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Marketing SEO

Rethinking SEO Strategy: How the Right (or Wrong) Buzzwords Can Crown (or Kill) Your Brand Story

5 Minute Read

I get a lot of PR emails, promoting everything from new software to aspiring thought leaders attempting to make a name for themselves.

These emails always have two things in common. First, they’re looking for free media coverage. They’re also loaded up with eye-grabbing buzzwords. And while sometimes these phrases do their job and convey the email’s subject, too often my eyes glaze over because what’s being described is so vague, I can’t figure out why I should care.

Yet these phrases often form the cornerstone of marketing and SEO strategy. You surely run into these phrases dozens of times a day. Technology able to “glean powerful insights” that drive “the future of B2B.” Articles trumpeting “disruptive marketing technologies” that promise to “accelerate revenue” and “improve employee engagement.”

It all sounds great, in principle. But despite all these fancy, comforting words, we still have no idea what you’re talking about, how it works, or why it will make our lives easier.

We’re all guilty of falling into the same bad habits. But when marketers turn a blind eye to their over-reliance on buzzwords, it puts the effectiveness of their content at risk. Their story becomes unoriginal, and the audience loses interest.

The challenge is that marketers can’t quit these buzzwords cold-turkey. While they represent a potential trap for lazy marketing, buzzwords often play a role in a brand’s storytelling strategy. If you’ve created a disruptive martech solution for B2B brands, it’s inevitable that you’ll have to use some of those buzzwords to convey that message.

Meanwhile, keywords play a role in SEO strategy that is impossible to ignore. Select words and phrases are critical to successful brand storytelling. But if everyone’s using the same keywords and buzzwords, aren’t you at risk of telling the same stories? And if you’re telling the same stories, what are you doing to make your brand stand out?

The Difference Between Buzzwords and Keywords

To understand how this word choice affects your marketing, for better or worse, it’s important to draw a line of distinction between buzzwords and keywords.

Keywords are specific to the audience you’re targeting and to the intersection between what your brand offers and what the customer wants. They serve a very practical function when it comes to SEO, helping you target content to get found by an audience.

Buzzwords, on the other hand, often relate to softer concepts that are hard to quantify, like when a job applicant describes themself as a “team player.” It may be a valuable description to people vetting applicants, and it’s buzzworthy because it’s a valued quality. But it also can’t be easily quantified. As a way of reflecting something tangible about the applicant, it’s useless. But it can still shape perceptions of that candidate, even though there may be no evidence that this perception is warranted.

Another great example is the term “lean startup.” This buzzword reflects something about the company—something the company feels is important to its story—but it doesn’t function as a keyword, because the phrase has no relation to the actual products or services offered. It has no direct appeal to a target consumer base. It’s a way of shaping the story about the startup itself, but it would never appear as an SEO keyword.

Finally, consider a phrase that functions as both a keyword and a buzzword. Take “martech stack,” for example. Martech stacks are a big topic of conversion at mid-sized and enterprise organizations. But for software companies developing solutions that fit into this stack, it’s an important keyword that will guide their SEO strategy and help them connect with their audience in a tangible way. This root phrase will play a central role in both SEO and brand storytelling for aspiring martech companies.

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Word choice matters. And in many cases, you don’t get to choose which keywords or buzzwords are important to your company—these decisions are largely dictated by pre-existing factors, such as your industry, your target market, and how you aim to generate interest among your audience. But if you’re worried about these familiar phrases putting your audience to sleep, there are simple things you can do to hold their attention.

It all has to do with getting specific.

Separating the Generic From the Specific

The problem with buzzwords and keywords isn’t that they’re too common, or unoriginal, or cliche, per se. Rather, the challenge is that the more these phrases are used, the less specificity they have to offer. The more vague these words are, the less they’re able to communicate. If you create solutions for the “martech stack,” that’s great—but that’s not enough information, so why lean on this in your SEO and your brand storytelling?

As TechCrunch points out, the goal of storytelling is to shape your brand story to make it both compelling and easy to understand. Buzzwords can be a valuable tool in telling this brand story: Given their familiarity, buzzwords can serve as useful identifiers that help your audience orient themselves, and your brand, in a larger story.

Keywords, meanwhile, will help that content get found by a relevant audience, especially when you move past basic keyword strategy and start targeting your audience through long-tail keywords. That’s an overlooked benefit of long-tail keywords: While the business argument for long-tail SEO strategy is to target less competitive, more affordable search queries, long-tail keywords also force marketers to get more specific in their content, which improves communication and makes the storytelling more effective.

Content creators and consumers alike will roll their eyes anytime they see a well-trodden word or phrase, but this reaction has more to do with all the ways they’ve seen these buzzwords misused and overused in the past. Marketers can insulate themselves from this reaction by giving their word choices closer consideration and making sure the phrases they’re using are supporting their business goals and their larger brand story. Focus on clear, specific communication, and find the buzzwords and keywords that best serve these efforts.

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Featured image attribution: Victoria Kurtovich

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Jonathan Crowl specializes in digital marketing and content creation for both B2B and B2C brands, with an emphasis on startups and technology. His past and current clients include B2B brands IBM, LinkedIn, Mad Mobile, Oktopost, BrightSpot, and Waze, as well as B2C brands Porsche, Epson, and PayPal. He lives in Minneapolis.

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