Building a Trusted Content Brand

March 31, 2021

Whenever I visit a new website, the first thing I do is look around and ask, can I trust this resource?

While not every reader does this deliberately, most of us size up information sources to some degree, even if we don’t realize it.

In the age of disinformation, trust is a valued currency. Too many content companies and blogs miss out on readers because they don’t make a conscious effort to establish trust. Their sites might offer accurate information, but if it’s not easy for readers to see that, they likely won’t stick around.

Showing your readers they should trust you requires effort, and sometimes money, too. The return isn’t always obvious or easy to measure. But not taking the time to show why your audience should trust you can doom your brand.

What is EAT? Expertise, Authority and Trustworthiness

Readers aren’t the only ones who care about whether you should be trusted. So does Google.

The more Google believes your content is trustworthy, the higher it will rank your content. That means more people will see your website when they’re searching for an answer to their question, which can lead to an increase in website traffic.

Google laid out its stance on trust in 2019 when it launched EAT, which stands for Expertise, Authority and Trustworthiness. The search engine uses these qualities as factors when deciding how to rank your website in search results.

This is a perfect example of how what’s good for SEO is good for the reader. It doesn’t have to be — and shouldn’t be — one or the other. Optimize great content that helps your reader, and you’ll get a double ROI.

Want to know what your content brand can do to help readers and Google trust you? In this post, I review a few of those trust-building tasks: 

  • Publish high-quality content
  • Hire expert writers
  • Add a byline to each post
  • Display each writer’s headshot
  • Detail each writer’s expertise in their bio
  • Add links within each author bio that showcase expertise
  • Make the writer’s expertise obvious in the piece
  • Tell your company story

Some of these items require a lot of effort, while others are relatively quick adjustments. 

If trust is a priority for your brand — and it probably should be — here’s how to gain it.

1. Publish high-quality content

I tend to assume great content is at the foundation of any brand that truly wants to make a dent in the world. But I recognize that’s not how everyone’s brain works, so…

To build a trusted brand, you must publish content that’s a) helpful or entertaining, b) from a unique perspective, and c) edited cleanly. Without this foundation, the rest of the suggestions in this post will fall flat.

2. Hire expert writers

If you’re offering advice or information, don’t make the mistake of hiring a general writer who knows nothing about the topic and writes the post simply by aggregating information from the internet. You don’t just want a writer. You want a writer who is an expert in your topic. You want a writer who has authority.

Your writer should know your topic inside and out, and could maybe even write the entire piece off the top of their head. If the writer doesn’t know the topic well, your readers will be able to tell.

A writer with true experience and authority in a field will craft a post that’s far more helpful to your community. They will add details that resonate with readers, and address your readers’ pain points and objections.

For example, at The Write Life, when we wanted to publish a post about how to break into grant writing, we hired Megan Hill, CEO of Professional Grant Writers. She’s been grant writing for years, runs a team of grant writers, and is the perfect person to give advice on how to become a grant writer. As of the writing of this post, Megan’s piece ranked in position 1 on Google for “how to become a grant writer.”

Hiring experts is easier said than done. Not only does it typically take extra effort to find true experts to write for you, it also costs more. True experts are often successful, sometimes working full-time jobs and writing for you on the side, which means you really have to make it worth their while to contribute. In fact, I find they usually cost twice as much as a generic blog contributor. (For more details, this post outlines how much to pay writers.)

Not every post has to be written by an expensive expert. But every post should be written by an experienced writer who is familiar with the topic.

Whether you have to increase your overall budget to afford expert writers or publish less content so you can pay more per post, this is a solid investment in your brand.

3. Add a byline to each post

This might sound obvious if you come from a journalistic background, but plenty of websites showcase blog posts without saying who wrote them. 

The assumption is that the information comes from the company itself, but unless it’s a generic how-to guide to using your product, the piece is better off with a byline. And even for a how-to guide, a byline sometimes makes sense to showcase your brand’s personality and expertise.

Adding a byline achieves a few basic things:

  • Shows your readers that you have real people (ideally experts) writing for your site. This should be a given, but with so much misinformation on the web, you need to state the obvious.
  • Gives your readers a way to learn more about who contributes to your website if they choose to do so.

Don’t bury the byline at the bottom of the post; display it prominently at the top. 

In an ideal world, you’ll link the byline to the author’s bio, so the reader has an opportunity to learn more about their expertise. 

Here’s an example on The Penny Hoarder:

Bylines at The Penny Hoarder, screenshot

An example of bylines at The Penny Hoarder.

4. Display each writer’s headshot

You’ll notice one more important element in the byline example above: a headshot, which helps the reader see who they are. Seeing someone’s face is so helpful in visualizing who wrote the post; it brings immediate credibility and is far more convincing than a name alone.

The most obvious place to include a headshot is on the writer’s bio page. But I also recommend adding it next to the byline at the top of each piece, so readers see it even if they don’t click over to the author’s bio page. 

Here’s what this looks like on The 19th’s website:

The 19th Author Headshot example

An example of how The 19th features writer headshots.

Another reason to share your writers’ headshots: It shows your readers that your writers represent them and their diversity. 

