using jargon

Every industry has specialized vocabulary that describes its concepts, problems, products, services, tasks, and roles.

Sometimes these are unique words that evolve from acronyms or concepts that other industries don’t deal with regularly. Other times, this specialized vocabulary might repurpose existing words in a new way. However it forms, this jargon gives people working within the same industry a common framework to talk about what they do.

It’s helpful. And jargon is often so ubiquitous within the industry that marketers assume everyone in their audience will be familiar with it—or at least, they should be.

Most ideas can usually be explained with simple language everyone understands, but many marketers rely on their industry’s jargon out of convenience: it quickly communicates the concept you want to convey.

While jargon is useful, it creates problems when it slips into your marketing.

Here’s why you should avoid it.

It Alienates Part of Your Audience.

Most people working in your industry will eventually learn the jargon. But at some point, someone has to teach it to them. And until then, those people are working in the same roles with the same concepts and the same problems—they just don’t have the specialized vocabulary yet.

Your content is still relevant to them. They’re still potential customers. But they have no idea what you mean when you use jargon and don’t explain it. And it instantly makes them feel like outsiders.

When you assume someone is familiar with a concept they’ve never seen before, it communicates, “This content is not for you.” They might be tracking with you perfectly, but the moment you use jargon they don’t know, the content starts to look like too much work. You can’t expect people to start Googling terms in another tab or IMing their colleague to keep up with what you’re saying. (And you shouldn’t want them to.)

It Can Create Confusion.

Jargon doesn’t just create problems for people who are new to your industry. From organization to organization, people are bound to develop different understandings of that specialized vocabulary. When you use jargon without defining it, you don’t just assume people know what a word means, you assume that they have the same understanding of it that you do.

Take retargeting and remarketing for example. In marketing, these words are often used interchangeably to talk about showing ads to people who have visited your website. Facebook and other platforms primarily call this type of advertising retargeting. Google calls it remarketing. But these terms aren’t always limited to digital advertising, and some marketers are adamant that retargeting means one thing and remarketing means another.

I can’t assume that another marketer has the same understanding of remarketing or retargeting that I do. And the same is true for jargon in other industries.

When you don’t define your terms or provide more context, you force people to rely on their own understanding of those terms—which may not be the same as yours. And that’s either going to make you look bad or make your audience feel incompetent, neither of which is a win for you.

It Forces People To Walk Away From Your Content.

Most of your readers won’t have the determination it takes to investigate the meaning of what you’re saying when you use jargon. They’ll just stop reading. But the small group of  readers who really want to figure out what you’re trying to say are going to have to look up those terms.

This means you’re sending your readers off to find their own definition, and you risk losing them to whatever else they find on Google. Or maybe they’ll reach out to a coworker, or a friend who’s more familiar with the industry, and that person will send them to another website to help them understand the concept.

If a term is important enough that you need to use it regularly and you don’t want to define it every time, it could be worth writing an article about. That way every time you mention the term, you can link to your own content and keep your audience within your own website.

Define Your Terms.

Using jargon isn’t the problem. It’s using jargon without explaining what it means or providing a way for people to figure it out (like linking to an article). The more you use specialized vocabulary without explaining it, the more familiar someone has to be with your industry in order to understand your content.

So if you want to reach the broadest audience within your space, define your terms.