The Ripple Effect – The Value of Being a Relative Expert

There is now more information published every 2 days than from the beginning of time until 2003. In the days before the internet we relied on friends, family, trusted professionals, and the local library to find answers to our questions. Today we turn to Google or Bing when we need answers.

It might seem that today’s world is much different than pre-internet and particularly pre-Semantic web days, but it’s not. Today more than ever we are moving toward a time of hyper-connectivity and the world is becoming an even smaller place. Our network of friends and trusted professionals is no longer limited to our local communities; it’s become world-wide.

Backing up just a minute, let me talk about Semantic search for just a minute. It’s not a term everyone is familiar with.

What is Semantic Search?

"Multiracial Hands Making a Circle" Collaborating through Social Media

Semantic Search Connects Our Online World

I first heard the term Semantic search a few years ago during an SEO workshop. The concept was introduced with the following definition: “Semantic search seeks to improve search accuracy by understanding searcher intent and the contextual meaning of terms as they appear in the searchable dataspace, whether on the Web or within a closed system, to generate more relevant results.” — Wikipedia

Semantics is the study of meaning and it’s used to understand human expression through language. By focusing on the meaning an entire phrase, the relationship between the words, and the context in which the words are being used we can understand the literal meaning or the intent behind a question or comment.

Search engines, especially Google, have made great advances in “understanding searcher intent and the contextual meaning of terms” through artificial intelligence and through the vast amounts of behavioral data being collected every minute of every day when someone “Googles” for an answer.

Before semantic search, keywords ruled the digital space. Search engines didn’t contextualize searches by examining the entire search phrase and they returned links to web pages that were determined to be relevant. The “relevancy” was determined using over 200 signals such as the reputation of a website and how well a piece of content was optimized for a particular key word phrase without regard to the intent behind the search.

Google’s goal is to become an answer engine and not just a search engine, which means they are striving to understand the questions that are being asked as opposed to just the keywords that are typed into the search box. Our past search behavior and our online interactions send Google powerful clues about our preferences. When used in combination with the entire search phrase they can interpret search queries in a more intelligent manner.

It’s a Small World After All

inkedIn Profile Connection ReachOur world is both smaller and bigger than it’s ever been before. Social networks and the ability to make connections online are taking us from a word where there are six degrees of separation to three, maybe even two.  Worldwide high speed internet access combined with video call and online messaging technology makes it possible for anyone to become a global provider of services.

Not only does semantic search incorporate our individual search behavior into determining which ten pieces of content to display first, it also knows about and includes our online connections with people. Today this happens primarily within the world of Google Plus, but eventually I believe it will go beyond that as the Knowledge Graph grows.

That sounds kind of scary on the surface, but in a lot of ways it’s also really cool because it means that we all have the opportunity to share our knowledge with the world and become the “relative expert” in our niche.

What is a Relative Expert?

Two-Men-in-SEO-TrainingThe “relative expert” is that person in our circle of business and personal connections that we turn to with questions. They are the person we trust to give us sound advice. We read their blogs, watch their videos, and do business with them.

In every industry there are thought leaders, the well-known and influential people that have the resources and connections required to gain in-depth knowledge in their field. They publish and share facts and opinions that guide others in the same arena. The information is disseminated from the in-depth subject matter experts to the “relative experts” in a ripple like affect.

We are all in different stages of learning depending on the subject so there is almost always someone who has more knowledge on a topic than we do. That person is the relative expert and the person we turn to when we have a question. In many cases we are the relative expert in our circle of family and friends as well as our extended network.

As a relative expert we have a huge opportunity to take advantage of semantic search to grow our connections and our business by creating and publishing content that answers the questions people are asking online. We can interpret the information that is being published by industry leaders and apply our unique point of view and the value of our personal experiences and share the information with others.

We become so accustomed to knowing who the thought leaders are within our niches that we forget that most people in the world have never heard of them. There’s also the reality that even “thought leaders” aren’t infallible and often-times there is more than one way to apply a theory or implement advice. In cases where people in our network are aware of, and maybe even follow the same influencers we do, it’s not uncommon for the people who know and trust you as an individual to seek your opinion as well.

The Meatloaf Effect

The way people make decisions hasn’t changed now that we have the internet, it’s just changed the way we gather information and if a person is active in networking online, it’s increased the size of their network of friends and trusted professionals.

Now we turn to Google instead of going to the library to do research and we ask our friends for tips on everything from recipes to search engine optimization through our social networks and the advice we trust in the end is usually validated by a person we know and trust.

