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Define Expert, Please

Define Expert, Please

I had to laugh hysterically (and groan) today when someone described a blogger as “world-reknown expert on WordPress”. The blogger had been blogging for 4 months. I know personally that they had no PHP, WordPress, or web design experience prior to beginning blogging. Now that they have the title “expert”, there is no telling who will believe that claim.

A few weeks ago I ran across an “SEO Expert” described as an “everyone-must-read expert”. I checked them out and trust me, this person knows nothing about SEO other than old rehashed tips that were out of date 5 years ago. The underlying code of their blog was designed with Word in tables. That doesn’t set a good example as an SEO expert, does it?

Another “top notch expert”, this time using the term themselves on his blog (in big capital letters), had no About or Contact page on his blog. There was no information on who this person was, other than a lot of “I know this better than anyone, so you better listen to me and my advice” in his posts. I don’t know what justifies him as an expert, how long he’s been an expert, or even what field he is an expert in. Nothing but sensationalized pontification about how much of an expert he is and why we should buy whatever it is he is selling.

We all run across bloggers claiming to be experts in their subject, or other bloggers writing about these people and calling them “experts”. What makes them an expert?

What you consider an expert? What are the characteristics that make a personal qualified to be called an expert? When you are blogging about an expert, do you know for a fact they are “thee expert”, or because their blog told you? How did it tell you? Did you verify the facts?

According to the Dictionary, expert is defined as:

  1. A person who has special skill or knowledge in some particular field; specialist; authority.
  2. Military – the highest rating in rifle marksmanship, above that of marksman and sharpshooter, and a person who has achieved such a rating.
  3. Possessing special skill or knowledge; trained by practice; skillful or skilled.
  4. Pertaining to, coming from, or characteristic of an expert: expert work; expert advice.

The definition doesn’t quantify what really defines an expert. What does?

When you hear of a doctor or lawyer as an “expert in his field”, you have an idea of what it took to get to that “expert” qualification. There are many professions with experts in them, and we are totally comfortable agreeing with their titles. But what about experts in the blogosphere?

Anyone can start a blog today. They can make up all kinds of expertise and powerful sounding resumes and descriptions for their “expertise”. They can come up with highfalutin titles and synonyms for “expert” like “master” and “leader”.

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How do you know if they are telling the truth? Where is the proof of their expertise?

If you are talking with someone considered an expert, you can often tell by the sound of their voice and body language, as well as what they say and how they say it, if they really know what they are talking about. But what are the clues in a blog? Are there clues you can spot that identifies this person as not really be the expert they claim to be?

When you see “expert” with a blog, what do you need to know in order to believe they are really an expert?

Lorelle VanFossen blogs about blogging and WordPress on .

View Comments (21)
  • I really understand what your saying here, i’ve come across many ‘experts’ as well, many just pop the word expert on their blog to gain an audience.

    I think when it comes to SEO an expert is someone like Aaron Wall ( who not only sells his ebooks but actually ranks number 1 on google and yahoo for his keyword, now that’s proof and that’s a person that is worth calling an expert.

  • Being an expert is all about value, it has NOTHING to do with how long you’ve been smart at something.

    You either can, or you can’t provide value that someone else doesn’t have. If you can, you’re an expert.

  • So it’s about your Page Rank on Google for a specific keyword search?

    I did a blog challenge recently asking people what keywords from their blog put their blog at the top of the Google search results. Some people were amazed at what words brought them to the top of the list, and which ones didn’t. An exercise in understanding keyword relevancy but it doesn’t say much to qualify an expert, does it?

    Does Page Rank really influence your opinion as to a person’s expertise? It should, but does it really?

    And I think that the length of time you’ve been doing something is one of the qualifications that should be required for “expert”. Would you trust a surgeon with 2 weeks surgery training to operate on you? Then why would you trust someone tweaking with their web design for two weeks to be an expert worth hiring to redesign your website or blog?

    On the other hand, I know plenty of people who have been doing the same thing for 40 years and they are in no way an expert. But I think some amount of time spent apprenticing and learning, as well as doing, should be part of the qualification, don’t you?

  • “And I think that the length of time you’ve been doing something is one of the qualifications that should be required for “expert”. ”

    Not on the Internet, the rules are changed. For a heart surgeon, probably. But who’s to say that a new heart surgeon fresh out of school doesn’t know the newest techniques that the 30 year doctor doesn’t?

    Value, and being an expert, is defined as knowing more than someone else, period. It has nothing to do with time learning it.

  • I can see why you’d find that particular WordPress example to be a groaner. Then again, perhaps the person you cite may not know PHP from the ACLU, but is completely brilliant in how to apply the WordPress platform to making money or something else people find of value. Dunno.

