The Language of Web Design – Are You Talking About Your Website in the Right Way?

web design languageWeb design and SEO is a relatively new industry that is nonetheless highly profitable, very interesting to businesses and very technical. For these reasons it follows that these industries have evolved and developed and that they have created their whole own language of jargon. Listening to someone talk about web design or SEO if you didn’t know about the subjects yourself you’d think they were talking a foreign language or from an alien planet. This is all fine and well and is completely normal; it’s simply convenient to use shorthand for complex concepts like SERPs or PPC, but sometimes this can also be damaging.

I’m not talking about things like acronyms, but rather the slang terms we throw around when we talk about web design like content and layout, fold and conversion. These words don’t shorten anything, they simply refer to concepts in a simplified way and sometimes that can be very unhealthy. Let me explain…



Take the word content for instance – a word you’ll read time and time again in the context of web design and SEO. Apparently content is ‘king’ after all. But what does content really mean? Because it’s not very descriptive at all. For most people content is writing, it’s discussion, it’s blueprints, it’s images, it’s videos – all things that have a lot more color and value than just ‘content’.

When you talk about content you see it immediately devalues what you are offering and turns it into an afterthought. Design your website – and then add the content. This is completely the wrong way to think about your website however as it should be the creative aspect, the value, that drives your decisions. Rather than writing content just to fill up your site, build your site around your articles and around that, or envision the kind of videos and images you’re likely to include and then design what you want your site to look like on that basis.

Other Terminology That Might Not Be Helpful

But I didn’t just mention content in my earlier list of unhelpful terms – I also mentioned things like ‘layout’ and ‘fold’ which you’d think would be harmless too. Layout isn’t completely unhelpful, but it does denote a rather static image of a website that doesn’t take advantage of the dynamic nature and possibilities therein. Likewise the term ‘fold’ suggests that the bottom of the page is always going to be in the same place on any device, and it harks back to magazines and other hard copy mediums – immediately limiting the scope of what’s deemed possible. ‘Conversion’ gets my goat as it again suggests you are ‘converting’ your readers into clicks and as though this is your main end goal – rather than providing some great content and trying to keep your readers on your pages. Yes I have a bit of a problem with ‘pages’ too, but I’m not going to change that any time soon…

Other terms that are unhelpful are things like ‘consumers’ and ‘viewers’ which are passive and cold. Rather if you can describe your traffic (what are the connotations of ‘traffic’?) as ‘readers’, ‘contributors’, ‘fans’ or ‘members’ then suddenly you have something much more active and respectful.

The Power of Language

The key message here is not to underestimate the importance of the language you use. After all without language we could have no internal monologues – it frames and structures our thought patterns and thus it can very realistically limit them too.

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