Jargon busting: The ten worst phrases in digital marketing

harriet geoghegan

Digital marketing has become synonymous with TLAs (three letter acronyms), buzzwords and obfuscation. Here Harriet Geoghegan lists the ten worst pieces of jargon. 

Have you ever found yourself using the term “We need to educate the client”? Have you ever sent a report accompanied by a glossary? Do the titles on your lengthy PowerPoint presentations contain more than one acronym?

If you answered yes to any of the above questions, you need to cut the bullshit right away.

The digital marketing industry has developed a terrible habit, and it needs to go. Every discussion, process, report and presentation seems to be positively dripping in acronyms, labels, made up names and over the top technical minutiae. This is a trend that’s been around since digital marketing was in its infancy, and has grown wildly out of control.

In the past, digital marketing was a cash-cow shrouded in mystery – god forbid your client figure out how you’re getting them to number one in the search engine, lest they start doing it themselves.

Where we are all letting ourselves down is assuming that clients want to be talked about in technical terms. We’ve got so excited by all the data we have, that we’ve ended up swamping clients and superiors with answers to questions that they aren’t actually asking. Your client doesn’t want to know about your click-through-rate, they want to know if the campaign is making them money. They don’t want to know the page-views and time-on-site, they want to know how the improvements you’re suggesting are going to improve the bottom line.

So in the interest of cutting through the jargon I’ve compiled a list of the worst offenders, what they really mean and why they need to go.

1. Remarketing

Remarketing is quite possibly my favourite piece of digital jargon. It’s almost beautiful in its outrageous level of abstraction. Remarketing is generally translated by agency folk as “You know when you’re browsing the web, and an ad for a site is basically stalking you wherever you go? Yeah, that’s us remarketing to you.”

Given almost every time one uses the term, it needs a lengthy explanation, remarketing is at the top of the list. Instead, try the plain English description of exactly what you’re planning to do and why:

“We’d like to run an online advertising campaign that targets only people that have been to your site before. This type of campaign generally has really great results because we know the audience is already interested. Because the audience is so relevant, the overall cost is a lot less.”

2. Attribution Modelling

Attribution Modelling is a simple concept dressed up as something far more technical than it really is. Attribution modelling is the process of working out which of your marketing activities resulted in sales, and which proportion. Given your customers will often be marketed to in a range of different ways before they make a purchase (see a TV ad, search in Google, like your Facebook page, go to your website three more times whilst comparing to your competitors, then finally go into your store and purchase…), there are many ways to cut that cake.

Whilst digital marketers get super excited when they get more data, they are also at high risk of ending up chasing their own tails creating complicated models to apportion percentages that in reality are pulled completely out of thin air.

If you can’t completely track every customer interaction end-to-end, keep it simple and focus on what’s relevant and what the real question is. If the client wants to know whether it is worth focussing on Facebook, all you need to tell them is that 30 per cent of their sales come from customers who saw the Facebook page first, and searched for their website after. No need to overdo it.

3. Growth Hacking

If you are using the term “Growth Hacking” you need to stop what you’re doing immediately, go home and have a big long think about your actions.

If you are a client and your agency uses the term “Growth Hacking” the most appropriate response is to stand up immediately, thank the person as politely as possible given the circumstances, leave the room and never, ever respond to their calls or emails.

4. Big Data

‘Big Data’ seems more like something a US politician would invent to try and stir up a conspiracy theory. That’s also why it’s not surprising at all that most searches for ‘Big Data’ in Australia come from Canberra.

Big data is basically just a brand name that’s been given to the sudden onslaught of data available now that everyone lives their lives in a happy online ecosystem of misunderstood privacy settings.

By putting a name like ‘Big Data’ on it, companies can sell data analysis as a sexy, new product that everyone needs.

5. Click Through Rate

Click through rate is one of the most reported but least useful metrics in the digital world. Click through rate is the percentage of people that click on your ads. As a standalone metric it is entirely useless – no-one cares about a great click through, they care about sales. If that’s what your agency is reporting on, there is a big mismatch between their goals and yours, and it needs a serious, urgent conversation.