    I’ve been pimping this idea for a few weeks, so I’ll trot it out here: blogging is stone cold dead.

    There’s no longer any tangible difference between blogging and mainstream online media. This probably isn’t the place to spout about why, other than to say that with mainline sites adopting every possible distinctive that used to be thought of as “blogging,” we’re all now rowing the same boat. Which is fine.

    But that might give us some idea as to what an online expert might be. What makes a network reporter a “White House Correspondent”? It’s not like there’s a White House Correspondent school or anything.

    I think the answer is twofold: you wanna be a White House Correspondent? Act like one. — which mean covering the White House. The rest of the “expert” secret sauce is in the quality of your observations and how well you express them.

    Nobody will be a credible White House Correspondent if their reporting is shallow or full of errors. That’s the natural consequence of not really knowing anything about what you’re doing, or not having enough talent to find out. So your so-called WordPress expert will probably fall down at some point and explode their authority on the subject.

    But they are halfway there. It starts with doing.

  • Engtech: I use Joomla, so I run across a lot of those sites. I’m always amused when I find a template house with broken CSS or someone who is selling components which fail on the demo. ;-)

  • As a consultant, I like to look at it from the other side of the coin. NOT what makes it right (or wrong) for a person to call themselves an expert .. but rather WHAT MAKES YOU think anybody is an expert in the first place!

    It’s the same with this column, all the other columnists, and bloggers who write here at BlogHerald – or 901am or any other news site – or their own site .. YOU ARE NOT EXPERTS .. you just have better search tools and are more in front of these issues and able to write about it. I don’t consider any bloggers to be journalists. However – there is a high reliance by me to trust what you are saying, because of your experience about what you are writing and recognize that although it is just an opinion .. it is more likely to be a truth of opinion, than just a hearsay comment at best. There are a few writers out there that will do research and not only can you rely on their opinion, but can rely on their proof and references.

    I’m a fan of the song Everyone’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen) by Baz Lurhmann .. and there is a stanza in the lyrics that really sum up how I feel and the words say it better for me …

    Be careful whose advice you buy, but, be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia, dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth .. I think it’s the same with people calling them experts. As long as you know they aren’t really experts .. what if letting them think they are experts helps them become better at their trade and they pass along their knowledge?

    Translation: I agree with Jim Krukal .. it’s all about value – what you yourself perceive the other person’s information to be – not how they think of themselves.

  • Presently, I’m employed as a Behavior Specialist for a school system. I can definitely relate to the things mentioned by Lorelle, Jim Kukral, and Chris Baskind. When I first started my job I had no background as a “Behavior Specialist” other than my Master’s in Psychology with some experience doing mental health counseling. I had never worked in a school environment before. This I made very clear to the recruiter. When I started my job there was, naturally, a lot of pressure that came with “living up to my title” because after all, I am a “specialist.” So what I did was to collaborate with others who were more experienced than me but who were in related areas like “counseling.” While doing this, I read as much as I could online and through books & was fortunate enough to attend a conference (which really helped me).

    As Jim Kukral said, “…being an expert, is…knowing more than someone else, period. It has nothing to do with time learning it.” I started to understand that people were turning to me and counting on me to solve behavior problems in their classrooms and in their schools. After studying up on behavior management and issues, I realized that I did know a bit more than many others in my school system. This was validating and yet frightening at the same time.

    And as Chris Baskind mentioned, “…you wanna be a White House Correspondent? Act like one.” So I started to be the behavior specialist that came next to my name. I always tried to keep myself in check by “partnering up” with people instead of coming across as demeaning or condescending because no one liked to be talked down to.

    Lo behold, “The rest of the “expert” secret sauce is in the quality of your observations and how well you express them.” (Chris Baskind)

    People soon came to respect my ideas, tips, and strategies which always came with my famous disclaimer “I didn’t create this stuff, I just found them and put them together for you. I’m a good synthesizer of information.” In other words, I’m good at taking bits of information and making them coherent or “make sense.”

    So to sum up my VERY long comment, I think it does take all 3 points to be an expert (at least in the professional/academic world, which might carry over into the blogosphere too).

    (1) “I think some amount of time spent apprenticing and learning, as well as doing, should be part of the qualification (to become an expert).” (Lorelle)

    (2) “[B]eing an expert, is defined as knowing more than someone else, period.” (Jim Kukral) Here, I would say that with experience also comes the “wisdom” that you can’t learn overnight. So I would balance the someone being an instant expert and temper that with Lorelle’s “apprenticing, learning, as well as doing” advice.

