The March 2024 core algorithm update and the arrival of AI overviews shook up the SEO community’s long-held beliefs on what it takes to gain prominence on Google’s SERPs. From November to April, Google upended how its rankings work, prioritizing webpages that its updated algorithms perceive to be “more helpful” than others.

Google claims that around 45% of unhelpful search results were addressed by the March update. For context, Google has stated that content helpfulness has a lot to do with a website’s ability to project Experience, Expertise, Authority and Trustworthiness (E-E-A-T). The more present these elements are in its webpages and content, the greater Google’s confidence is that the site’s content is helpful to people.

The subject of E-E-A-T has been discussed for years and much has been written about it. What I find lacking with the current discourse is a proper distinction between Experience and Expertise, along with what it actually means to have a website that exudes the former. In this post, we’ll give Experience a proper definition, contrast it with expertise, why it matters and how you can help people understand that your website has it.

Experienced in the Google E-E-A-T Context

When it was first introduced as a concept in Google’s Quality Rater Guidelines (QRG), E-A-T only stood for Expertise, Authority and Trust. It wasn’t until December of 2022 when Google added Experience to the mix in an apparent reaction to the proliferation of AI-generated content.

While there’s nothing necessarily wrong with using AI as a writing aid, it can generate content that’s erroneous and potentially dangerous, especially on Your Money, Your Life (YMYL) topics. In that regard, Google wants to prioritize content that’s more likely to have been written by real people with experience on the matter rather than content that ChatGPT just aggregated from sources on the Web.

Oxford defines experience as “practical contact with and observation of facts or events.” Google’s definition of experience doesn’t deviate from that. The logic is that people tend to gravitate towards content that’s based on what other people saw, heard or felt in the real world.

Basically, it’s like considering whether you should visit Osaka, Japan or not. You can get information from someone who’s read a lot about the city but has never been there, or you can talk to someone who has actually vacationed there before. Naturally, the latter would be the better source for obvious reasons.

Why Experience Matters

Other than showing that your content isn’t generic AI drivel, experience gives it the following qualities that Google wants to see in the kind of webpages that it deems worthy of prominence at the top of its SERPs:

  1. Builds Authenticity

Content based on real-life experiences is inherently more authentic. Users are more likely to trust information that comes from someone who has personally engaged with the topic. For example, a travel blog written by someone who has visited Palawan provides more value than one written by someone who has only researched, curated and aggregated the island online. They may talk about the same things, but the experienced traveler will have deeper and more meaningful insights that better describe the travel destination.

  1. Provides Practical Insights

Experience allows content creators to offer practical insights and tips that can only be gained through direct involvement. These insights often include nuanced details that theoretical knowledge might overlook.

For instance, you can read eloquent, well-meaning marriage advice from a celibate Catholic priest, but his advice will pale in comparison to that from a couple who’s been married for 50 years and have stayed together through good and bad times.

The priest can talk about love and compassion all he wants, but he probably can’t provide practical advice on managing finances when you have three college-age children. A married couple can help you better with advice on practical budgeting tips, school selection, and teaching children to live within their means.

  1. Differentiates Your Content

In a crowded content landscape, experience helps differentiate your content from that of competitors. By showcasing unique, first-hand insights, your content stands out as more relatable and personable.

A good example would be with fitness guide content.  A fitness trainer who’s lost significant weight and has managed to keep it off for years can create invaluable content for an eager audience. Sharing his journey, including how high-intensity training and a low-carbohydrate diet helped him get fit, offers a unique perspective that’s hard to match by a writer who reads up on the subject and synthesizes the material into a secondhand knowledge source. This personal touch can attract a dedicated following that will consume the content whether or not it ranks well on Google.

  1. Engages Readers More Effectively

Content that includes personal stories and anecdotes tends to be more interesting because of the human element to them . Readers are drawn to narratives that they can relate to or learn from, making them more likely to spend time on your site and interact with your content. The human tendency to articulate experiences using descriptive language, figures of speech and subjective interpretations tend to make for more compelling reads.

