Is Your Copy A Smarty­Pants? (How you may be alienating your readers without even realizing it)
by Cheryl Binnie

Have you ever been in a conversation where someone keeps talking in jargon?

Where they throw out unfamiliar words & phrases without explanation?

And it’s clear to you (and everyone else in the group) that the only person who understands the conversation… is the person talking?

You can humor them, or ask clarifying questions. But it starts to feel like they’re oblivious of their audience. Or that they’re just trying to impress you by sounding like they know more than you.

It’s easy to identify this when someone else does it.

But guess what?

We’ve all been The Person Who Speaks In Jargon… many times.

In some cases, you’re in the company of people who speak the same language – they totally get what you mean when you talk about amino acids or Facebook retargeting campaigns.

But what about when the other person doesn’t understand your jargon?

Sometimes, it slowly dawns on you that your conversation partner is lost, and you’re able to course-­correct right then and there. Other times, you only realize in hindsight that they probably didn’t understand you. And other times? You never realize it, not even after the fact.

You keep talking away, never understanding why people are losing interest (or even noticing that they’ve lost it).

Wanna know one of the places where this happens ALL the time?

Web copy.

Blog articles & emails. Websites. Sales copy. Even social media posts.

And what do you think happens when readers don’t understand your homepage? Do they wait & see if you eventually talk about something they DO understand? Do they pretend to be “in the know” just because they want to stay on your site as long as possible?  Do they let you know they’re lost & ask for an explanation?

…Or do they simply leave?

(I’ll give you one guess.)

Okay. You might think that you’ve got this avoid­-using­-jargon thing covered, but let’s look at it more closely. Because it’s trickier than it seems…


Jargon Type #1: “How could someone NOT know what this means? I use it every day!”

A word may be part of your everyday vocabulary, but that doesn’t mean the rest of the world knows it, too.

Let’s say you have a business that teaches dog trainers how to market their services online.  While writing for this audience, you can use doggy-related words & phrases like “clicker training” & “crate training.”  You know that dog trainers understand those words.

But if you’re writing a blog post about improving website visibility, don’t expect all of your dog trainers to know what “SEO” stands for. (And even if they do know that it stands for “Search Engine Optimization,” they might not really know what that means.)

In fact, don’t even expect them to know what the phrase “improve your website’s visibility” means.

Spell it out. You can use “SEO” in your copy. You just have to explain it at some point.

The readers who already know it won’t care (I love finding old familiar concepts presented in new, fresh ways). But the readers who don’t know what it means will care if you don’t stop to clue them in.

Rule of Thumb – Either explain it, or find a better way to say it.

Because your “everyday vocab” leaves your visitors feeling lost.

And no one likes feeling lost.

(Tip: This might seem like an easy one to scan for, but remember: you’re familiar with your jargon, so you may miss some red flags. Ask someone who isn’t from your world to read over your copy and point out any words or phrases that trip them up.)


Jargon Type #2: “I look like an expert when I use terms related to my field.”

Maybe when you’re talking to other experts in your field. But I’m guessing that your clients are NOT experts in your field (that’s why they’re paying you, right?).

Using a bunch of words that your audience doesn’t understand won’t make them think, “Gee, she must really know what she’s talking about.” It’ll just make them feel like they can’t keep up with the conversation.

And while they’re trying to figure out what you’re saying, they’re missing the more important message that you need to get across.

This isn’t a time for you to throw in words & phrases that (you think) make you look knowledgeable & impressive.

It’s a time to take care of your readers.

You want them to feel like they can win with you – not that they should hire you because they’re confused around you.

Rule of Thumb – If a particular word makes you feel superior or impressive, you should probably skip it.

Because that word has the potential to make your readers feel inferior.

And no one likes to feel inferior.


Jargon Type #3: “I made up a clever name.”

Let’s say you offer a weight­-loss program. You tell your clients to put a stop sign on their fridge, and you call it a “Binge Blocker.”

Binge Blocker! It’s cute, and your 8th grade Literature teacher would be so proud of the alliteration (two B­-words! so clever!). You should use it everywhere on your website!

Well… no. Not everywhere.

People who aren’t on the inside loop of your biz don’t know that it’s your clever phrase for “a stop sign that you hang on your fridge.”

If you start throwing that phrase around where new prospects read it, you risk leaving your reader going, “Wait. Did I miss something?”

So when CAN you use your clever jargon?

1. You can use “Binge Blocker” in your regular copy if you explain what it means.

(Lissa Rankin is a great example of this. She talks about your Inner Pilot Light frequently. Instead of explaining it each & every time she uses it, she links to an explanation called “Meet Your Inner Pilot Light.” Most of her followers already know what it means, but the link is a great way to make new visitors feel comfortable.)

2. You can use “Binge Blocker” in your copy to pique interest in a specific way: “In this special report, you’ll get my powerful weight­loss tricks, like the Binge Blocker (p. 11).”

In this example, you’re not explaining it, but it plays with your reader’s curiosity.  And you tell the reader how he can find out what it means.

But if you use “Binge Blocker” in your normal, conversational copy without explaining it, new readers may feel left out.

And – say it with me – no one likes feeling left out.

Rule of Thumb – Yes, you can use your clever jargon with clients who actually know what it means (like inside your membership site). But if there’s a chance you’ll make a new reader think, “Huh?” either explain it or just don’t use it.


Remember – always take care of your readers.

Don’t leave them behind.

Allow them to feel like you’re going to guide them through this new & exciting territory called “your website.”

Do that, and they just might want to go along with you.

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