LGBTQ+ people aren’t going anywhere. In fact, 3.1% of the UK population identified as LGBTQ+ in 2020, which is almost double the percentage in 2014.
Yet still, many marketers aren’t inclusive of LGBTQ+ people. Websites and marketing campaigns rarely include people with diverse characteristics. And, when they do, they’re full of stereotypes and clichés.
The story usually goes like this: brands bring out the rainbows during Pride month, only to put them away for the rest of the year.
Whilst we appreciate the support, this doesn’t ensure LGBTQ+ people feel included on your website every day. In fact, it’s often small, subtle changes – not grand gestures – that create the most impact.
In this guide, we’ll explore some practical ways you can be more inclusive of LGBTQ+ people in your marketing and web design. We’ve also interviewed LGBTQ+ marketing professionals, as to include a range of perspectives. If you have any additional ideas, get in touch and we can include your suggestions!
10 Considerations for Your Marketing and Web Design
1. Security Practices
When creating passwords, users often have to provide answers to security questions. But are your questions LGBTQ+ inclusive?
For example, the most common question that gets asked is: ‘What’s your mother’s maiden name?’. This assumes that the user has a mother, and not parents of other genders, for example two fathers.
For many, these questions can feel alienating – and sometimes impossible to answer. Keep this in the back of your mind when creating these questions, and try to think of something more inclusive.
2. Google My Business
When setting up your Google My Business profile, you can mark your business as ‘LGBTQ+ friendly’. In fact, Google revealed that searches for ‘LGBTQ+ friendly’ locations increased by 1,200% between 2017 and 2022.
Sarah McDowell, an SEO Manager at Captivate Audio, told me:
“I’m a lesbian and visit new cities with my girlfriend. Say we want to go to a café for some coffee and cake, I’d search for ‘gay friendly cafés near me’. Google can then find cafés that have the ‘LGBTQ+ friendly’ attribute and show these options to us.”
By including this, you show LGBTQ+ people that they’re welcome in your business, making them feel at ease.
3. External Links
If you’re using LGBTQ+ terminology or quoting statistics, make sure you do thorough research. And, even better, link out to your sources. This will help users to trust that you’re providing accurate, up-to-date information.
If you’re not sure where to find reliable information, here are some reputable organisations:
(Here is a more comprehensive list from The Diversity Trust).
There’s lots of disinformation online, particularly from anti-LGBTQ+ organisations, so fact check everything before you press publish.
4. Audience Targeting
It’s easy to assume the audience of some products. For example, most marketers assume the target audience of makeup is women. However, nonbinary people and men may also be part of this audience.
This doesn’t mean you have to use only gender neutral language – you can still include women, as they’re a key part of the audience. However, consider who else may be the audience of this product, and expand your copy to include a more diverse range of genders and pronouns.
This is also important when thinking about PPC and paid social ads. Kayleigh Goode, PPC Account Manager at The SEO Works, says:
“For PPC, it’s easy to fall into a trap of using gender stereotypes in demographic targeting, especially in fashion and beauty industries. Instead of choosing to show specific products to men or women, we can choose to target all users. This ensures we’re targeting all people, regardless of what box Google’s algorithm has put them into.”
5. Keyword Research
In some industries, you may find keywords where people use outdated, offensive or inaccurate terminology.
Even if they have a high search volume, we’d avoid targeting these terms. Otherwise, you might offend users. Not only could this be quite upsetting for them, it may lead them to bounce from your site.
The truth is that, whilst we encourage the use of gender neutral terms, many users still search using gendered language. For example, many people search for ‘gifts for him’ and ‘gifts for her’. This is still valid, and you don’t need to ignore these keywords. They reflect what people search for, and so they’re still valuable to target.
However, can you expand your research beyond this and include other, more inclusive terms as well?
6. Web Forms
If you ask users to declare their gender on sign up forms, do you only include male and female categories? If so, consider adding more options, or a box for people to input their own suggestions. Equally, don’t just add ‘Other’ as an option, as this is very limiting.
As a nonbinary person, it can be very frustrating when I’m presented with only two choices. Not only will having more options make gender diverse people like me feel more comfortable, it’ll give you a better idea of who is actually using your website.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that some people may not want to disclose their gender. They may not be ‘out’, or want this to be known publicly. Give people the option to opt out, explicitly state why you’re collecting the data, and clarify what you’re going to do with it. That way, you’ll make nonbinary and gender diverse people feel at ease.
Stock imagery rarely includes LGBTQ+ people. As a result, LGBTQ+ folk don’t always see ourselves represented online.
Of course, there’s no obvious way to visually represent an LGBTQ+ person, as we don’t all look alike. And, in many cases, inclusive imagery features clichés like rainbows and Pride flags.
However, there are many opportunities to make your imagery more diverse. For example, if you’re a wedding photographer, are you including images of same-sex couples in your marketing?
Small changes like this can have a big impact. If you’re looking for copyright free imagery, this bank of gender diverse images from VICE is a great place to start. Photographer Alex Bayley has also created a great list of diverse and inclusive stock photography.
When addressing an individual on your website, check you’re using the correct pronouns. If you get this wrong, you could be misgendering them. This is where you refer to them as the wrong gender, which can be very distressing for some gender diverse people.