A blog about managing chronic pain from a herniated disc written by someone living with the condition can provide valuable, relatable insights. Their personal struggles, coping mechanics, attitude and learnings will be of great interest and value to other people afflicted with the same injury.

  1. Encourages Social Sharing

Authentic, experience-based content is more likely to be shared on social media. People are more likely to share content that feels genuine and offers real value.

For instance,  a DIY enthusiast sharing his step-by-step experience of home renovation projects, complete with before-and-after photos that he took himself, is likely to see high levels of social sharing. The tangible results and personal narrative encourage others to check out the content, comment and share it online.

Experience vs Expertise: What’s the Difference?

In Google’s E-E-A-T framework, Experience and Expertise serve distinct but complementary roles in assessing the quality of content.

Experience refers to the practical, first-hand knowledge that content creators have gained through direct involvement with a subject. This type of content is valuable because it provides real-world insights and personal anecdotes that resonate with readers.

Expertise, on the other hand, denotes a deeper, theoretical understanding of a topic, often supported by formal education, training, and professional credentials. Expertise ensures that the information is accurate, reliable, and authoritative.

Key Differences

By Source of Knowledge

  • Experience: Derived from personal involvement and real-world encounters.
  • Expertise: Rooted in formal education, training, and professional practice.

By Content Focus:

  • Experience: Highlights practical applications and personal insights.
  • Expertise: Emphasizes detailed analysis, accuracy, and theoretical knowledge.

For example:

Consider a blog about managing diabetes:

Experience: A person living with diabetes shares their daily routines, challenges, and personal tips for managing the condition.

Expertise: An endocrinologist writes about the medical aspects of diabetes, including treatment options, new research findings, and professional advice.

Combining both elements can create content that is both relatable and authoritative, meeting Google’s standards for high-quality, trustworthy information.

Keep in mind that expertise and experience are not mutually exclusive. An author and his context can and should exhibit both attributes for best results.

How to Showcase Experience in Your Content

To effectively project experience in your content, it’s important to integrate practical, first-hand knowledge and relatable insights. Here’s how you can achieve this:

a. Write Based on First-hand Knowledge

Use your personal learnings, perceptions, conclusions and opinions whenever appropriate. Make notes on the sensory and perceptual aspects of your contact with the subject to more vividly relay your experience to readers and viewers.

b. Share Personal Anecdotes

Incorporate personal stories and anecdotes to illustrate your points. This not only makes your content more engaging but also demonstrates that you have real-world experience. Comparisons and analogies to similar and related topics can help illustrate your points more effectively and deepen the sensation of experience in the content you’re creating.

c. Get Insights from Experienced People

If you lack direct experience in a particular area, gather insights from those who do. Interview industry experts, conduct interviews, or feature guest posts from people who have first-hand knowledge on a given topic. This adds depth to your content and helps build trust with your audience.

d. Consider Writing in the First Person

Using a first-person narrative can make your content feel more personal and arelatable. It allows you to share your experiences in a direct and engaging manner, helping readers connect with you on a personal level.

e. Use Original Media Assets

Incorporate original photos, videos, and other media that you have personally created. These assets not only enhance the visual appeal of your content but also support the authenticity of your experiences. For example, including photos you’ve taken on every step of preparing sushi will guide your audience better and help prove that the knowledge you’re sharing does indeed come from experience.

f. Make Your Credentials Clear

Clearly display your credentials and background information. This could include professional qualifications, relevant work experience, and any other information that establishes your authority on the topic. Your profile will provide social proof that the information you’re sharing is legitimately empirical.

g. Use Structured Data

Implement structured data markup to provide search engines with detailed information about your content. This includes tagging author information, publication dates, and other relevant details that highlight the experience and expertise behind your content. Structured data helps search engines understand the credibility and context of your content, improving its visibility and trustworthiness.

In conclusion, experience is a key ingredient that Google wants to see in the kind of content that it will feature on its SERPs. Moving forward, it’s something that you should consciously showcase in the way you write to help you stand out and rise above the rest. In a world where AI is tasked more and more with producing content, material that comes from real people with invaluable experience  will be held at a premium.