Climate change or global warming? Pandemic flu or bird flu? Learning or training? Should we choose the 'correct' words or the words people actually use?According to Google, every month an average of 300,000 people search for climate change, while 2.2 million search for global warming. Yet the official term on most government and media websites is climate change. And climate change is the correct overall name. But is it the right phrase to use on the Web?
The climate is changing. It's getting warmer. And it's probably going to keep getting warmer for quite a while. So why not use the phrase "global warming" because that's what's actually happening? Why be vague and say climate change, when that begs the question: what sort of climate change are we talking about?
The Web is the land of concrete, specific language. It doesn't work well for fuzzy, official language. People want you to get to the point, and describe the essence of what is happening.
What is pandemic influenza? Sounds official. Not many people search for "pandemic influenza". Over the last four years, a lot more have searched for "bird flu." But officials do not want to talk and write about bird flu. They want to talk and write about pandemic flu. So their content doesn't get found as much as it should on the Web. And even when it is found, ordinary people find it hard to read and understand this official language.
Pandemic flu is the correct general description. But bird flu is what is real. It's what is happening and what people want to know about. (A smaller percentage search for "avian flu.") Do we want to be correct or useful? Do we want to use the right words or do we want to get found?
In many organizations, the training department is not called the Training Department. It's called Learning and Development because that's what it is really about-learning and development. But far more people search for training that for learning. Training is a basic word but it is clear and precise and very easy to understand.
According to Google, every month an average of 40,000 people search for "low fares" but 25 million search for "cheap flights". (Yes, 25 million.) The airlines have spent 25 years advertising low fares and absolutely hate to talk about cheap flights.
Do you see a pattern from all the above examples? There seems to be a desire among organizations to not quite tell it as it is. These organizations create classifications and content on their websites that either use soft, fuzzy words like "low fares," or official-sounding words like "pandemic influenza." There is often a logic to doing this. It is a logic of experts and bureaucrats, and of old school marketing and advertising executives.
Of course, there is also the snobbery factor. By using elite words the organization shows how intelligent it is. It shows that it understands the context of things, and that it is a deep thinker.
"So it's global warming," the citizen says to the expert.
"Actually it's not global warming but rather climate change," the expert replies.
"Isn't the climate getting warmer?" the citizen then asks.
"Yes," the expert replies.
"So it is global warming."
About the Author
Gerry McGovern, a content management author and consultant
, has spoken, written and consulted extensively on writing for the web and web content management issues since 1994.