It’s easy to guess someone’s gender based on their name or headshot, but you should never assume! Ask if you’re unsure, and use ‘they/them’ pronouns until you’re certain.
You could also encourage anyone featured on your website to display their pronouns. A great place to do this is on an author bio or ‘Meet the Team’ page. By doing so, you demonstrate allyship to the LGBTQ+ community, and normalise the conversation around pronouns. Equally, don’t force people to do this if they don’t feel comfortable doing so.
9. Diverse Language
You may be accidentally using outdated terminology to refer to LGBTQ+ people. Language evolves over time, so terms which were widely used in the past may not be appropriate today.
If you’re unsure, this list of LGBTQ+ terms from Stonewall is useful. Here, you can find definitions for key terms, so you know you’re using terminology accurately.
Grammarly Premium includes suggestions to make your writing more inclusive. For example, it flags offensive language, outdated terminology and reclaimed terms like ‘queer’.
There are also many words and turns of phrase which are unnecessarily gendered. Many of us use them every day without even realising! By using gender neutral terms instead, you can make your website and marketing more inclusive of a wider range of people.
Here are some suggestions:
|Instead Of||Use||In These Cases|
|Girlfriend / boyfriend||Partner / spouse||When referring to partners generally, rather than a specific individual|
|People of both genders||People of all genders||When referring to all genders, not just men or women|
|Ladies and gentlemen||Everyone / all of you||When addressing a group of people where you don’t know each individuals’ gender|
|Mankind||Humankind||When referring to the human race generally|
|Policeman / Lollipop lady||Police officer / Lollipop person||When referring to a profession where there’s an assumed gender|
|The gays / the lesbians / the bisexuals||Gay / lesbian / bisexual-people||When referring to a group of people who share the same gender or sexuality|
10. Sense Checking
If you don’t identify as LGBTQ+, then it’s always advisable to consult a member of this community when creating inclusive campaigns and websites. You don’t need them to check every word of your content, but it’s useful to get some feedback. This way, you can make sure the language is appropriate and resonates with actual LGBTQ+ people.
You could politely ask employees in your organisation to help with this, but it’s okay if they decline. It’s not the job of LGBTQ+ people to educate allies about these topics, and they may not feel comfortable doing so. An alternative is to ask for feedback from your customers, or to speak to other members of the community in your industry.
Despite this, it’s important to recognise that the LGBTQ+ community don’t always agree on everything. Jess Peace, Content Team Lead at Neomam Studios, agrees that…
“it really helps to have someone from the community involved when writing or chatting about LGBTQ+ matters.”
But she also recommends that…
“it’s good to ask around too, as there’s no real one size fits all when it comes to queer representation because everyone has different views.”
There’s no way you can please everyone all the time – we’re a big, diverse community with lots of differing opinions and perspectives. However, with the considerations we’ve discussed in this blog post, you now have a starting point to work from.
As well as thinking about positive changes you can make to your marketing and website, it’s also worth knowing some common pitfalls to avoid.
Rainbow washing refers to superficial gestures that brands use to show support to LGBTQ+ people. At the same time, these brands don’t take meaningful actions that actually make us feel included or equal.
This is very common during Pride season. Ian Helms is Director of Growth Marketing at Q.Digital, an LGBTQ+ media network. He says:
“Brands can be huge allies to the LGBTQ+ community, but when they merely slap a rainbow onto their logo or products during Pride month without taking any real action or showing support for our community, it feels as if they’re using us for their own gain.”
In fact, in a Reboot survey of LGBTQ+ individuals, 96% agreed that brands should be more supportive of LGBTQ+ people all year round, not just during Pride season.
It’s great to show your support during Pride season. But, as we’ve discussed, think about how you can create long lasting change beyond this.
Representation in your marketing is great, but it can also reinforce harmful and outdated stereotypes. For example, are you only presenting gay men as feminine, and lesbian women as masculine?
It’s also worth bearing in mind that LGBTQ+ people come in all shapes and sizes. The default in ‘inclusive’ language and imagery is white, cisgender gay men – but the community is much more diverse than his. Are you including LGBTQ+ people of colour, gender diverse people and disabled LGBTQ+ people, for example?
If you’re selling branded Pride products, like t-shirts with rainbows, are the profits going back into your company? If so, LGBTQ+ may feel like you’re exploiting them, rather than helping them.
Consider donating a percentage of these profits to an LGBTQ+ charity or organisation, so you’re giving back to the community. As a business, this is one of the best ways you can support us. Alternatively, you could run a fundraiser or charity day, which is a great way to show your allyship.
Showing support for LGBTQ+ people in your marketing isn’t a one time task. The hope is that, over time, it becomes an consideration in your everyday processes.
LGBTQ+ inclusivity doesn’t have to be loud and proud. Often, it’s the more subtle changes – like updating your security practices and sign up forms – that have the biggest impact.
It’s time to move beyond rainbow washing and empty gestures, and towards meaningful, lasting actions that positively impact our community.
Liam is an SEO Team Leader with a background in journalism. They’re passionate about E-A-T, ethical SEO and devising content strategies that get clients results.