13 Takeaways from Copyblogger Authority Intensive 2014

Last week, Raubi and I ventured to Denver for Copyblogger’s inaugural Authority Intensive conference. We spent 2 days immersed in content marketing heaven alongside 400+ other passionate creatives and marketers.

As you may have guessed by the name, this conference centered around building online authority, with sessions focused on design, content, traffic and conversions. If you’re already a fan of Copyblogger, it will come as no surprise that both the content and execution of this event was unparalleled. My mind was exhausted by the end of it (and so was my hand — I wrote down nearly 30 pages of notes!) but I was anxious to get back and implement the many ideas this event inspired for me.

Now that the information overload has subsided, I want to share some of the biggest takeaways of Authority Intensive.

1. It’s OK to suck (everyone does at first).


No one is great on day one” was an overarching theme of the conference. We heard this over and over again from some of the most accomplished online voices.

Growth is achieved by pushing yourself through the uncomfortable “sucking” period. Embrace the beginning, and accept that becoming an authority takes time.

2. Be willing to be unpopular. 


You can’t make everyone happy all of the time. You also can’t appeal to everyone. Remaining neutral doesn’t ignite passion in anyone.

People are attracted to similar people. The only way to create a legion of like-minded fans is by zeroing in on their specific values and beliefs — even if those values and beliefs are polarizing.

Stop focusing on being popular with everyone, and start trying to be invaluable to a small group of people. Work toward building trust with that group. This starts with consistently serving them value, not trying to constantly sell to them.

3. Keep starting. 

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Keynote speaker Darren Rowse, founder of Problogger and Digital Photography School, told us “starting is a mindset” that leads to self discovery. He said you need to stop waiting to be ready. You’ll never feel truly ready, but you can be prepared.

Successful people keep making new things. The most important step is getting started (and this automatically puts you ahead of most people).

4. Be true to yourself and embrace what’s uniquely you. 


Be honest about what motivates you. It’s OK to have selfish interests, especially if it keeps you motivated. Copyblogger CCO Sonia Simone urged us to be real about what matters in order to start working on it.

On the same note, stop trying to emulate your competitors. Carve out a niche that’s unique to you and then you’ll become your only competition. Keynote speaker Seth Godin said the only way to win is to be the only one in your category — that is true authority.

5. Use empathy to best serve your audience’s needs.


“Empathy” was a word uttered countless times throughout the conference. But empathy was brought up often for good reason. You can’t solve your audience’s problems without understanding their fears, desires, challenges, and dreams. Only through empathy can you establish an emotional connection.

MarketingProfs CCO Ann Handley says one of the best ways to add empathy to your writing: use “you.” This instantly switches your writing from a one-way narrative by placing the focus on the reader.

Great Content = Useful x Empathy x Inspired

Ann shared the above formula for great content and said if any of those values were “zero,” expect your content to flop. Empathy is a crucial ingredient for content that resonates.

Not sure what your audience wants or needs? Chris Guillebeau, author of The Art of Non-Conformity, says you can ask these two questions:

  • Why do you read my blog?
  • What’s your greatest challenge?

6. Take your readers on a journey that changes them for the better.

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Darren Rowse says to use these questions about your audience as a way to guide your content strategy:

  • Who are your readers?
  • What do they need?
  • How will they change?

Decide how you can help your audience fix a problem/challenge and then lead them on a journey to overcome it.

7. Keep user experience top of mind.

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User experience goes hand-in-hand with empathy. Dennis Goedegebuure,, Head of SEO at Airbnb, shared how his company uses storyboards to outline the ideal customer experience and then designed their site around the boards.

People should feel like they’re making progress toward what your site promises them. Copyblogger’s Cheif Digital Officer Chris Garrett shared 3 pillars of usability that can help visitors better navigate your site:

  • Affordance: Do I know what to click?
  • Visibility: Can I find what to click?
  • Feedback: Did I click the right thing?