However, click through rate in the wider context of the customer interaction can be a useful way to identify where problems lie – if everyone’s clicking but no-ones buying, ask yourself some key questions: does your website suck? Are the ads misleading? Again though, the conversation should be around the stage in the process that is falling down and what you’re going to do about it, not the metric.

6. UX

UX is a slightly abstracted abbreviation for User Experience that helps web designers to bond with their programmer colleagues by sounding more technical. When people are talking about UX/User Experience, they are talking about reviewing a website or process to make sure that users are able to easily understand the site, and complete the action they are supposed to, and do it as easily as possible – buy a product, call a sales rep, download an eBook or even simply getting directions and opening hours to a retail store.

User Experience in itself is not the worst digital jargon offender, but there should absolutely be a moratorium on using the acronym in any external contexts.

7. Link Building

No, it’s not a cool new environmentally friendly construction technique, it’s a digital marketing tactic. Link building is the process of getting other sites to publish content that has links (as in hyperlinks that people can click) to your site. This is was important as Google used to think that the amount of links a site had were a direct indicator of how popular the site was and therefore meant it should be in a higher position on a search engine. It is entirely unsurprising that an entire industry then developed around manufacturing links to sites, typically run by guys with spare rooms full of servers making up a whole bunch of fake websites.

Thankfully, Google woke up and saw the light on that glaringly obvious mistake. It is important to note that links are still (and will be for the foreseeable future) part of the equation, but Google is far more savvy about working out whether links occur naturally (someone posting a product recommendation) vs unnaturally (on a directory site that is entirely designed to create links back to websites to game the system).

“Link building” shouldn’t ever be valid part of the conversation. Instead, consider it PR for the online world and remember: people talking about you = good; robots creating links to your site = bad.

8. Paid Search

There’s a deeply held secret in the digital marketing world, and I’m probably going to get into trouble for letting the cat out of the bag. No-one actually knows what to call online advertising.

It started with banner ads, where you had to contact the site owner and arrange for you banner to be placed on site, much like you would take out an ad in the newspaper. From there, search engine advertising evolved. For the most part, agencies were operating on a few platforms, so were doing “AdWords”, “social media advertising”, or “Yahoo ads”. Soon the differentiation became search engine ads that you were paying for (“paid search”) versus that from attempts to show up without paying (SEO, or organic search).

Digital marketers quickly cottoned on to the fact that a good strategy will likely require more than one platform, and started giving it umbrella terms like ‘Real- Time-Bidding’ as platforms became auction based. Now, you’re starting to hear all about ‘Programmatic’ as the catch all that covers online advertising that is generally achieved with some kind of bidding/placement program – be it the AdWords interface, or an in-house trading desk at the agency.

When they’ve settled on a name, I’ll let you know.

9. PPC

PPC refers to pay-per-click. Whilst in most scenarios, no-one cares how they’re being charged for a product or service, it can be useful to differentiate between paying per click on an ad, versus paying every time someone sees an ad, and paying for an ad only when it results in a sale (pay-per-acquisition). But be sure to take a step back and think about why this differentiation is important – paying per impression works when your goal is brand awareness, paying per click works if your goal is website traffic, paying per acquisition works when your goal is sales (and the advertiser is willing to have that pricing model).

The important trend is the focus on matching the strategy with the goal. Make sure you’re continually talking about the end goal of your client, rather than using an unnecessary acronym for a payment model with no context.

Note that PPC/Pay-Per-Click and CPC/Cost-Per-Click are often used interchangeably.

10. Above the Fold

Above the fold refers to the part of a website that is visible without having to scroll, with any website content that you have to scroll to see being “below the fold.” It’s a key idea in web design because of the fundamental principle that humans are lazy and you should avoid making them do extra stuff at all costs.

It was probably coined around a boardroom table where someone printed off a website, folded a piece of paper and said “everything above the fold is visible without the user having to scroll down the page” and all the executives nodded and went “Oooohhhh interesting” and for some ridiculous reason it just stuck.

So in the context of jargon busting, that first use of it was probably a perfect use – describing it within context and in plain English. Unfortunately it has become jargonised and now sounds pretty absurd.

  • Harriet Geoghegan is an account manager at Switched On Media



Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing.