Five Tips for Adding a Glossary to Your Site

Thinking about adding a glossary to your website? Great idea, go ahead! There are many good reasons for setting up a glossary, e.g. it makes your site more attractive, helps your reader to understand the concepts you are presenting, and can even drive additional traffic to your website.

Here are five tips to consider before starting:

1.) Define the purpose and scope of your glossary.

Be clear about your aims, it will save you time and help you to develop the glossary. Take two examples: a governmental agency website maintaining a 30,000 terms glossary as part of their mandate to inform and educate the public and a small business website offering a glossary of common terms comprising of some 20 entries. Welcome to the world of online glossaries! So be realistic about your goals, your resources – time, knowledge/expertise, implementation skills, and your audience. And do your homework – see what online glossaries are already covering your subject.

2.) Design and user friendliness count!

Let’s go to an extreme (even though more often found than you might assume): Given you only want to add a glossary for SEO reasons, to have a long-tail of keywords – why to waste any time on user friendliness? It is Google you are after and not a real audience. Wrong – what is good for your user is good for SEO. Old wisdom, more relevant than ever. Also forget about link exchange and buying back links – it is about earning your back links these days. So you better take that seriously and design a glossary that is helpful and easy to navigate even or especially when you want to see good results in your SERP.

Structuring smaller glossaries (20-50 terms)

Clearly the design of a glossary is related to its size. Not too much to do, if your glossary is only a few terms long – let’s say between 20-50 terms. No problem to put all of them on one webpage.  Have the term in bold and in a separate line, followed by a paragraph holding the definition. That will do. You might want to list all terms at the top of the page, linking them with anchors to the specific paragraph.

The more terms you offer the more you have to invest in an easy navigation: Browse per letter, search feature, etc. And don’t forget – getting to a specific term and definition is one thing, enabling the user to get back to the overview is another one. Many glossary builder overlook that!

Glossaries as part of your Support Channels

Say you want to write a glossary explaining the terminology you use on your website, for service or application. You should be in a good position as to the expertise needed for writing a glossary, after all it is your service/application. A glossary like this is extremely helpful in limiting confusion, increasing customer experience, and deflecting support inquiries.

You can bring these positive results to another level when you take care to have your glossaries as integrated part of your self-service support – e.g. articles, documentations, Q&A, etc. Whenever you have articles about a certain term in your glossary, don’t forget to link to it. Integrated part simply means easy transition from one support channel to the offer. So for some reading your FAQs, should be aware of the existence of the glossary of common terms and should have easy access to it.

3.) Don’t steal!

Online glossaries belong to two worlds: the Internet and the sharing of intellectual property. Both worlds have rules and etiquette – and one rule both worlds share is – give reference to sources! And yes, even a two sentence definition of a term that you have taken form another website or book should be given reference to.

Writing a glossary is not as easy as it looks: a definition should be clear, short and valid.  As we all know – short is always harder than long explanations. So the temptation to take “such a small piece of information” from another source is high.

Let’s face it, it is stealing and it is done all over the places. I recently reviewed Chocolate glossaries, and one of the check I do is to see how unique a glossary is. For that I simply “google” a definition and see how many glossaries come up with exactly the same definition.

Let so let’s make an example!

Step 1: Here is the definition of “Xocoatl” I first encountered on – Glossary of Chocolate and here is the definition: Xocoatl is the original name the Aztecs, Toltecs, Mayas and Incas gave to a stimulating drink they brewed from cocoa beans. It was a mixture of cocoa, maize (Indian corn) and water.

Step 2: I place the definition or a rather unique looking part of it into Google as an exact search (to make an exact search enclose your search string with “).

31 results for the same phrase. Visiting the glossaries it becomes clear that the entire definition and in most cases the whole glossaries are the same! Only 5 sites give reference to the source, while many other have the glossary followed by their own copyright remark!

Please don’t do that. If you take only one definition from a specific source, add a back link. That would be sufficient and seen as fair use. If you want to use an entire glossary, there is no way around from asking reprint permission from the glossary owner. 

A glossary is not only its definitions. It is also making the decision which terms should enter your glossary. I think it is perfectly fine to get orientation from other glossaries concerning which terms should be considered. That is a way of learning. Try to concentrate on the main terms first. An online glossary, like every webpage is constantly “work in progress”. Go online with a small, decent version and let your glossary grow over time.

5.) Keep communication channels open.

Your glossary is a service to your site visitors. Give your visitors a change to comment on your glossary, suggest more terms, or point out mistakes. You will draw motivation and insights from the feedback you receive.

If you are running the glossary on your SMB website, make it an issue everyone in your company can contribute to. Maybe from some terms of Product Manager is the right one to suggest a definition, while in another case your Account Manager can point out terms to you that are constantly misunderstood by your customers.

Like every other property and feature on your website, use your glossary to get social. Announce it on Twitter and Facebook, mention it in your newsletters.

6.) Keep it updated.

Only in rare cases a glossary will stay static for longer than 1-2 years. Certainly depends on the subject. But language changes, new technologies arise, and with this your glossary might need an update.

Sorry – my dear friends, this post got way longer than I intended. If you need some help or want to discuss your own glossary project with me, do not hesitate to leave a comment or to contact me via email:

Posted on November 6, 2011, in Glossaries and Dictionaries in General and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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