It’s no secret to my friends that I’m extremely uncomfortable with the word “expert” or “guru” when it’s applied to myself. For me, the word has an added definition that says, “I know it all, there’s nothing else to learn, so I’ll teach you.”

Yesterday I referred to someone as an expert in his industry. I wasn’t sure what to label him, to be honest. I know him personally. I’ve seen him speak at conferences on his topic. His company is fully dedicated to his area of expertise, as are his staff and his blog. Interviews of him focus on his experience and successes. Does that make him a guru? Does he call himself one? I rarely see him refer to himself as an “expert”, despite the tremendous following and excellent reputation his company has.

There are people and companies who permit press releases and articles to refer to them as experts in their industry or niche. Occasionally I’ll discover someone claiming to be a respected expert in an area that I know is a real stretch. These are the folks who teach on topics that if you ran a keyword search on them, you wouldn’t see their name attached to the industry they’re claiming to be an expert on.

Press releases are modern day fairy tales.

I keep an eye out for companies in my local area who announce their new in-house SEO department or advertise they’ve added usability testing. I’d like to meet these people and invite them to some of the local networking gatherings we have. However, whenever I follow up on these great and innovative companies, in most cases I’m disappointed. The latest is the advertising company that had a announcement about adding search engine marketing and usability testing services, whose entire web site is in Flash. There was simply no finding them in search engines. I tried.

Whom to Believe?

I’m not a born marketer and no matter how hard anyone tries to make me one, it’s just not going to happen. I was the kid who mucked my horses stalls barefooted. Gross, when I look back on it, but yes, I wasn’t afraid to work or get dirty (or die, apparently.)

I was the silly woman who gazed adoringly at IT guys, gleefully pulling up a chair next to them, begging to be shown what brilliant thing they were making now. I felt that I couldn’t do my own job well unless I understood how and why they did their’s.

When looking for someone to do business with, how trustworthy and credible is their claim to be an “expert” or “guru” in their field? How do you verify their claim? Do you even bother? Is the term so over-used that it doesn’t hold any marketable value?

Whom to Trust?

Periodically I’ll hear from someone who finds a link on one of my sites that just sent them to Jupiter. They feel that no usability “expert” would tolerate this. I wouldn’t know. I own and run three web sites, write for many others, plus a print magazine, own a business, and am a wife and sports/homework/taxi/band mom.

(By the way, no women have ever written to complain about my web sites. It’s always been men. I think I should invite them to my house and let THEM deal with the teenage daughter and her boyfriend while trying to work in the home office. Whaddya think?)

The first thing to know about me is that I’m not perfect. I’ll never pretend to know it all because frankly, if that would ever happen, I’d be bored out of my mind. I’m happy to share what I learn and discover. I can guide based on data, conclusions drawn from my work and observations in the field.

I’ll introduce you to people or companies who have proven to me they know what they’re doing, who have displayed good work ethics or clearly show strong talent.

Some of my favorite “experts” are those who openly share as they go. This gets into some severe reputation management problems because when they make any mistakes, the public attacks are swift and fierce. The odd thing is this. I admire those who just fell in the mud, got back up, made adjustments based on the lessons they learned and they keep on going.

I trust them because they have nothing to hide or take a licking and keep on ticking, as the saying goes. Even if they continue to do something that I may think is hurting their business reputation, I give them points for continually asking questions because the moment they stop asking those questions is the moment they become frozen and unapproachable.

To me, the worst thing is a business person who is frozen and unapproachable.

Are You a Pink Pedestal or Well Used Umbrella Person?

For me, a genuine expert or guru is the one who will sit down with me on the floor, look into my eyes, and guide me towards solving my own puzzles without actually giving me the answers, because if they did, the lesson won’t stick.

I believe that learning never stops, we’re equals and you may know something in a way I hadn’t considered or experienced before.

I’d be interested in hearing from you. Do you like the term “expert” or “guru”? If you are referred to as one, do you accept the label? Do you think it’s true of you?

How many of you are content to just want to do the work without the hero worship?

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Kim Krause Berg’s long background in web design, SEO and usability includes software application functional and user interface testing, accessibility, information architecture and persuasive design. She shared her passion for Usability and SEO through her site and private consulting at Cre8pc for 17 years. Kim founded Cre8asiteforums in 1998. In the fall of 2012 she sold her forums to Internet Marketing Ninjas and retired from private consulting to join their Executive Management team where she continues her work in usability testing, customer experience and conversions design.

My Online Course: Web Site Usability 101


American Society for Information Science and Technology (ASIS&T)

Information Architecture Institute

Usability Professionals Association (UPA)