Website Vocabulary

Some years ago I wrote the content for a website that specializes in animal tissue and blood for research. We were working on terms like “mouse albumin,” “tyrosine hydroxylase,” and “tissue homogenates.” These are not common words that everyone will understand. They wouldn’t be everybody’s choice for website vocabulary.

Another site was all about transporting chemicals. We worked on terms like “Ammonium potassium thiosulphate” and “acetone” as well as “backhaul” and “biohazard.” Again, not a set of keywords that will come up a lot in conversation.

When you think about the words you use at your website, you may want to use the jargon of your field because it’s more accurate. You may want to use words that have high search volume because you figure that will bring more visitors. In fact, you need to know the search terms your visitors actually use.

These may not be common words, but if they are the words your customers look for, they’re the words you should be using. 

Vocabulary matters.

Your website’s best keywords don’t have to be common terms. They don’t have to make the Yoast readability meter turn green — if that’s not what your customers search for.

I’ve argued against writing “empowers operational continuity” on a homepage, specifically because that’s not how people usually say it. I’ve been forceful about the need to change things like “public facilities hygiene management” to “We clean restrooms” because that’s more conversational. These are all questions of vocabulary.

The best vocabulary for your website is what your target audience really uses. Share on X

Who’s Icarus?

The picture above, for example, is for me a picture of Icarus.

I’m aware that there are huge swathes of humanity to whom that name means nothing.

So, if I’m going to write web content to go with that picture, how do I decide whether to use the name “Icarus” or to write something like “There is a Greek story about a boy who made himself a pair of wings…”?

You just have to know your audience. If I’m the kind of person who needs to buy some rabbit complement, then I probably use that term. “Hey, guys!” I shout down the hall to my colleagues in the next lab, “I’m gonna order some rabbit complement. Do you need any glutamate receptor antibodies while I’m at it? How are you for anti-sera?”

But if I need someone to clean the toilets at my restaurant, I probably don’t say, “You know, we really need a public facilities hygiene management expert.” I probably say, “We need someone to clean the restrooms.” And when I go to Google in search of some temporary tech guys to help me through a staffing change, I’m sure not going to type in “empowers operational continuity.”

There are fields in which the experts who supply the stuff use different terminology from the people who actually buy the stuff. If your field is one of these, clean the jargon out of your website. You’ll be glad you did.





4 responses to “Website Vocabulary”

  1. Josepha Avatar

    I witnessed the most hilarious conversation about language and jargon.

    It involved the word 'grip' though. As in "That's a grip of enchiladas."

  2. Rebecca Haden Avatar
    Rebecca Haden

    It's surprising how often we use specialized language without realizing it. At least in situations where we are talking with people in the physical world, we can notice that they're confused and adjust what we've said.
    On your website, you just lose visitors without realizing why — or don't get them in the first place, since what you've written is so far from what they search for.

  3. Jay Avatar

    I love this article and glad I found your website.

    I'm currently working on a website that talks about stained concrete services targeted to regular home owners that don't use words like "micro troweling" and "acrylic chip sealing." Getting some clients to understand they can't use their industry insider language if they want to drive leads to their site is a difficult proposition when site owners want more control of their content, yet want you to improve their traffic. And when I see the word "leverage" I want to puke!

    SEO is definitely a writers role. I'm about to break out old composition theory books to reeducate myself on the writing conference. Not so much from a teacher/student perspective, but from a writer/business owner perspective.

  4. Rebecca Haden Avatar
    Rebecca Haden

    Thank you. And I agree that some clients are certainly their own worst enemies. SEO writing is a specialized skill, and not all business owners realize that. There's a reason I write websites instead of micro troweling (whatever that may be) and there's a reason your clients should stick to their micro troweling and let you advise them on their content.

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