8. Start simple with your brand design. 


Pamela Wilson, owner of Big Brand System, says design affects your brand differently during different stages. Site design should reflect which stage your company is in. Don’t try to get to the last stage of design when you’re still at the beginning. Design can become a huge distraction if you try to make everything perfect upfront.

You can break brand design into 3 stages that coincide with your business’s progression.

Stage 1: Use Minimum Viable Design. Choose two main colors and one accent color. Choose two fonts (recommended: one serif + one sans serif). Optional: Use a wordmark logo — this is a unique typeface that’s been kerned, like the Copyblogger logo.

Stage 2: Develop Brand Standards. Create a style guide listing your official colors and fonts. Include verbal brand standards, like your tagline and brand story.

Stage 3: Build Design Into Your DNA. Apply design standards to everything: web presence, physical products/packaging, email signatures, and invoices (don’t forget the little things!).

9. Your content probably isn’t communicating as effectively as you think.


Arienne Holland, Director of Marketing and Customer Experience at Raven Tools, told us most people don’t know the true definition of communication, which is the sharing of ideas with mutual understanding (most of us tend to leave out that last bit!).

Arienne gave a simple acronym for improving communication: AVA.

  • Answer: Answer your customer’s question with truth. No shortcuts or meandering.
  • Value: Reinforce the customer’s value to you, and your value to the customer.
  • Anticipate: Anticipate the customer’s next question or need. Address it before they ask.

10. Don’t underestimate the power of small details..


Copy Hackers founder Joanna Wiebe’s “button talk” was a conference highlight for many. (Yes, she spent an entire hour talking about virtual buttons.)

So, why are buttons so important? Buttons are the point at which a visitor takes an action, whether they’re going to subscribe to an email list, buy a product, or register as a member. But people get anxious when they’re not sure what will happen after they click on a button (Will their credit card be charged? Will they be spammed? Will a sales person call?).

Joanna shared a lot of case studies that proved simply changing the color, placement or text on a button can lead to a huge increase in sales/conversions.

Think of buttons as a closed door. You need to relieve someone’s anxiety about what’s behind the door.

This is about more than just buttons, though. The point is, you need to test and experiment with what moves your audience to take a desired action. Are your buttons/site copy/blog posts making your audience feel uncertain or are you adequately alleviating their fears? Sometimes all it takes is changing something as simple as the wording on a button.

(I could fill another 1,000 words about the button talk, but you’d be better off visiting Joanna’s site for more insight on updating/testing your site’s buttons and calls-to-action.)

11. Stop resisting fear. Be open to things that may not work.


Fear of failure keeps most people from experimenting. But successful people embrace fear as part of the process.

Darren Rowse told us he’s started 30 blogs over the years, but only 2 remain (and both are wildly successful). He says if you’re feeling fear, it means something important is about to happen. Fear is there to make you pay attention.

12. Use visual content to break through the noise.


Jason Miller, Senior Manager Content and Social at LinkedIn, gave 5 reasons marketers should be using visual content:

  • We’re all visual thinkers
  • Visual language aids in decision making
  • Visual is more persuasive
  • Visual makes a better, longer overall impression than text
  • Visual connects emotionally

Jason suggests thinking of content like a Thanksgiving turkey (say what?). You have the main meal, but then you can slice it up and use it in other ways. For example, an infographic can be repurposed into a blog post (even a series of blog posts), video, Slideshare presentation, etc. With this strategy, you can get a lot of mileage off of one piece of visual content.

13. Don’t look for short cuts.


Lastly, “short cuts don’t work anymore” was another common theme throughout Authority Intensive. Overnight success is rare and an unrealistic expectation. Copyblogger’s CEO Brian Clark said it can take 3-5 years to become a niche authority. If you want to get to the top, you have to do the work (which is often the longer road).

Still want to hear more about Authority Intensive? This Friday, the Copyblogger team is hosting a webinar full of the best takeaways. You can also check out the speaker presentations  (I’ll be adding more as they become available):