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How to Handle Jargon at Your Web Site - and Why

By Marcia Yudkin
Posted Friday, January 21, 2005

If you sell a technical product or service, you probably know you have jargon at your web site - specialized terminology that the average person doesn't understand. While jargon does help you communicate precisely with peers, it seriously gets in the way if potential and actual customers aren't as conversant with it as you are.

Plenty of heart patients, for instance, don't know what a "myocardial infarction" is (a heart attack). Many pregnant women have never heard of a "doula," a woman who coaches them through labor. Movers and shakers thinking of buying another company don't necessarily know the term "assessment of human capital." Hardly anyone would know what "global readiness solutions" are, since one company made up the term. The same goes for abbreviations and acronyms used without the spelled-out versions, like "W3C, 508 compliant."

If you sell an ordinary product or service, you're also in danger of having jargon serve as a barrier at your web site. You may be using common words in ways most people wouldn't understand. For example, the sentence "We partner with creative men and women so they reach their goals" doesn't contain any unusual words or expressions, but most readers wouldn't grasp that it means "Creative men and women hire us to help them reach their goals." At a real estate site, I once saw the headline "Not a drive-by!" and didn't know whether a "drive-by" meant that you wouldn't want to stop or that you wouldn't need to.

Nearly everyone in business overestimates - usually greatly overestimates - the extent to which customers understand their jargon.

In most instances, you don't need to eliminate jargon, but to include an explanation so that the context makes the meaning clear. You can do this explicitly, as in these examples:

* Treatments for myocardial infarction (heart attack)

* Greta spent five years as a doula, a trained labor coach, before studying to become a nurse-midwife.

* All of our web sites comply with World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) standards as well as the latest U.S. government regulations on accessibility to the disabled (Section 508).

In other situations, you can add context so that when the unfamiliar term comes up, its meaning will be clear. For instance, see how the explanation precedes the term "assessment of human capital" in the following passage:

"Management's leadership abilities, operating abilities and personal motivations can profoundly influence what happens after a change in ownership. In contrast to the financials, the true strengths and weaknesses of a company's executives may remain hidden, only to surface later with disastrous results. To minimize risks, buyers need to take care of due diligence on company management. This assessment of human capital is a specialty of New London Management Associates."

By combining jargon with an explanation, you strengthen your message for those who already know the technicalities.

Skillfully using ordinary language along with jargon doesn't talk down to anyone or "dumb down" your web site. You also make the value of the services or products you provide more understandable to someone who may need to sign off on a project but who is not technically sophisticated. Likewise, it becomes more likely that non-specialists who discover your site will refer other companies or individuals to you. Your web site thus becomes a stronger marketing vehicle.

About the Author
Marcia Yudkin is the author of Web Site Marketing Makeover and 10 other books. A four-time Webby Awards judge and internationally famous marketing consultant, she critiques web sites and performs web site makeovers for clients. Learn more about her detailed critique sessions on five different kinds of web sites (including sites for consultants and multi-product sales sites) at ( .


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