An ever-growing treasure trove of information, the internet welcomes hundreds of new websites every minute. But for every authentic site, there are many more riddled with information that is inaccurate, biased, or downright loony.
Misquoted statistics and inaccurate data can shatter our credibility of an otherwise thoughtful, original piece of content. Hunt down reliable information while steering clear of shoddy sites with this guide to finding authoritative sources for content marketing professionals.
What is an authoritative source?
In broad terms, an authoritative source or authoritative reference can be defined as a piece of information whose authenticity is widely recognized by experts in the field or industry. Authoritative sources often fall under one of the following categories:
- Recognized. Recognized sources include pieces from credible publications, established institutions, and industry experts. This could include government (.gov) and educational or university websites (.edu). It could also include respected publications like Smithsonian Magazine or Harvard Business Review, or sites by industry leaders like the Google Webmaster Central Blog.
- Scholarly. These are archived in academic and publicly accessible databases, such as JSTOR, Google Scholar, or ScienceDirect. To get published, these articles typically undergo evaluations by qualified scholars and field experts.
- Credible news. Keep in mind, the reliability of news outlets can vary dramatically. Credible news sources include well-known, trusted publications like The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Bloomberg.
5 tips for finding authoritative sources
Ready to get researching? These 6 tips can help you streamline your research process and discover more authoritative sources for your content:
1. Google smarter.
Google may be widely heralded as the king of search engines, but simply Googling your keyword doesn’t always yield the most authoritative sources immediately.
To optimize your research and narrow down your results, take advantage of Google’s advanced search operators. These are special commands that you can enter directly into a search box to refine your results.
Here are some of our favorite Google search operator search techniques for content research:
Search for an exact match.
If you want to search for an exact phrase or sentence, place the term inside quotes.
- Example: “vegetarian protein sources”
Search within a specific domain.
Want to narrow down your search results to include only academic or government sources? Place “site:.edu” or “site:.gov” after your search term the search bar.
- Example: "vegetarian protein sources" site:.edu
Search specific news sites.
If you want to limit your research results to information from a specific news source, like The New York Times or The Washington Post, enter “source:” and the address of the news site after your search term.
- Example: "vegetarian protein sources" source:thenewyorktimes.com
Search for PDF files.
This can come in handy if you are interested in finding original research, statistics, and case studies. To search for PDF files, try entering “filetype:PDF” after your search term.
- Example: "vegetarian protein sources" filetype:.pdf
2. Search academic databases directly through your library.
To find scholarly peer-reviewed articles, the quickest way is to search directly within databases like JSTOR or EBSCO. You may notice that academic articles often are hidden behind a paywall. The good news is that you can often get free access to these costly databases for free through your local library.
With a library card, you can often access these databases online. Similarly, if you live near a university or college, you may be able to visit the campus library to access academic journals.
Can't find your library card? Try free alternatives to subscription-only academic journals like Google Scholar or SSRN.
3. Skip Wikipedia.
It’s an age-old argument: Is Wikipedia an authoritative source? For the purposes of finding credible sources for creating authoritative content marketing, the short answer is “no”.
While popular, Wikipedia should not be considered an authoritative source because it allows anonymous users to contribute and update information.
Though you should not quote Wikipedia, you may find it useful to look through sources listed in the references section of entries about your topic -- though even these sources should be evaluated with a discerning eye.
4. Evaluate sources using CRAP.
The CRAP Test is a useful method for evaluating sources online. CRAP is an acronym that stands for the four major areas to look for when evaluating a site’s credibility:
- Currency - How recently was the information published or updated? Is this date current enough for your topic?
- Reliability - Can you trust the accuracy of the source? Does the source include evidence and references, and can you verify information through other sources?
- Authority - Who is the author, and are they an authoritative expert on your topic, industry, or field? Who were the publishers of the piece, and are they reputable?
- Purpose - Why was this information published? Was it to inform, teach, sell, persuade, or entertain?
5. Be wary of sites that accept sponsored or unverified content.
Even trusted publications like Forbes and Entrepreneur accept articles from unregulated contributors in addition to credible authors.
When referencing contributor sources, make sure you do your own fact-checking to verify claims and determine whether they are authoritative.
You should also keep an eye out for commercial sites that are trying to sell you something. While companies and businesses can be an authority in their subject matter, they may present information in a way that puts their product in a positive light.
It's as true for content marketing professionals as it is for students, journalists, and all other writers: The quality of our work hinges on the authority of our sources.
Untrustworthy, biased, or dated sources can yield inaccurate data and misinformation that can undermine the authority of your brand. On the other hand, respected, authoritative sources can boost the credibility of your content. Credible content, in turn, can establish your brand as an expert in your industry or field.