7 mistakes to avoid in personal branding and building authority

Building your personal brand, from letterhead to logo can lead to fame and fortune or it can cost you years of wasted time.

I’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way, so I guess you could call me an expert in taking the long road.

I started doing search engine optimization back in 1995 when it was much easier. These days, Internet marketing, whether it be search or social, doesn’t come from merely sprinkling miracle grow on your digital flowers.

These days you need to be much more strategic and you must streamline your efforts.

The following are seven mistakes to avoid when building your authority and your digital presence.

  1. Waiting too long to write a book

Writing a book these days is ridiculously easy. You would be amazed at how many service professionals and others have written what are called gift books. Some of these books are incredibly short but look fantastic.

I was recently in a new business meeting with a financial planner and I was explaining to him how much a book would help him. He pulled out a copy of the following book and I was pleasantly surprised to see that he knew just what I was talking about.

Authority Marketing Book Example 1

This book is 95 pages and is the size of a normal piece of paper folded in half.

If you were to record yourself talking or doing a podcast for around three hours you could get the same amount of content in this book.

The power of having a book like this can be a game changer for certain types of businesses.

Jack Canfield, who has sold more than 500 million books in 47 languages, says:

Publishing a book is more than a way to share your message and wisdom with others. It’s also a tremendous marketing tool. After all, no matter your industry or profession, everyone wants to do business with the person who “wrote the book.” Becoming a published author positions you as an expert and instantly affords you the type of credibility which can skyrocket your career to a whole new level.

If you are already blogging, doesn’t it make sense to repurpose that content into e-books and even a printed book?

Here are a few of the things you will need to write and publish your first book:

  • Cover design
  • Table of contents
  • Roughly 10,000 to 20,000 words
  • Editor/Proofreader
  • A printing company
  • A barcode for the back cover
  • An Amazon account where you can sell it

I recently contacted the people that printed my book to get a quote for doing these types of books regularly.

The owner of the printing company said that he frequently publishes gift books like this and they are generally around 20,000 words.

He quoted between four dollars and six dollars per book with short runs as little as 100.

Another book that recently blew my mind in terms of being short yet powerful, is by my former teacher of conversion rate optimization Bryan Eisenberg.

Authority- Marketing Book Example 2

It is 54 pages and here is a typical (207) word page:

54 Page Short Book

54 pages times 207 words is 11,178 words. That is about 2 hours of transcribed speaking.

When it came in the mail, I was really surprised by how short it was because I have read numerous books by Bryan Eisenberg that revolutionized my thinking about marketing.

Was I disappointed? Not at all and in fact I was happy for two reasons.

  1. Because I collect the short books to show to my customers.
  2. Because I actually look forward to reading short and to the point books by knowledgeable people.

One of the biggest mistakes I made when writing my first book was to spend over three years writing it (420 pages on the ever changing digital marketing) while running my agency.

It became a college textbook at two different colleges, so it worked out great in the end but it took many years longer than it should have for a first book.

Notice that all of these examples of thought leaders are authors of books and blogs.

  • Oprah Winfrey
  • Donald Trump
  • Dave Ramsey
  • Suzy Orman
  • Rand Fishkin
  • Seth Godin
  1. Writing a book before building a platform

I know I just told you to write a book sooner rather than later but there is a way better way to do it than the typical path.

Only after writing and self-publishing my book did I find the work of Michael Hyatt. His book Platform opened my eyes in regard to what is necessary to sell copies of your book and have a loyal following.

Michael says:

When I started, a platform involved having a radio or television show, a bestselling book, or a highly visible speaking career. It took money, fame, or both. It was mostly unavailable to the average person. Since that time, blogging has provided a way for almost anyone to gain visibility and build an audience.

Books don’t sell on their own and even if you get a publishing deal they are going to require you to sell a lot of copies yourself.

Blogging is a great way to build a platform. So one of the smartest ways you can write a book is to do the blogging first and as you are building an audience, you are also very quickly building your manuscript.

  1. Writing on your own blog more than writing guest posts

Back in the 1990s, if you wrote a lot of content with keywords in it you would rank really well and get significant traffic. It’s not that simple now and you really need to get your writing on larger sites with a lot of traffic.

It’s important to have a home base where you can send people to your blog but if you only write for a small audience you won’t get enough traffic to make a difference.

This can be overwhelming for a lot of people because not only is it a lot of work to write for your own site but when you realize what it really takes to become a successful blogger, it can be a bit daunting.

But if you look at a lot of the success stories out there, who built popular blogs like Buffer, you will see a consistent pattern of guest posting and getting in front of larger sites.

As Kristi Hines says:

Guest blogging definitely helps build your authority across all channels – subscribers, social followers, and overall recognition of your personal brand. Can’t beat it!

  1. Focusing on search engine optimization and social media too much

I have been doing search engine optimization for over 20 years and I can tell you that no matter how good you are at selecting keywords and crafting them into your content, it is no longer enough to generate a volume of traffic in isolation.

There are plenty of stories of bloggers who really didn’t even understand search engine optimization or a significant amount of social media when they became famous blogging.

