How To Build Thought Leadership From Scratch For Your Business

Illustration by Кристина via Dribbble

Running a business in today’s virtual world requires a hefty knowledge of the best business SEO practices. Ranking high in Google search results is a critical factor that allows your target audience and other potential leads to discover your products and services.

And it’s no big secret that linkbuilding is one of the essential factors to dramatically improve your online presence.

What’s surprising, however, is that not many business owners are aware that despite their best efforts in optimizing on-site content and offering the latest SEO tools to their team, linkbuilding still remains one of their biggest challenges in today’s competitive SEO scenario.

Why? Because linkbuilding is based on third-party entities providing you with links. And since you can’t directly control these entities, it’s quite difficult to create a sustainable linkbuilding campaign in today’s cutthroat environment.

Contrast this with content marketing, technical edits, and SEO, which are more under the control of your team, and it becomes more clear why linkbuilding is so challenging.

Enter thought leadership.

Thought Leadership

When it comes to building links, thought leadership is one of the most organic, holistic methods. The strategy is simple and yet so effective: provide value to a higher-level audience in your niche, then ask for links as natural representations of that value exchange.

Not only does thought leadership offer your business the ability to build its brand and create real, tangible credibility, but it does so while simultaneously building links to your website.

In its essence, thought leadership is a way for you to position your business as an expert in your industry.

Here’s how it works: Your company creates and shares valuable content about a topic that is unique, interesting, newsworthy, or novel to your audience. This valuable content could include writing blog posts, white papers, or even podcasts—it doesn’t matter what format it is. And the variety of formats you can use matters; the more formats you use, the more exposure your brand will receive, as well as the variety of ways people will become aware of it.

Here are some of the most common (and popular) formats:

  • Blog posts: these can be educational and/or opinion pieces
  • White papers: data-driven articles that are designed to educate your audience on a certain topic, such as how to solve a specific business problem or the history of an industry
  • Podcasts: audio content that’s posted online for your listeners to stream or download.
  • Guest appearances: video content that you create and host with another organization’s platform.
  • Online Q&A sessions: an “Ask Me Anything” session in which viewers submit questions and vote on topics they’d like for you to answer, then you respond live or after the fact (depending on how interactive your Q&A is structured)
  • Printed editorial content: magazines, newsletters and newspapers where you’re featured as an expert (though these are less common these days)

Virtually any platform where you can create or participate in content that allows you to share your unique expertise can be considered as thought leadership.

How To Become an Industry Leader and Boost Your Business
Illustration by Anastasia Yashchenko via Dribbble

Getting Started With Thought Leadership

If you’re like most entrepreneurs, the idea of Thought Leadership seems daunting. Not only do you have to be knowledgeable in your field, but when others find out about what you know, they will naturally start looking towards you as an authority on the subject and that’s a huge responsibility.

Even though most entrepreneurs would love to be considered a thought leader in their industry, they continue to put it off because they don’t feel they have what it takes to be one. However, the truth is anyone can become a thought leader in their field and it’s one of the most powerful strategies entrepreneurs can use to build their business.

You just have to begin building your expertise and sharing what you know. Don’t worry about being an “expert.” Just by working in your field, you already have the valuable knowledge that people are looking for.

Start small and start with what you know. Offer to speak at local community events, give a lecture at a nearby university, interview for smaller publications and podcasts, or volunteer to give an informational presentation to other business owners.

Whatever you do, don’t worry if your expertise feels lightweight at first. You’ll be surprised at how quickly you pick up more knowledge by talking about your industry with others. As long as you’re offering value and keeping the discussion points relevant, you’re well on your way to becoming a true, sought-out thought leader.

Bridging Thought Leadership & SEO

As you continue to establish yourself as a trusted knowledge source, think of ways to link your businesses SEO efforts into your ever-growing platform. While in-person thought leadership strategies are great, building your presence online is crucial for SEO.

Try adding some of your biggest points to an industry blog or your personal website and link back to your original, longer thought leadership piece on the topic. This way, you’re continuing to build trust as more people start following you and reading what you have to say in a variety of different ways.

Get yourself featured as an expert in smaller, niche digital publications so you can link back to your website and expand your reach. The more of these you can gather under your belt, the more confidence you’ll gain to pitch those larger pubs.

Webinars are a great way to increase the amount of inbound links from high-quality websites, for instance asking your guest speaker to promote it via their website. You can create an evergreen webinar on one of your thought leadership topics and generate leads while you are away. Then it is time to follow up, and possibly extend a media-rich, video-based conversation, the right online course platforms have automation in place to nurture your prospects down further.

