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
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
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
* 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
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
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
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 http://www.yudkin.com/websitequiz.htm .