The other day my youngest son and I were planning out the menu for the week. He requested meatloaf which came as somewhat of a surprise. I rarely make meatloaf and don’t really have a good recipe for it. Since I hate coming up with menu ideas I decided to honor his request and find a recipe online.

Of course I turned to Google and typed “recipes for meatloaf” and in less than half a second Google returned over 11 million results even though I misspelled recipe. I ruled out the first three recipes in the results, one because it didn’t have a picture, and the other two because they had a sugary glaze. The next two results were both from the Food Network one was “Old-Fashioned Meat Loaf – A.K.A ‘Basic Meatloaf Recipe” and the other was one of Alton Brown’s recipes. They both had good reviews and I wasn’t sure which way to go.

I had also posted on Facebook, asking my friends to share their recipes. Within a few minutes I had six responses including this one, “I use the one Alton Brown has on-line on FOOD Network. It’s really good…and easy.” It’s the recipe I decided to go with.

Meatloaf Recipe Search Results

I had no idea who Alton Brown was until I Googled him, he’s clearly an influencer in the culinary world. I chose his recipe because my friend recommended it and I know my friend is passionate about food, loves to cook, and wouldn’t steer me wrong.

This is just a small example of how an influencer in one person’s world isn’t even on the radar in another person’s world. One comment from a friend on a social network helped me make a decision.  It’s also a great illustration of how our trusted networks have grown beyond our physical world.

I’ve never met the Facebook friend who gave me the recipe tip. I know he’s a good cook because he talks about the topic with passion. He’s given me recipes and cooking ideas before and they’ve been awesome. You see, he is a relative expert in the culinary world and he’s an influencer in my world.

The Value of Being a Relative Expert

 Google Plus Ripples_No ActivityLet’s take it back to semantic search and how it applies to our business. Google is becoming an “answer engine” and is getting better and better at understanding the meaning behind the search. Semantic search connects the dots of our online world.  We build trust and authority online through contributing valuable insights and ideas as well as through our interactions with people.

We are the “relative experts” in our areas of expertise and we are influencers within the networks we build both off and online. If we take what we do naturally in our off-line worlds, which is answering questions and sharing quality information with people, to the online world, scenarios like the meatloaf recipe begin to unfold.

There are a variety of ways that we can feed content to the “answer engine” and share information online. The format of the content isn’t as important as the quality and authenticity of the content. Writing, videos, and pod-casts are all great ways to share your take on what’s going on in your professional arena.

It’s not only ok, it’s important for those of us who are “relative experts” to share our insights and publish them. If we don’t, the people who look to us for advice may never become aware of important information. Ideas and news are spread throughout the web in a ripple-like fashion, often starting with an industry leader and rippling out to people at all levels of learning through the “relative experts.”

Our ripples may not be as big as an influencer, but they most likely have just as much impact within our circles.


Author’s Note:

This post was inspired by four people who have an influence in my world and I want to take a moment and thank them and share how they inspired me.

Marilyn More, a Content Marketing and Social Media Coordinator, published a fantastic blog post last week entitled Content Marketing Confessions of a Small Business Owner. In the post she reveals how difficult she sometimes finds it to sit down and write. Among the factors that kept her from writing was the notion of having to be an expert and the challenges that come with writing about topics that many others are also writing about.

The article struck a huge core with me and many others. It prompted many comments and conversations about the topic and it was almost as though a collective sigh was released on Google Plus when Marilyn said so well what so many of us feel. 

One of my conversations was with Mary lannotti, a Digital Marketer, with whom I share a few favorite teachers such as Louise Hay and Julia Cameron. Her introduction to Marilyn’s post reminded me that writing from the heart is important for business writing as well. I was sharing some of my struggles related to coming up with the “right” topics for this blog to which she responded, “You have great instinct so I bet you already know which writing topics will make you shine as a professional. Or, you know the unique experience you can add to your version. Listen to your instinct, trust and keep Louise Hay close by :)” 

In another conversation, Marilyn shared something she learned from Jimmie Lanley, a Content Marketing and Social Media Consultant. She shared the term, ” “relative expert – someone who is an expert in relation to someone else’ –   meaning that though you may not be at the same level as top authorities in your field, you still have more knowledge than others and can be of help and service to people.”

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention David Amerland, author of Google Semantic Search. In a recent Hangout on Air, What Every Business Needs to Know about Google Search, David shared some great tips with a group of small business owners in Marilyn’s community.

The one that hit home so hard for me was that we are hard wired to interact and network in our off-line world. If we’re in business and we meet a new connection, we make time to have a conversation to discover if we have common interests and we explore the possibility of doing business together.In order to take full advantage of semantic search, we need apply our networking instincts to the online world as well.

Many thanks to each of your inspiration and guidance.