Jargon. For a couple of years I’ve resisted writing this because I didn’t want to be yet another blogger complaining about jargon. But then Shingy happened and I couldn’t hold back anymore.
When in Doubt, Apply Jargon
This is Shingy. He’s AOL’s Digital Prophet. Full stop. That’s his job title. His job is to revive AOL from near-death.
I know, you were surprised to read AOL wasn’t dead yet. But then you remembered your uncle with the AOL email he uses to send you forwards warning you against the evils of canola oil.
The New Yorker ran a profile of Shingy that revealed being a digital prophet involves being paid six figures to “fly around the world and go to conferences.”
So what’s the big deal, aside from AOL’s questionable approach to jumpstarting its business model?
Matt O’Brien of the Washington Post put it best in his Wonkblog article, “AOL’s ‘digital prophet’ is everything wrong with Corporate America today.” His top complaint is Shingy’s, and Corporate America’s, vacuous language:
“It’s gibberish. But then again, so is most business jargon. They use words like “disrupt,” “leverage”… as verbal tics when they’re afraid they don’t sound important enough…it’s Corporate America’s emperor-has-no-clothes moment, and Shingy is the one holding court.”
Jargon is the Verbal Equivalent of a Combover with Rabies
Will Shingy and his love of all brands, his reboots, and doodles of bears clad in mismatching pajamas, save AOL? Well, I’m not a digital prophet so I can’t forecast that future.
But jargon does not bode well for businesses who do online marketing.
In short: jargon is the verbal equivalent of a combover, with one important difference: a combover is harmless.
Jargon is dangerous. Yes, really. What if you knew your jargon was alienating your customers?
ShoJaNo = Show us the Jargon Numbers
Why is jargon so bad? There are a lot of articles out there railing against jargon, but very few of them prove why it’s bad. Where are the numbers? I’ve done my best to collect some posts that show you the jargon numbers.
Jargon is bad because most often your clients are going to be people who don’t work in your field, and people who don’t work in your field won’t know what you are talking about if you use Jargon. You need to talk to them about their issues.
If people don’t know what you are saying or writing about online they won’t turn to you for help or even find you.
For example, people look for things that are ready to use much more than they look for “turnkey solutions.” Here is a visual of just how big the difference is:
Those numbers from Google trends aren’t a good example of directly related keywords, but it gives you an Idea of the difference between how often people search for jargon compared to normal spoken language terms. If you want a real world example, Aaron Baldassare shows how he was able to give one client 100x the search results with the same work by subsituting one word.
According to Sarah Skerik, Jargon makes you difficult to find online because users search for terms that reflect the way people speak. (sidenote: I had written that “jargon hurts your SEO” but then i cut the jargon) Skerik also makes the case that these phrases are boring and can hurt a business’ credibility, which damages its content’s potential to earn pageviews and a strong following amongst users. People are looking for solutions to their problems using terminology they already know. “They don’t seek out best-in-class, innovative, world-leading gizmos.”
So, How Do I Fix My Jargon Problem?
- Find and eliminate Jargon from your online content to get more traffic and more leads.
- Use keyword research to find alternative phrases that people actually use (google has a good keyword tool).
- Take Tim Radford’s 25 commandments for journalists to heart: “Here is a thing to carve in pokerwork and hang over your typewriter. ‘No one will ever complain because you have made something too easy to understand.’”