In an attempt to determine how the web defines authority, Chris Brogan opened the floor on a discussion that... well, seems to have no definitive answer. Even the 30+ comments from his readers only argue the fact that none of the usual metrics are a reliable source.
In a world of skewed ranking data, unreliable tools and fake social proof - just how do you go about measuring the Influence of a particular icon in your niche?
There have been several attempts to provide this data over the years, including: GuruDaq, Alexa Rankings, Google PageRank, Compete.com, Yahoo Site Explorer, and even more recently: HubSpot's Website & Twitter Graders.
These tools can be used to help you:
- Locate ideal affiliates
- Perform competition analysis
- Flesh out an advertising campaign
- Find potential JV partners
- Choose sites for content submission
- Gauge buzz-ability for a viral marketing campaign
...etc. The problem is that the data is skewed, and that no set of metrics work across the board. All of these factors will vary between niches and micro-niches. To make it even more difficult, there are no set standards. In the end, all you're left with is a "guesstimate".
The first step is to have a very clear objective. Do you want general exposure and brand awareness, direct sales, high-value inbound links, super affiliates or JV partners? Once you know exactly what you're looking for, the next step is in-depth research. General points for consideration in your research might include:
- Blog: Comment-to-Post ratio
- Website: Number of inbound links / PageRank
- Publisher: Number of subscribers via email and/or RSS
- Affiliates: Success with similar campaigns
There are some obvious issues with each of these elements as a true gauge for influence, reach or authority.
PageRank is nothing more than a vanity tool. And I'm referring to TBPR (PageRank as shown in the Google Toolbar). It's unfortunate that people even use it as a gauge when determining which sites they will advertise on or do business with. True PageRank is a complex algorithm. What you see in the Google Toolbar is nothing more than a marketing gimmick.
Alexa Rankings are terribly skewed, and generally work in favor of more tech savvy niches. They rely on numbers gained through the Alexa toolbar. If you manage a popular community for boa snake owners, your target market probably does not use the Alexa toolbar.
Age of site/content is not relevant in all cases. Frequency of content is also not always relevant. Some content is evergreen, which cannot be compared to hot topics or news for example. Consider the type of content and the publishing model when looking at these as serious criteria.
Social Media status and other superfluous numbers may be a gauge for popularity, but not necessarily for influence or authority. People follow & friend for a number of reasons, including bribery & buzz. How those numbers were established, and the the response rate of those groups, are definitely points for consideration.
Subscriber Numbers, including email and RSS or both combined, carry the same requirement. There is no real way to know how many of those subscribers are loyal readers, or what type of relationship that publisher has with their readership... outside of viewing live stats, or testing it with a true message-to-market match.
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It's All Relative
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How you assign points to certain web properties is relative to your objective, and to the niche you are researching. The most important thing being that you compare apples to apples. You cant compare properties that offer "web design in hohenwald tennessee" to those that sell info products internationally, for example.
You also cant just compare any one blog to the other. You have to compare blogs that target an identical type of readership.
Your research needs to be niche-specific, and the general habits and behavior of the target market need to be considered as well.
The only true gauge is results.
You can gather a lot of information by using tools that give you data, skewed or not. The job is to compare this data and also use a bit of good old fashioned intuition. You should also subscribe to their newsletters or feeds, read the comments or feedback (if available), purchase and review their products as well as their follow-up system, and 'friend them' on social media sites.
Any of these 'spy tactics' can help you get a more well-rounded view of how they interact with their target market, and what kind of response they might receive in return.
All said and done, the only way to know which publishers and properties truly have Influence, Reach or Authority... is to test them. A true test requires identical campaigns on each property, with a close eye on the statistics.
Keep a spreadsheet of your research, and your results. Over time you will develop a highly valuable data bank of your own. With that in hand, you can easily weed out the 'junk' and continue to work with the properties & publishers that bring you results.