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Use Your Words. The Inclusive Way.

If you have known me for even a minute, then you know I’m passionate about inclusivity. You might have even seen me call out people on Twitter for treating people with much less than the respect they deserve. So this new Inclusive Language Analysis tool that Yoast introduced got me curious. Certainly, reason enough to reach out and get you some insights. (And who doesn’t love the team at Yoast?)

When I think about inclusive language, I start thinking about gender, race, and abilities. But I’m sure there’s more. 

I had a chat with Agnieszka (linguist) and Yvette (online marketeer turned community team lead) from team Yoast, and this is what I learned.

What is inclusive language from a linguistic perspective?

Agnieszka: Before I go into what inclusive language is, let me get a common misconception out of the way. And that is that inclusive language makes everyone happy. The thing is, choosing inclusive language over less inclusive alternatives might annoy groups of people. And sometimes, people will get offended by hearing something they do not want to hear, no matter how gracefully worded the message is. 

Real impact on real people

Inclusive language is about choosing alternatives for words and expressions that are derogatory or exclude marginalized groups. Think of terms that keep prejudice, stigma, or erasure going. There are all sorts of stigmas and prejudice. The most common ones have to do with people’s  race & ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, disability, appearance, age, and socio-economic status.

Using non-inclusive words or expressions have a real impact on real people. If you hear something often enough, you’re likely to internalize it, and at some point, it becomes part of how you think about yourself and the world around you. If you keep hearing the phrases Third World and First World being used to refer to certain places in the world, for instance, it can be hard not to internalize the idea that one is inferior, while the other one is superior. If we’re able to build the habit of choosing inclusive wording over non-inclusive ones, on the other hand, this will have a positive impact on a more inclusive society. 

Compare it with a first date

Yvette adds: When you use inclusive wording on your website, your content is more likely to resonate with a wider audience. You publish content so that people will get to know, like, and trust you, right? This will help with that. Mind you; however, you should still narrow your audience to people with a similar goal or problem.

Online marketing is oftentimes compared with dating. When someone consumes your content for the first time, it’s a bit like a first date. You probably want your website visitors to perceive you as friendly, caring, and trustworthy. The way you treat your waiter during a first date, for instance, tells a lot about who you are as a person. Making derogatory remarks will likely be a turn-off for your date. Similarly, your use of language on your website can make or break a first impression. 

Thank you, that clarifies a lot. And it brings up another question. 

How did Yoast come up with adding an inclusive language analysis?

Agnieszka: Well, it started out with someone suggesting it as a potential new feature. We then did a bit of research and found out that there were a lot of inclusive language guides out there, but hardly any tools that would actively help you write more inclusively. Especially ones that considered the nuances and context dependency of language. So, we saw a real opportunity to create something that would help a lot of people. And while we knew we would have to figure out a lot on the go, our team felt up for the challenge. And here we are. We’ll continue to improve the tool, but it’s already making a difference for everyone.

It totally does. What you did not touch on yet, though, and what our audience probably wonders, is…

Will writing more inclusively rank you higher in Google?

Yvette, chuckling: I’m going to rebut with SEO’s favorite answer here. It depends, at least in some way.

You see, Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible. Meaning that it will present searchers with content options that the algorithms deem the most relevant for their search queries. How relevant your content is, is not only based on the content itself but also on how the world interacts with that content. Do people link from their websites to the content, for instance? That might indicate that the content is helpful. But also, how many people return to the search results within seconds after landing on your content? Because that might indicate that searchers are not finding what they expect on the page. For instance, because the content contains sexist, racist, or ableist wording. 

And did you know that Google recently updated its instructions for quality raters?  

Now, Google updates this document for Quality Raters only a few times a year, but in December 2022 most updates had to do with adding another E to their EAT concept. It’s now EEAT (Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness & Trustworthiness). Lily Ray published an extensive article on the changes on SearchEngineLand.com. One of her conclusions was that Google is upping its game on the inclusive language front. The adjusted guidelines now state that you need to provide detailed examples of what content is considered harmful to individuals and groups. Content that promotes intolerance for the views, beliefs, or behavior of groups, for instance, and content that contains dehumanizing stereotypes. 

So, long story short, we don’t know yet if writing inclusively will boost your rankings, but we believe that inclusive language is so important that we wanted to make sure that everyone (who wants to) can use this feature. Not only does it make you less likely to exclude people and alienate them with your content, but it’s also becoming more important in SEO every day.

Thanks for explaining that! So now that we have established the importance and the benefits of writing inclusively, I imagine this is a process. Not something you’d master from one day to another.

How do you get started writing more inclusively?

Agnieszka: Let me share some ways to get started easily.

1: Ask and listen

Listen to the people who are directly affected by specific (non)inclusive language. They are the real experts. Respect their advice and wishes, even if it doesn’t immediately make sense to you. Also, remember that social groups are not monoliths. When talking about individuals, always respect how they specifically want to be referred to. When working on the inclusive language feature, we tried to as much as possible to follow the advice of the relevant social groups affected by specific language. In the help articles on Yoast.com, you can also find some links to articles and resources written by members of these groups.

2: Understand

Try to understand why certain language is non-inclusive, and why the alternative is better. Every non-inclusive term is non-inclusive for a reason. If you understand the reasons behind it, it can make it easier to make a permanent change. It may become easier for you to remember to use the inclusive alternative, and feel more motivated to make the change. This is also why the feedback on the inclusive language analysis includes links to our help articles where you can learn more about the specific type of non-inclusive language. But we also definitely encourage you to do your own research.

3. Practise

Treat writing more inclusively like you would with any new wholesome habit you’d like to acquire. Know that it will take time and that you will slip, but set out to do it a bit better every day. Give yourself space and grace for making mistakes. Some expressions are deeply ingrained in our thinking, after all. For example, it can feel very natural to address any group of people with ‘you guys’ if that’s what you’ve been hearing and saying your whole life. Or to use words like ‘crazy’ and ‘stupid’, which are so common in the English language.”

Thanks for sharing that. Really helpful. So, if our readers would like to learn more about this, what can they do?

How to find out more about inclusive language?

Yvette: Our content team published several articles on our blog and in our help center that explain more about the use of inclusive language. Also, in our Yoast Academy, you’ll find a lesson on inclusive language in the All Around SEO and SEO Copywriting courses. It’s good to know that this feature is not automatically turned on, so you’ll need to go into the plugin settings and activate it there. But our warmest recommendation is to do just that, give it a spin and let us know what you think.

That sounds like a plan. Give it a go, people!


My thanks to Yvette and Agnieszka from Yoast for the great info!

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