Don’t overlook the opportunity to be featured in your local press, either. Likewise, don’t forget to pitch guest posts and articles for industry blogs that have a wider circulation.

Think about how you can grow your personal presence through social media avenues like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. You can turn one of these platforms into a hub that drives people back to where your content is hosted online or spur conversations that will lead people there on their own accord. This way you’re getting the SEO benefit of increased visibility without having to do all the work yourself.

Once you start getting out there, people will want to learn more about the ideas and concepts that you are familiar with. This is where it’s most convenient to link back to your own SEO.

Did you talk about how to scale your business? Perfect! Link back to an article you wrote about the top scaling strategies you’ve used. Did you do an interview on marketing techniques? Awesome! Don’t forget to mention your ebook on that topic so it can be included in the show notes.

Quantity Is Crucial—But Not As Crucial As Quality

When focusing on your thought-building strategy, it can seem like the overwhelming idea is to get your face and your message out there as much as you can. While that’s true, it’s important that you don’t sacrifice the quality of what you’re teaching in the process.

As you become a thought leader—if that is your plan—you’ll want to make sure your information is coming from an excellent, reputable source. In order to accomplish this type of name recognition, you have to be deliberate in what types of content you’re putting out. Here are some ideas on doing that.

 icon-angle-right Consider Your Audience

Think about the things that your ideal audience and community would want to know about. Already being in the trenches of running a business, you’ll have some insight into what your customers want to learn.

Another way to think about this thought-building strategy is through direct questions that are already being asked online. This requires searching out communities where folks are asking questions and then providing answers rooted in fact loaded with qualitative research, data, and personal insights.

Typing in different keywords related to your topic and checking out Google’s “People Also Ask” section is a great place to look for ideas. But don’t discount the value of directly interacting with your audience and asking them, themselves either via email, Instagram Stories, or even in-person.

 icon-angle-right Consider Your Story

The other place to start is with your own story. What challenges have you faced? What pitfalls did you trip into? Learn from any mistakes that happened along the way and share these moments to help others avoid them too. Starting by putting out content that’s personal will make people believe in what you’re teaching even more.

Your story can serve as the building block for a thought leadership campaign. From there, think of specific topics and questions your brand has addressed that might resonate with readers or viewers. Use these situations as inspiration for what your audience is interested in hearing more about.

For example, if you’re an expert in retail marketing but have never discussed e-commerce strategies, consider how you could bridge the two areas together in one video or article title.

 icon-angle-right Consider What No One Is Talking About

Here’s the thing: it doesn’t matter what you write about, as much as it matters that you’re writing to a specific audience and providing information that is not readily available online. These are both proven ways to get noticed.

But how do you build this type of thought leadership? How do you separate yourself from the rest of the pack? It’s pretty simple: Be interesting!

Understanding your reader in order to be more engaging is at the heart of good content marketing. In my experience, understanding who your ideal customer is, makes it easier to create high-quality content that connects with readers on an emotional level, which means they’ll be more willing to engage with your presence across social media channels, sign up for your email list and even buy your products.

 icon-angle-right Remember—You’re The Expert

At the beginning of your thought leadership strategy, it can be easy to lean on data, facts, and other experts to confirm your thoughts and beliefs and make you look more credible.

It’s okay to do that a little bit as you get started, but eventually, you’re going to have to put yourself out there and get your hands dirty. You are the real expert, so make sure you stand up for what you believe in and don’t be afraid to contradict other experts or even your own data—it’s okay!

Real experts are aware that they are always learning and they’re never going to be 100% right.

The more you let go of that ego, the easier it is for people to trust you.

 icon-angle-right Practice Makes Perfect

The best way to think creatively is to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Part of this has a lot to do with trial and error, but also putting yourself into situations where you’re going to fail so that when it happens (and it will), it doesn’t throw you off track. Doing something new every day will help grow your comfort zone quickly, which will give you more confidence in exploring new ideas and theories.


When it comes down to it, if there’s one thing that SEO can learn from thought leaders across other industries, it’s this: be genuine. Give of yourself and freely lend out your expertise so as many different individuals are able to benefit from your knowledge as possible — just like how you’d prefer others do the same for you should the question arise!

About the Author!

Jason started freelancing in SEO back in college, sold his first agency, and now is founder of Zupo, which is an Orange County based SEO consulting agency helping construct powerful long term SEO strategies for our clients. Jason also enjoys multiple cups of tea a day, hiding away on weekends, catching up on reading, and rewatching The Simpsons for the 20th time.

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