The importance of speaking like a human being

By Cat McGloin

Sometimes we forget that there are real people on the other end of our content.

TL;DR: Sometimes we forget that there are real people on the other end of our content.

Hands up, how many acronyms do you use every day? I’ll regularly say something and immediately realise that if anyone outside of work heard me they’d have no clue what I was on about — and probably laugh at me. We’ve got ‘price alerts’ and ‘messenger bots’, but have we forgotten how to speak to real human beings?

Last year I attended SearchLove 2016, an SEO and digital marketing event that brings together digital marketing leaders to discuss key trends and share insights. One presentation in particular got me thinking: have I lost my human touch when it comes to speaking to our travellers?

Skyscanner looks to find and solve complex problems in travel to help our users

But first, a confession: I’ve worked at Skyscanner for almost four years, and I still have to remind myself what we mean by ‘browse view’. As a customer, this term has always confused me: I’m browsing the site, therefore all of my ‘views’ are ‘browse’ no? And if I get muddled then why do we continue to use this term when speaking to our travellers? This is just one example, but I’m sure that most of us can identify other terms or phrases fixed in our company lexicon that are totally meaningless outside of the office I’m a member of Skyscanner’s Regional Growth Tribe — urgh, jargon, what does that mean?! Let me explain… Our remit is to increase organic growth. I want to know what you Google. Exactly what you search for. So I go off and do some keyword research on a topic I want to commission content for, I find out what the most commonly searched terms are and make sure those are incorporated into the text. But what about the words around them? How am I ensuring that as a whole, the language I use is natural to the audience I’m addressing? A few keywords do not necessarily make an article that’s going to resonate with people and, importantly to the business, make them part with their hard-earned cash. I’m mimicking, when I should be being authentic.

Image from Tumblr by Toothepaste for dinner

After the conference I came back and re-read some of our top performing content (in terms of organic traffic) with the customer firmly in mind. This is what I realised:

  • Most of the worst offenders in the speaking-like-a-robot stakes? Articles where we talk about ourselves and our features
  • We LOVE jargon and acronyms
  • Because we’re smart we tend to think everyone else will just get it

For example, our Skyscanner Facebook bot how-to-guide. Not once do we explain what a bot actually is, what we mean by conversational search. Sure, if you’ve clicked on the article and you intend to read it then we can assume a certain level of proficiency in this area and that you know the basics. But when we’re distributing product announcements like this in channels that are not yet personalised, should we assume this? And if trust and retaining travellers is the name of the game, can we afford to lose those who we could easily charm with a small (non-patronising) explanation of what the hell we’re going on about?

Maybe I was just getting a bee in my bonnet, so I turned to Jen (from the internet) to ask her if she gets many instances of people asking us on social about certain features or things about Skyscanner they just don’t get. Yes, yes, there are many she assured me. Among the ones she gets asked about the most: what is indicative pricing and what exactly is a price alert? Obvious to us, not so to our travellers it would seem…

We’re always on a mission to solve Traveller problems at Skyscanner

Why does all of this matter?

Remembering that there are real people on the end of our stuff seems basic, but from behind our desks they’re pretty easy to forget. And as Google’s ranking algorithm is now using machine learning and starting to give greater significance to user signals, it’s more important than ever that we start communicating in a language that everyone can understand and find value in.

If you want to know about finding flight deals but lands on something that’s splurting out industry terms and acronyms, you’re unlikely to stick around or engage with the content, signalling to Google that this page isn’t relevant and so they’re unlikely to surface this content the next time someone searches for similar flight deals.

What can we do?

Question everything. Make sure it makes sense. Speak like a human. I’m going to review and refresh all of our content with fresh eyes, scrutinising the words we’ve used and question if they add value. I’ll strive to make sure that from here on out, all content will showcase our very best in a way that’s accessible for all. And if you care about your travellers, your SEO traffic and bringing value to that two-sided marketplace, I suggest you come join me.

Like what you hear? Work with us

We do things differently at Skyscanner and we’re on the lookout for more Tribe Members across our global offices. Take a look at our Skyscanner Jobs for more vacancies.

About the author

Before life at Skyscanner as the UK and Ireland Content Manager, I dabbled in journalism, contributing to national newspapers including the Guardian, The Telegraph and The Daily Mail. I then moved into the world of content, writing predominantly for oil companies, engineering firms and financial institutions in Edinburgh — far harder than selling cheap travel to sunny destinations that’s for sure!

What makes working at Skyscanner different? For me it’s our Squad and Tribe structure: I am involved in all stages of our content life-cycle, from harvesting the data behind the idea, through creation and iteration and into reviewing content consumption. Secondly, it’s our data-driven approach: insights gained means that I feel we are always evolving with our audiences, continuously improving our offering and getting to the heart of traveller needs.

Cat McGloin is based in our Skyscanner office in Edinburgh, Scotland