Terminology is at the heart of any corporate communication strategy. Whether you’re communicating with your colleagues, business partners or customers, your terminology strategy is of paramount importance. It’s how you make sure all communications are clear and consistent and that people are using the same terms for the same concepts or products. It’s also how you assure that customers have precise information about your offerings.
Yet, for varying reasons, terminology is often overlooked or taken for granted, and when businesses start going global, they realize that accurate, branded and consistent terminology is something that they should’ve given a lot more consideration to.
In episode 108 of Globally Speaking Radio, we meet the renowned terminology expert Klaus Fleischmann. Not only does he lecture on terminology at universities in his native Austria, but he sits on the board of the Globalization and Localization Association (GALA), is the CEO of Eurocom Translation Services and is the founder and CEO of Kaleidoscope. It’s pretty obvious Fleischmann knows a thing or two (thousand) about how to use terminology to your advantage in localization, machine translation (MT), artificial intelligence (AI) and search engine optimization (SEO).
Before we talk about the way terminology management impacts all of the above, let’s review what terminology is and why you create a glossary in the first place.
What do we mean by “terminology”?
Terminology, in general terms, is the words we use to communicate and the way we use them. In localization it takes on a bit of a different meaning and refers to industry- or product-specific terms related to your company, confusing or complex terms, technical terms or terms specific to your target audience. In this context, it’s critically important that your terminology is clear and consistent as you translate your message into new languages. Fleischmann says, “terminology really is the foundation for high-quality, clear, concise and correct communication.”
Formalizing terminology for your business: creating a glossary
To give terminology some context, we have to understand what a glossary is. Essentially, this is where you keep track of your terms as well as the rules surrounding them and their use. Glossaries outline which terms can be used, which are forbidden and in what contexts they can be used. This can be as simple as a spreadsheet or as immersive as a bespoke database.
There are several important reasons why an enterprise would create a glossary; mainly:
- Its content is clear and concise; there is no risk of confusion from imprecise terms.
- Content can be created more quickly and get to market faster.
- Research time is reduced by including consistent definitions and metadata.
- All products and materials have agreed, consistent language.
- Brand is strengthened globally with clearer messaging.
- Legal and security issues from inconsistent or unintended language can be avoided.
In addition to the core goal of creating clear, consistent communication, there are other applications of glossaries you may not have thought of.
Optimizing your terminology for SEO
SEO turns terminology management on its head, changing the approach from a one-to-one correspondence between a concept and a term to a one-to-many correspondence. After all, search queries can vary vastly. In SEO, search terms are the words and phrases that searchers enter into search engines, also called “search queries.” The trick here is that in some cases there are many different things users can type in; for example, apartment, rental, condo and place for rent all are terms for the same concept.
You can use the same principles for term-mining or term selection, but you have to reverse your thinking.
Fleischmann explains: “In terminology work, you want to make sure you only use one term, and it goes as far as saying if it’s very, very company-specific, then we need to have the preferred term and only that preferred term. SEO is exactly the other way around. You want to find out what the most generic terms are for this. What is it that people are searching for? And then you basically group those words. So, the method is the same; the goal is exactly the opposite. The goal is trying to find as many generic terms as possible that people out there might be using…and intentionally use those words.”
By determining the group of keywords that will give your business the best chance of attracting attention or driving customers to your website, you can use your terminology to refine your approach.
For example, you can compare search queries (a series of terms or keywords in SEO-speak) and see how many people are drawn to your page if you use one versus the other. How long do they stay? What do they read? What triggers them to leave the page?
The application of terminology in social media is different from SEO and more like the use of terminology in corporate materials: there is one primary term for each concept and you need to use that term and only that term.
Fleischmann points out, “managing hashtags is more classic…because if you want to push your own hashtag, you need to be consistent…this consistency is what SEO is not about.”
A hashtag is a term: “If you look at something like Twitter, they actually don’t talk about keywords. They actually talk about hashtags, which really is the same thing,” says Fleischmann.
Like with SEO, you can also use hashtags (terms) as analytical tools to fine-tune your marketing behaviour. With social, you can adjust a hashtag and see its impact on how many views your posts get, how long people stay on them and how people share them.
Why terminology matters to your AI program
If AI is all about data and the quality of the data that goes into the machine, then surely terminology is part of the bedrock of that data. According to Fleischmann, “If MT or a little broader use of AI is on your roadmap…then investing in terminology is definitely a good idea.”
Fleischmann says MT uses terminology in an overt way because those terms are not just driving the engine, but the output, too. “Terminology’s not just in the background trying to explain concepts to the machine or to the learning engine, where it basically stays under the hood, but in MT it actually pops up because text is output.”
He adds that MT providers are currently doing a lot of research into how they can put terminology into an engine to make it automatically adjust the output. But training an engine in this way is tricky because engines can’t problem solve like humans can. So, choice isn’t a good thing when it comes to MT. Fleischmann explains: “Very simply, don’t confuse the engine. For a human translator it can be very beneficial to offer choices; to say, ‘Well, if you’re currently in this sort of text, this is the word you want to use, and if you’re in that sort of text, never use that term,’ for example. You don’t want to do that to an MT engine.”
So, work remains in this area, but terminology is one of the pillars of a successful MT program.
You’re managing your terminology whether you’re aware of it or not, possibly via style guides and notes from engineers and product specifications. But if your competitor is more conscious about their use of terminology, then chances are they’re better geared up for success.
In Fleischmann’s view: “Just like they say, ‘You cannot not communicate,’ I always like to say, ‘You cannot not have terminology.’”
Whether you are starting up your terminology program or tweaking the one you already have in place, it’s time to think about how terms impact SEO, social media and AI. Terminology efforts take time and money, but the benefits to your corporate, social and customer-facing content make the effort well worth it. With contemporary relevance in these digital and technological areas, the perception of terminology within business is going through a seismic shift from being a cost centre to a revenue generator.
Tune in to Globally Speaking’s 108th episode to hear the entire discussion with Klaus Fleischmann and subscribe to be notified of future episodes.