Beware of Buzzwords

It’s the start of a new year, and with 5,000 years of recorded history to draw on, there are a few things we can say for certain. Around 25 million American smokers will try to kick the habit (2.8 million will succeed). Untold millions more will crawl out of the woodwork and swarm their local gym in a vain attempt to drop those stubborn love handles once and for all. And perhaps most predictably, the internet will call out and attempt to purge itself of the most hated and over-used buzzwords of the previous year. But beyond the echo chamber of business and marketing blogs, what are the facts? Annoying or not do buzzwords actually work in paid search marketing?

One buzzword that appeared on many top 10 most-hated lists was the ubiquitous leverage. Of the articles on leverage that I read, most of them at some point conclude that because the meaning has become so diluted, you could just as easily replace it with use. And since use is much shorter than leverage (and so allows the advertiser to fit more into their ads) it is certainly worth a look. As it turns out, leverage beats use; it appears 6.2 times more often in successful ads than unsuccessful ads. Use is still a decent word to consider, though, and still appears 2.4 times more often in successful ads.*

*DISCLAIMER: Use appears in over 800,000 ads that Convertasaurus analyzed for this brawl, which probably skews this comparison to leverage’s favor. If you’re looking to squeeze a few more characters into some of your ads that use leverage I would highly recommend taking use for a test drive.

I admit that I was slightly depressed when I read the results, but all was not lost. Convertasaurus alerted me to an even better word: utilize. Utilize appears a whopping 13.6 times more often in successful ads; that’s over two times as often as leverage (which isn’t even a bad term to begin with!)

It gets better because utilize:

  • takes up slightly less room in an ad
  • appears visually smaller in an ad by using ‘skinnier’ letters like ‘i’ and ‘t’ instead of ‘v’ and ‘g’
  • appears in less ads overall (6,658 vs 9,822) and so is less saturated
  • isn’t a waning buzzword

I did run across one commentary that lists utilize as an annoying buzzword in its own right, but the data bears out that it’s not at that critical mass where it appears everywhere. At least not yet.

Let’s put another buzzword to the test. How about one of my personal least-favorites, synergy.

Hatred for synergy is by no means new; ranked content on the subject dates clear back to 2004 and beyond. But even this many years past its prime, synergy is still used with regularity by around 134 different advertisers across 2,176 ads. Maybe it will be the term to vindicate buzzwords and their power to convert?

In a word, no.

Convertasaurus instantly serves up three other words which all appear more often in successful ads.

Integration appears 4.3 times as often and appears in nearly 38,000 ads. Collaboration comes in at a close 3.4 times with close to 18,000 ads and 700 different advertisers. Even harmony beats synergy, appearing 1.8 times as often.

So does this mean that you should drop buzzwords completely from all your ad campaigns? Not necessarily.

Most of the words I researched are far past their prime. But for products and services aimed at fast-paced, bleeding edge industries like tech, it’s often necessary to use the most current popular terms in ad copy to connect with potential clients.

Furthermore, some dated buzzwords like dashboard and toolbox continue to hold their own regardless of how long ago they expired. And that makes sense because there’s usually a pretty good reason a word gets incredibly popular to begin with. All bias aside, synergy is a pretty eloquent concept (though it still makes me shudder a bit).

Finally, unlike leverage and synergy, many buzzwords will continue to be used well beyond their shelf life simply because there aren’t any other words that mean the same thing or require many words to convey the same meaning. They might be annoying, but words like viral and scalable don’t have clean replacements.

So what are your thoughts? How useful do you find buzzwords in your industry? Are they more trouble than they are worth or a money-maker? What are some words and phrases you’d like to see die out for 2013?


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