always intuitive to be like, “Let’s spend money to talk about something that’s not going to convert immediately, or lead to sales.”

Amanda Milligan:
But when you build that authority up top, the sale of everything else is so much faster. If someone’s like, “I’ve been reading your stuff for a year,” that is a much easier conversion to get, than somebody who’s just heard about you for the first time, and they’re reading a case setting.

Amanda Milligan:
They’re like, “Yeah, I think this is cool, but I don’t know. I don’t have a foundation in trusting this brand.”

Azeem Ahmad:
I love this. That’s made me think of a question, but I’m going to come to it later on, and I definitely won’t forget it, because it’s something I’d love to learn from you.

Azeem Ahmad:
Really, really insightful. I can’t believe, what, 11 minutes, and this is just like solid gold. You’re making a case for me to make my future podcasts shorter and shorter, because this is too broad there.

Azeem Ahmad:
Let’s talk about separating yourself from the competition. How do brands with more authority stand out from those who don’t?

Amanda Milligan:
Yeah. I don’t know if this even exactly answers your question, but I think that a lot of companies have to have a moment of self-reflection, of how they actually are different from their competitors, and what their unique expertise is in.

Amanda Milligan:
That’s more of a branding exercise, really. I mean, you have to know the answer to this in order to do the rest of it right. And as a marketer, it will be a little bit of wrangling, maybe, with partners or leadership, or whomever it is, to pick their brains and be like, “What actually makes us different, even outside of just the product or service? What about us and our internal company knowledge is going to be really useful to people? What do we uniquely know?”

Amanda Milligan:
And people who are able to harness that really well, and it’s relevant to what they’re offering, that stands out. Because they’re showing that it’s different.

Amanda Milligan:
It’s like, their particular perspective is different from everything else in the same industry. If you’re too generic, if you’re publishing the same stuff everyone else is publishing, because you’re trying to rank for the same things, but you’re not doing anything particularly interesting, it’s harder to build authority that way, anyway.

Amanda Milligan:
You have more competition. This aligns with the arguments for long tail keywords, even though they’re not as high volume, but at least you’re different, and you’re honing in on the people who really care. But I think that that’s fundamentally what you have to do, because those companies that excel at it do get a lot, all the attention.

Amanda Milligan:
They’re the ones who people understand. Not only do they trust what they’re saying over time, but they get the brand. It’s just, it’s like the branding’s packed into this whole effort. That’s why there’s so much benefit, really.

Amanda Milligan:
Authority is not just a marketing play. It’s a branding thing. Like I said, I mentioned sales already, it can affect so many aspects of a business, but it does that kind of moment where everybody sits down, and they all agree, “This is who we are as a company.”

Amanda Milligan:
I think that is something that’s hard to do sometimes, “Oh, we have this product and it’s cool, and we know that people like it when they use it, but what is actually different about us?” So I think that’s like, when brands get that right, those are the ones that stand out the most.

Azeem Ahmad:
With that, you’ve led me perfectly to the question that I wanted to ask you was literally about, selling this in, or selling this upwards. As you mentioned there, getting everybody around the figurative table, to agree.

Azeem Ahmad:
Let’s talk about the C-suite or senior leadership, for example, who aren’t interested in building authority, literally, those types of people who stereotypically say, “Did we sell more of the product X, did we get more leads? So none of this about authority.” What response would you give to somebody who really isn’t interested in building their authority?

Amanda Milligan:
That’s a great question. It’s kind of my favorite question, because I feel like, it’s the most common thing ever in our industry, to struggle with that part.

Amanda Milligan:
We all know why this stuff matters, at least on a basic level. Implementation’s the hard part, but even harder is just getting the buy-in to implement, right?

Amanda Milligan:
I think one of the solutions is just literally not to even frame it with authority, when you go with that high up. We know, we can talk about it now, authority is an aspect of it, but you’re absolutely right.

Amanda Milligan:
We’re drawing those conclusions, like yes, it is more intangible than other things. However, if you can get buy-in to at least do one post, or … I heard a lot of people when I had the podcast that you were on, that was awesome.

Amanda Milligan:
A lot of people came on and said, because I would ask them the same question, and a lot of people said, “Just get buy-in for a trial, call it a trial or a test.”

Amanda Milligan:
Okay, so you do that part and show, “Listen, I’m talking about authority, but I’m actually talking about, ‘This is what it tangibly looks like. It looks like this post, or it looks like this study that we did. And this is the result of that.'”

Amanda Milligan:
The results of that are what they’re going to care about. Either you run the test, or you pull it from a competitor that’s doing something very similar. That’s always the easiest way, if you can activate their jealousy, that a competitor’s doing something very similar.

Amanda Milligan:
But then, like you mentioned, how is this ranking? How is this driving links that are benefiting other parts of the site? Tying it to the things that you know that person cares about is still going to be the most important thing. The authority building is a vehicle to get to those places.

Amanda Milligan:
It’s only if you’re trying to get buy-in for authority, if you know you’re doing it, the more nebulous, “We just want to be more well known,” it’s still good to tie those to something, if it’s search, like I said, the keywords and the links work.

Amanda Milligan:
But if it’s something else, if it’s branding … Again, pull the competitors. Do they have a founder who’s all over the place and Super Bowl respected, what is their brand search like?

Amanda Milligan:
You want to pull all of whatever metrics you can to ~prove, “Listen, we’re not being talked about enough. We’re not being linked to organically enough, just naturally. People don’t know who we are. Or they don’t know what they’d answer to this question.

Amanda Milligan:
What could we do to become the go-to source? I don’t know, does that answer your question? I kind of went off in a few tangents.

Azeem Ahmad:
Literally, my brain is going 100 mph here. Sadly, we are coming towards the end of the podcast. However, I can’t let you go without asking you a couple more questions.

Azeem Ahmad:
This one’s sort of off the cuff, really. Recently, more and more people who are new to marketing digital marketing in general, have reached out to me and told me that they had been listening to the podcast.

Azeem Ahmad:
One question that I’ve been adding in to all of my guests is basically this. Let’s say somebody brand new to the industry is listening to the almost 20 minutes of absolute knowledge bombs that you have shared today.

Azeem Ahmad:
Now their brain is full, completely new to the industry. This is a brand new topic to them. Where would you advise that they begin to approach this topic?

Azeem Ahmad:
Because there’s so many different areas or facets you can sort of get into. But for somebody brand new, Amanda, what would you recommend? Or where would you recommend that they start?

Amanda Milligan:
Yeah, this is honestly, we talked about how one of the hardest things is getting buy-in, the second hardest thing is prioritization. So I totally understand.

Amanda Milligan:
If you feel that way, that is not an uncommon feeling. I feel that way, every time I go to a conference, it’s, “Cool. That was a lot. Now I don’t know how to follow up on all of that.”

Amanda Milligan:
I think the first thing you do is take a look at what you’re already doing, and say, “What applies here, and what’s already working? And how can I keep doing that?”

Amanda Milligan:
That’s always the easiest thing to do, and it’s also just the most sensible thing to do. You’re already identifying what works, you might as well invest a little more.

Amanda Milligan:
Then if you want to trying to explore more, like I mentioned the funnel, if you’re like, “Okay, I am that person who hasn’t really done any authority building outside of the bottom of the funnel,” then take that moment to say, “What do we, what can we uniquely offer? What information can we put together, that’s going to be authoritative, and useful to our audience?”

Amanda Milligan:
And pick one thing, just start at one place. Maybe there’s a question you’ve always wanted to answer with a survey, and you think that people are going to find it fascinating. Try that, and then don’t get caught up in the million of other things.

Amanda Milligan:
Don’t start using six new marketing channels, just to get out there as much as you can. Pick that one thing that you think you’re going to get buy-in for, that people are going to be interested in, and use that as your stepping stone into all these other initiatives.

Azeem Ahmad:
Amazing, much like everything that you’ve said in this episode and shared. This has been absolutely brilliant. I can’t let you go, firstly, without thanking you for being an awesome guest, which I will do again, before I press Stop Recording.

Azeem Ahmad:
But most importantly, if anybody’s listened to this, would love to find out more about you, or connect with you, or follow you. How can they do that?

Amanda Milligan:
Sure. I’m on LinkedIn and Twitter. The most, definitely Twitter, and love/hate relationship over there. Twitter, I’m @millanda, M-I-L-L-A-N-D-A.

Amanda Milligan:
But please feel free to e-mail me, if you have follow-up questions, you want to talk about any of this? I’m not kidding, I can talk about this all day.

Amanda Milligan:
My e-mail is a amilligan@stacker.com. So shoot me an e-mail, say you heard me on the show, and you had, you wanted to follow up about something, and I’m happy to talk about it.

Amanda Milligan:
Or DM me on Twitter, or whatever it is. I’m happy to help. And thank you so much for having me, truly.

Azeem Ahmad:
The guests can’t see, but I’m doing a hand on heart thing. Honestly, this has been brilliant. Thank you so much.

Azeem Ahmad:
I’ll make sure to share your social handle and your e-mail address in the show notes, but that is pretty much it. All it’s left to say is, this has been absolutely brilliant, so much knowledge dropped in 20 minutes or so.

Azeem Ahmad:
I cannot thank you enough for being an absolutely awesome. This is where I shut up. The final word on your episode goes to you, so take it away.

Amanda Milligan:
Well, thank you, Azeem, you’re wonderful. Thank you for everything that you do for the industry. I just want to shout you out to end this episode, and thank you all for listening.