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How do I know which word to use?

lady with brown hair, wearing a a black and white striped sweater, stands in front of a background that has a large question mark, flanked by arrows pointing in different directions

Posted by Vikki Baptiste

August 15, 2022

Someone asked me recently “Is it ecommerce or e-commerce?”

What a timely question!

There can be more than one way to spell a word.

Yes, I said it.

Before you reel in horror, let me tell you I’m also a word nerd. Picky at best. Pedantic at worst. But hear me out.

First, there are regional variations. Are you US- or European-based? (color or colour, diarrhea or diarrhoea, canceled or cancelled.)

Then there are words that have evolved.

I recently read a great Washington Post article by the Mack Daddy of grammar, Benjamin Dreyer. Titled Why English is changing faster than you can say E-mail, e-mail, email, he discusses how words evolve through time.

Light bulb becomes light-bulb becomes lightbulb.

E-mail becomes e-mail becomes email.

How do you know which version of a word to use?

Ask yourself this question:

Is the word one that someone would search for to find your article? In other words, is it part of your search engine optimization (SEO) strategy?

If the answer is no, look up the word in the dictionary and use that spelling, or rely on Grammarly or your browser’s spellcheck feature. Or use the spelling you’re most comfortable with.

If it’s part of your SEO strategy, try this.

  1. Go to Google Trends.
  2. Search for the word using your preferred spelling.
  3. When the results populate, you’ll see a second search box labeled Compare. Enter another variation of the word in this box and hit enter.

Using this method, you can add as many variations of the spelling as you wish. This image shows the two versions of ecommerce/e-commerce. You can see there is a clear winner.


google trends graph showing the use of ecommerce vs e-commerce, with ecommerce being used more

Words fascinate me.

I took this a step further and expanded the results to run from 2004 to date. You can see that there was a time when e-commerce was the favored version!

google trends graph showing the use of ecommerce vs e-commerce from 2004 to present, with ecommerce being used more

It’s interesting to note the huge spike in the red line – ecommerce – towards the end is March 2020, the start of the COVID pandemic.

We know the reasons words change, and we know the reasons we’d like to keep them the same. We know email is a shortened form of electronic mail, and there are purists among us who are going to hold onto that e-mail until we pry it from their cold, dead hands.

By all means, use what’s comfortable for you. But when you’re creating content, consider your audience and what they are searching for and write accordingly.

There are a lot of words in the English language, and it can be tricky to avoid industry jargon, know which words are the best to use in a given situation, or understand if words have been used correctly or in context.

If you’d like us to assess your content, our team can help you check your grammar and spelling, and make sure you’re using the right words for your audience. Contact us today for more information.

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