Are you using jargon responsibly?

Many megaphones shouting at a businessman

Want to know what’s killing your content conversions? One word: jargon.

We’re all familiar with management speak, like being asked to employ “360 degree thinking”, or to reach for “low hanging fruit”. Jargon isn’t just limited to these meaningless clichés though, and if you’re not careful, it could be costing you customers.

‘Jargon’ refers to any language that can only be understood by those familiar with its context. It’s often used to talk about technical terms, and may be found in similar contexts around the world or used exclusively within a single company. Jargon can be constructed in all kinds of ways, including acronyms, shorthands and the re-purposing of old words.

For example, if you overhear digital advertisers talking about leaderboards, skyscrapers and banners, you might understand the words you’re hearing, but may not be able to follow that the discussion is about specific spaces for adverts on a webpage.

Why do we use jargon?

When we’re talking to someone with the same level of contextual understanding as us, jargon is usually used to quickly and precisely communicate situation-specific ideas. This is particularly common in workplaces (the medical community often uses phrases that confuse the rest of us), but it can also occur between hobby enthusiasts, for example.

Jargon not only makes communication more effective, but it can strengthen bonds between those that understand the language. It shows that we share knowledge, think similarly and can be helpful to one another. This is true of jargon that we use with each other face to face, to our colleagues over email, and for our customers via our websites.

So… why is it bad?

There are a number of reasons why it’s a bad idea to use technical jargon or ‘occupational dialect’ on your website.

1 – You’re sabotaging your search traffic.

Your financial services might be focused on assisting with stocks and shares, and mutual funds… but your potential customers are all searching for ‘savings’ or ‘investments’. Trying to be clever – or even just more technically accurate – about the products you offer can prevent genuine customers from ever finding your site.

Using Google Analytics can help you choose better keywords, and you might be surprised at the difference in traffic just a few small tweaks can produce.

2 – You’re alienating people.

As much as jargon includes those who understand it, it quickly excludes those that aren’t in the know. Using technical terms without an explanation will make it difficult for the everyday reader to understand whether your product does what they need it to, making it more likely that they’ll shop elsewhere.

If you’re producing your own web content, try to look over what you’ve written from someone else’s perspective. Would it still make sense to someone that had never worked in your industry? If not, re-write the most confusing parts in a more conversational way, or use a common analogy to explain them.

3 – You look shifty.

A study conducted at New York University asked its subjects to read two sentences, one which used plain language and the other which relied on complex terminology. Despite conveying exactly the same facts, readers judged the simpler sentences to be more reliable, because they could better visualise the ideas involved.

In many industries, using complex language is only going to convince your reader that you’re trying to hide your shortcomings. Being able to explain what your product does in layman’s terms is far more accessible.

Is it ever OK to use jargon?

Yes, as long as it’s used sparingly and appropriately. Jargon might be a part of your product’s identity, driving you to use a specific term to differentiate yourself from the competition. For example, Apple choosing to advertise a ‘Retina’ display is a decidedly better choice than trying to market ‘a screen with a higher pixel density than most other screens, making text appear sharper’. See what we’re saying?

Maybe you’re writing for a niche audience. If you sell specialist labels for laboratory test tubes, your customers are probably interested in whether they’re made from vinyl, polyester or polypropylene – even if everyone else would just see ‘plastic’. There may also reach a point where your jargon becomes part of a lingua franca. Computing terms like ‘byte’, ‘download’ and ‘RAM’ used to be alien to most of us, but over time they have entered our accepted vocabulary – few people need to have them explained.

Abusing jargon is what will drive your customers away, not the words themselves. We see this every day in SEO, where technical terms aren’t going away any time soon. While more people are becoming comfortable with the concepts of PPC (pay per click), CTR (click through rates) and UX (user experience design), we know that a few reminders here and there help to keep everyone on the same page. Consider your target audience, your business goals and, if in doubt, dial it back.

If you need assistance with writing content for your website, website design or search engine optimisation, we would love to help. Why not give Artemis a call on 01444 645018 and book a free consultation?