If that sentence made you pause and think about your writing team, it’s worth considering why — and how that might affect your brand. 

If all of your writers are men and your target demographic is women, for example, your readers will probably notice that discrepancy… and it could erode the trust you’re working so hard to build This is one of many reasons to hire a diverse content team.

5. Detail each writer’s expertise in their bio

Ask your writers to flesh out their bios, adding information that’s relevant to their posts and shows they truly understand the topics they write about. 

They might include experience working in an industry, writing about a particular field for years, or a relevant degree. Mentioning well-known brands or companies the writer has written for can also help establish authority.

I like how the New York Times showcases reporter bios. When you click on the author’s name, you get one sentence about the reporter’s position. Then if you click the arrow to expand the description, you learn about their background, experience and expertise.

Here’s what that looks like:

New York Times author bio example

An example of an author bio at the New York Times.

Some writers like to add fun details to their profile, like the names of their cats or how they eat ice cream out of the carton. This is fine, so long as it 1) matches the voice and character of your brand, and 2) is accompanied by experience and credentials that show their expertise.

6. Add relevant links within each author’s bio

Author bios are a good start, but the sad truth is, anyone can make up an author bio and slap up a photo to go along with it. Your goal is to convince readers this is a real person. It’s unfortunate that this is necessary, but some scammy websites make up authors and profiles, and you want to make it absolutely clear that’s not something you do.

So in addition to sharing each author’s background and experience — essentially, what makes them an expert in this field — link to other sites that further prove that expertise. Social media platforms with a professional aspect are good choices; think Twitter and LinkedIn (but not Facebook). If the author has their own website, it might make sense to link to that, too.

For this strategy to work, the author has to showcase their expertise on each of those platforms. Their Twitter bio or LinkedIn summary needs to align with the professionalism of your website.

There’s a potential downside to linking to the author’s social media profiles or website: It sends readers away from your website. This might affect conversion rates, which is why many publications add author social profile links not on the blog post or article itself but instead on the author’s bio page. Bury them a little so they don’t significantly affect your conversion rates but are easy to find for a reader who’s keen to learn more about your writers. And make them open in a new window so readers can easily return to your site when they’re ready.

7. Make the writer’s expertise obvious in the piece

If you’ve hired an expert to write for you, don’t make the reader dig to find that out. Tell them about the author’s expertise near the beginning of the piece.

This doesn’t work for every type of content; in a news article, for example, the beat reporter isn’t going to state her experience within the story itself. But in some formats, like blogging, this is a good option. Sometimes I even do it myself on my own blog, even though I’ve written nearly all the posts. Some posts will get passed around the internet and read by people who don’t know me, and even people who know me don’t necessarily remember all my background. So I include a brief mention in the introduction of the post about why I’m qualified to write on this topic. 

Here’s an example where I show my expertise in the introduction of the post. It’s not super elegant, but I begin the post with: “In my work building writing teams for startups, I sometimes come across companies…” I state the expertise and link to a page where the reader can learn more if they want to.

We ask for this at The Write Life, too, encouraging expert writers to explain near the beginning of the post why they are qualified to write it.

It felt awkward at first, because it wasn’t what we were used to doing. But there is so much poor advice from scammy companies in the writing space that we wanted to be super clear that our writers truly knew what they were talking about. We wanted to show our writers were authoritative.

An example: Years ago, we published a post called How to Become a Technical Writer. The original version wasn’t strong, so in 2020 we set out to find an expert to rewrite it and offer readers an awesome resource on the topic. 

It took us a few weeks to find the right person to write the post (see point #2: hire expert writers), and we landed on Christine Snyder. Not only is she a successful technical writer, she made the transition from news writing fairly recently, so she knows the challenges firsthand.

We encouraged her to share that personal experience near the beginning of her post, and here’s what she wrote:

I made the switch [to technical writing] in 2019 and wish I had known about the option far earlier.

I came to technical writing after working as a newspaper reporter and copy editor. Leaving the profession I’d loved for decades wasn’t easy, but I became even more grateful for my new career when the pandemic started and I became the sole breadwinner for our family of six. Back in March, my husband lost his job and finding a new one in the COVID-ravaged landscape took six months. I don’t like to think how our household would have fared if I’d stayed in journalism. 

Money isn’t the sole reason to consider a job in technical writing, but it’s no small consideration either.

My work on a team handling information technology documents for a federal government contractor outside D.C. pays $70,000 — almost twice what I earned at my last newspaper job.

As of this writing, that post is the top Google search result for “how to become a technical writer,” which gets 2,800 searches a month. It’s at position 7 for “technical writer,” which gets 13,000 searches.

8. Tell your company story

Finally, tell the story of the people behind your brand. Tell your story: why you do what you do, and how you got there. 

This post explains how to use your About page to achieve this.

Gaining trust takes time

It requires effort, and often money, to build trust in your brand. It takes time for these strategies to work. And sometimes the results are hard to measure.

But if you put in the work to implement some or all of the suggestions in this post, you’ll see a lift over time, both with Google and in whichever conversion metric is most important for growing your company.

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