While using acronyms, abbreviations, initialisms and commonly shortened forms of words is totes fine for informal tweets, texts and even social media, unless they are well-known terms, should be avoided in long-form content, such as blogs, articles and websites.

Using acronyms and abbreviations in websites

What is an acronym, an abbreviation and an initialism?

An acronym is a when the first letter of each word is taken and then, typically, those letters go to make up another word, for example, RADAR, which stands for radio detection and ranging.

An abbreviation is any shortened term and can also be an acronym. Appt, short for appointment, is an abbreviation. And so is, IT, short for information technology, which is also an acronym.

An initialism is any term where the first letters of the phrase are taken to make another word, such as RADAR, above, and Wi-Fi, which stands for wireless fidelity.

When is it ok to use an abbreviation in a website?

Abbreviation is your catch all term for any shortened terms and initialisms. Some abbreviations are known by almost everyone in the population who will be reading your content. For example, words such as, Wi-Fi and radar are words we all know. It could look odd if you were to make out such well-known terms in full such as Wi-Fi, and say, AM or PM!

Unknown abbreviations put browsers off

With just a few short seconds to grab your browsers attention, you can’t afford to risk anything that will cause them to leave.

If they are happily reading through your homepage and come across MDM (Mobile Device Management) or EHU (Electrical Hook-Up), without those terms made out in full as we have done here, they are likely to feel alienated, and worse, that you haven’t taken the time to make these terms understandable for them.

Maybe your browser will open another window and search for your abbreviation to find out what it means, but the likelihood is that they won’t.

Accessible information is crucial

Unless you are writing technical content for a technically literate audience, abbreviations, without the term explained/made out in full, are to be avoided at all cost.

Easy access to your content is vital to your browser. Disrupting their reading process with a bunch of capital letters that don’t make sense is not only ugly, it’s annoying. More than that, if you use a whole lot of abbreviations then the browser simple thinks your content, your site, and your business and its associated products and services, are not for them.

Understand your audience

Ask yourself who your ideal customer is. Are they new to your industry? Are they likely to be first-time purchasers? Or are they familiar with your products and services already? Even if they are, abbreviations are to be approached with extreme caution, since you don’t know who might read your content and recommend you onwards to someone else.

Make an effort to understand your audience and write your content, whether it’s a blog, article or website, as plainly and simply as possible so they can understand you.

How to use abbreviations correctly

If you need to use an abbreviation, for instance, to keep character count down, you need to make the term out in full and put the abbreviation in brackets. For example:

All our procedures are in accordance with Health and Safety Executive (HSE) guidelines.

From then on, on your page or in your article, you can refer to the Health and Safety Executive as HSE. But on any new page in your website, or piece of content, you should make out the term in full in again, with the abbreviation in brackets.

Remember…

The basic rule to keep in mind is that your browsers are not necessarily from your industry, nor do they know your mindset or have your specialist knowledge. It’s up to you to help them, with easy-to-read and understand content.

Your content needs to welcome and reassure your browsers, not keep them at arm’s length.