Persuasion 301: Respect My Authority

So you’re organizing your content in a way that solves problems, and you’re putting in that call to action that makes it easy for your readers to take the next step. Good for you.

But that’s not enough.

This is an upper-level class now.

Anyone can throw up a website that says, “The TimeSaver 3000 will shave hours off your daily chores, leaving you more time to spend how you like! Click here to buy now!” …but if you (the buyer) don’t know who is selling to you, or why you should trust them with your money, you probably won’t.


Establishing credibility is a must.

When I taught speech to college students, my students were required to establish credibility during their speeches in two ways.

  1. Outright authority; making a statement to explain your credibility in the introduction of the speech
  2. Implied authority;  showing an intimate understanding of the content through the use of language, testimonials, and outside sources in the body of the speech.

When you’re setting up a website for your business, you should be doing the same. Most often, this happens on the About page (or at least, ideally it should… but most About pages are terrible). But these can be applied to a variety of pages and types of content.

Outright Authority

We are simple creatures. We like straightforward information. That’s why it’s important to just tell your readers who you are and why they can trust you from the start. This can take on many forms.

  • I have over a decade of experience in…
  • I have a Ph.D. in…
  • Growing up on a farm gave me intimate knowledge of…
  • During my time as a communication director, I learned…
  • …etc.

That’s it. Really.


Yes, really. I know right?

But just that one sentence can go a long way in putting aside any doubts your potential customers may have.

Implied Authority

I won’t lie; this one is a little more involved. But doing it right will serve you well when it comes to your bottom line (or your speech grade, as the case was for my students).

Where outright authority is all about your claim, implied authority is all about your readers’ perceptions of you. Simply put: by appearing to know what you’re talking about and showing that you’ve done the research, you naturally earn trust.


It’s also important to note that while your About page is a factor here, implied authority comes from the whole of your web copy. Every piece of content, from policy pages to product descriptions, has the power to sway your audience.

Here’s how you imply your authority in web copy:


While I never suggest that you bog your copy down with a lot of technical terms, knowing and correctly using industry-related jargon here and there helps establish your familiarity with whatever it is you’re selling. Additionally, using language that is appropriate for your audience is important; if you’re selling wedding-related services, you’ll want to choose words that are positive, stress-free, and highlight the value of your pricing. Language also means correct spelling, basic grammar, and logic that is easy to follow/understand.


For a business, testimonials, awards, and big-name affiliations are everything. 

If you can show that others have already recognized you as an expert, you back up your own claims. Using direct quotations from previous clients about their satisfaction, or mentioning how your business was selected for the Best of The Year in a local paper, or even including a link to an interview you did for a major website in your industry puts your leads’ minds at ease.  Use the foundation you’ve already laid elsewhere to build up your image on your own site.

If you don’t have any testimonials, contact previous clients and ASK FOR ONE. (If you sell physical products, you can use your reviews as a testimonial.)

Outside Sourcing

When my students wrote persuasive speeches, they were required to find sources to back up their own claims. If they wanted to convince us that Pepsi is better than Coke, they might cite a blind taste test where most people preferred Pepsi. Or they might tell us about the nutritional value of each, which they found on the side of the can. Or they might cite medical studies that talk about the specific health effects of each.

When you can show that others agree with you or that there is real-world evidence, you essentially borrow others’ credibility. You’re also showing off that you’ve done the research (so that your readers don’t have to).

If you sell organic baby food, you might find studies, news stories, or other blog posts that back up your claims about why food like yours is the best decision. If you’re a business coach, you might cite other blogs where business owners talk about how valuable hiring a coach was for them.

The trick here, though, is that because you are borrowing authority, you are only as credible as your sources. So make sure you’re really evaluating how trustworthy the information you’re using is. If it comes from a place like the CDC or a related nonprofit or an article from a respected newspaper, you’re in the clear.

If your sources are obviously being paid by other companies to write flattering words, or if you’re linking Wikipedia pages or websites that haven’t been updated in years, you’re going to come off like many of the students I taught: a college freshman who half-assed it.

So here’s your homework.

Go look at your site and find the actual sentence where you tell people why they can trust you. Can’t find it? Write it.

Then click around and honestly evaluate what you’re putting forth: are you utilizing language in a way that builds trust? Are you allowing testimonials and affiliations to highlight your authority? Are you using trustworthy information (and citing it correctly)? If not, how can you rework your content to do so?

Up next: the final installment in our crash course on persuasion. Get ready to graduate!

(There might be a final exam.)

Prof. Lauren


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