Again, the common thread that binds these successful people together is usually that they wrote for larger audiences and didn’t spend an endless amount of time worrying about technical details.

You absolutely need a technically sound website and blog with clean URLs and a good search engine optimized architecture. You also need a social following but if you spend time endlessly reading about and doing these activities and don’t focus enough on writing and getting your writing in front of the largest audiences, you won’t succeed.

  1. Not doing competitive analysis

Tools like SEMrush, Ahrefs and BuzzSumo can tell you an incredible amount of scientific data on why your competitor’s content is succeeding.

SEMrush can show you what pages are driving the most traffic and from what keywords. Below is an example that shows the most successful pages on Copyblogger.

You can see the keywords, the Google ranking position, the monthly search volume, estimated cost per click, the URL of the page and the percent of traffic in order of which keywords/pages drive the most traffic.

Copyblogger Top Keywords Content

Ahrefs can show you the most linked to pages from Copyblogger. Understanding what type of content generates the most back links can give you insights into content you can create that will make a big difference.

Ahrefs Best Pages By Links

Google just recently revealed that content, links and Rank Brain are the three most powerful ranking factors. If links are still critical, then you can’t leave it up to chance to think about what content gets the most links.

Just remember not to overly focus on the technical side of this and rather to air on the side of thinking like a journalist. Ask yourself how you can get featured on large media sites and which websites will be willing to interview you or let you interview them.

You can generate a lot of ideas using software but you have to then go do the hard work of positioning yourself as an authority and getting featured. That is where the magic happens and not only in the back room of a technical SEO wizard.

BuzzSumo can show you what content gets shared the most for popular keywords. This will give you ideas on how to craft headlines and content that can go viral. Search results on BuzzSumo for “marketing” are below.

Buzzsumo Popular Content

Using software to understand your competitors can speed up the authority building process considerably.

  1. Not picking the right size niche

Being a big fish in a small pond is often the best way to get ahead more quickly. For example, I have generated hundreds of thousands of dollars in sales for a personal injury attorney specifically for dog bite law. When they were focusing on a dozen different personal injury practice areas, they weren’t getting any leads. Once we reduced the size of the niche and wrote a substantial amount of content, leads came in and those leads closed because of their focused expertise and authority.

With that said, the inverse can also be true according to Jon Morrow of Boost Blog Traffic.

On an amazing webinar with Jon about blogging, I shared how I was starting the Authority Marketing blog. He said to make sure to develop content for people that are not just marketers or professional services experts but for people even just thinking about creating a business. He shared how he learned over the years that you need an audience of millions on a blog to make it wildly popular.

So if you have a significant business already and you want to impress customers in a small niche, you can often drill down very narrowly and have success. On the other hand, if your goal is to have millions of visitors come to your blog, then you need a larger audience.

It’s not as simple as always needing to pick a smaller niche but clearly not picking the right size niche can you leave you with nothing to show for your efforts.

So spend time thinking about how you can stand out from the crowd and what topic you want to be known for. Consider coming up with your own buzzwords and starting a small movement to inspire others.

  1. Giving up too soon

At the inbound marketing conference from HubSpot I heard Rand Fishkin give a talk where he shared the graphic below from his wife’s analytics.

How Long Does It Take To Blog

She has a travel blog and even though she is the wife of one of the most famous search engine optimization experts in the world, her blog did not take off for over two years.

Essentially what he said was that even the mighty Rand couldn’t sprinkle digital fairy dust on her blog and make it successful overnight.

She had to do the hard work and write for her blog and other blogs until eventually the audience came and the search rankings followed.

They say it’s darkest just before dawn. So if you are feeling like you will never build authority or a blog/website following, take heart and know that there are hundreds of stories just like yours and that the people that don’t give up eventually become successful.


In order to build a strong personal brand and commanding authority both online and off-line, it takes a monstrous effort. There are some shortcuts but they are part of a potentially long journey.

Therefore it helps to love what you do and what you are writing about.

The good news is that it’s never late to start, whether you are 7 or 70.

Having a book published, getting comments on your blog and being featured on sites like Forbes and The Huffington Post feels really good.

An attorney signed up for one of my services after reading my blog and seeing that I was also featured in Forbes. It’s an awesome feeling when you get customers like that and when people reference your blog and media features.

When you look at the big picture and see how all these tactics go together and feed on each other, the long road suddenly becomes an enjoyable one.

What mistakes have you been making in personal branding and building your authority?

By John McDougall

John McDougall is the founder of McDougall Interactive and author of a college text book on digital marketing. Check out

3 replies on “7 mistakes to avoid in personal branding and building authority”

I disagree with number 3. I believe you should focus on your own content and your own blog. A few guest posts are a useful way to expand your reach.

I do think many people give up too quickly. I think they often have unrealistic expectations for how quickly the world will run to their wonderful content. A few people grab attention very quickly it is much more common to very slowly grow an audience (if you continually provide good value – it is even more common to provide uninspired content and not build an audience at all).

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