    (3) “[Y]ou wanna be a White House Correspondent? Act like one…the “expert” secret sauce is in the quality of your observations and how well you express them.” (Chris Baskind)

    I think the point is also that no matter how much of an “expert” a person is or claims to be, there is ALWAYS something MORE he/she can learn.

    Just wanted to share my thoughts.

  • Excellent and very well thought out.

    Can you apply this to blogs? You are right on for what establishes a person enough to be called an “expert” but how can we tell if someone is an expert or not on their blogs. They are not in front of us, we only have their “word” on their expertise, along with a few kudo credit statements from appreciative clients, and so on.

    Engtech and others have mentioned how an SEO expert with no incoming links is a clue to more talk than putting that talk into action. The same for a web designer or web host using tables to design their own web pages.

    The use of HUGE type and CAPITAL letters in RED are always a flag to me of a potential snake oil salesman on the web, but what things should we look for when evaluating any business on the web or blog as to their expertise? Without a Better Business Bureau for Blogs, should we just be impressed with their choice of WordPress Theme looks?

    We throw around words like “expert” and even “specialist” without clarification, and I want to know what the “buyer beware” clues should be from a blog?

  • Lorelle: Yes, good point. The truth is, I don’t have an answer for your question because as you’ve pointed out, there is no system to verify these so called experts’ credentials or “expertise” other than them claiming themselves to be one. Also, as the Internet expands, it becomes harder to scrutinize and/or monitor sites claiming expertise in certain areas. I guess, like you, I have more questions than I do answers. At least in academia, it is much easier to check someone’s credentials.

  • I had to chuckle on the “…you wanna be a White House Correspondent? Act like one.” example. Especially since we’ve had such an example late of just that.

    Anyone remember gay-for-pay porn star and male prostitute (not necessarily a bad thing, but we’re talking context) Jeff Gannon aka James Dale Guckert who somehow got himself into the White House as a correspondent? He even got to ask President Bush a question or two before it was realize that his qualifications were basically a figment of his imagination and that his so-called employer, the online only Talon News was a front for an ultra right wing activist group (not necessarily a bad thing), but it was apparently more of political action group that a legitimate news organization.

    Anyway, just like the famous New Yorker Magazine cartoon (“On the internet, no one knows you’re a dog), many people online claim expert status. Just because they can. And because they say so, some people think that it is so. These people have a blog (sometimes a splog), perhaps a site or two, they publish some articles of questionable value on an ezine/article site, and pump out a few ebooks, and suddenly, they are someone to be listened to. Right.

    Recently, there was a lot of chuckling over the Wikipedia incident where someone claiming several advanced degrees was revealed to be a world-class liar about their educational background. Education is valued. If someone has one, especially if it’s advanced, people are more likely to feel someone is an ‘expert’ in a particular field. It’s been generally acknowledge that the contributions he did make were mostly quite good, but now anything positive that he contributed has been over-shadowed.

    I’ve read a lot of blogging advice over the last year or so, and it’s typical that a ‘coach’ will crow something like: ‘pick a niche, post all about it, become an ‘expert’ in your niche’. So next thing you know, everyone is calling themselves an expert or a guru or a leader. And often charging money to ‘coach’ others. I have subscribed to a lot of newsletters for my research, and while I haven’t heard of everyone, I’d have to say that 80% of people promoting themselves as qualified to charge money to tell others how to blog/podcast/etc aka ‘coach’ have no real presence in the field in which they claim expertise.

    Google them and all that comes back is their sales page or a few articles on one of the free article sites which of course point to their sales page. And the people who do have presence in a field never refer to them or their sites or their blogs, and if you email the legit people to check, well, the people who should have heard of them haven’t heard of them.

    I am also put to mind specifically of these SEO ‘Gurus’ and people pushing net marketing products, services and software to “help people grow their online business”. What’s growing is their bank accounts from fleecing the gullible. I wrote about that here (if I may be permitted to mention it) – – on this single place-holding page. These people fleece large amounts of money from the gullible. And they can do it because they are viewed as experts and to get around the problem of no one knowing who they are, they all recommend each other. All for a commission, of course.

    While everyone has to start somewhere, I do think it matters how long you’ve been doing something. And if you have a legitimate background, be it a combination of education and experience, or just one or the other. And if you have neither – some people are self-taught (just look at the 17 year old genius who is behind Zooomr) – or just take a course here and there but have no degree or diploma, you’d better either walk the talk and/or have a kickass portfolio.

    For example, if you’re promoting yourself as a SEO expert, you’d better have a top-ranking site. If you’re claiming to be a hot copywriting expert, best to have good spelling and grammar on your blog. Etc.

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