Readability • Tone • Voice • Storytelling
Meet Your Audience Where They Live
Readability is a critical but poorly understood aspect of web copy. If your website isn’t super readable, your message won’t land with a wide swath of your audience. And if your message isn’t being received, why invest the time and money to send it?
Much of communications planning concerns the audience. And make no mistake, the audience is really important. But I believe the core reason why companies struggle to write good copy, particularly in-house, is their frame. That is, the expectations, assumptions, and context the sender brings with them.
Let’s say your business is counseling services. Your frame is that of a trained and licensed counselor, and the frame of your potential clients is that they need help with their problems.
You want to say you have deep experience with the latest and greatest treatments because this it’s an area where you add value. Maybe it even sets you apart. With your frame — 6–8 years of higher education with intensive study and clinical rotations — you might want to say: Modalities using evidence-based treatments continue to yield positive post-therapeutic outcomes.
The reading level for that sentence is 18, with a Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease of 4.3. In web copy, you want to aim for a reading level of 7-10 and a reading ease of at least 50.
Put another way, it is written at a level 2X higher than it should be, and as a result, will take 10X longer to comprehend. Does it diminish the sender, receiver, or the business to say instead, We employ the latest and most effective science-backed methods to help you feel your best? Of course not. And we instantly boosted the reading level to 8 and reading ease to 79.6.
But comprehension isn’t the key word here. Lots of people will still comprehend that sentence, even the ones who have to infer what modalities are.
The key word here is longer.
Writing for readability is NOT ‘dumbing it down’
Writing at a lower reading level is NOT “talking down to” your audience. It is not “dumbing down the message.” It’s meeting your audience where they live.
It’s paying your respects to how life works in 2021. We’re busy. We’re exposed to thousands of messages each day. We have an ocean of emotionally resonant content like movies, TV, and video games at our fingertips.
Can you really risk confusing your audience by using language they likely haven’t acquired, let alone internalized? Do you genuinely believe they will invest 10X longer in digesting what you have to say than if you’d written it more simply?
Have you ever fielded a call from a client who thought you insulted their intelligence by saying “use” instead of “utilize” in a press release?
This is why readability is so important. It’s about getting out of the message’s way, especially at the level of a website, which usually is a top-of-funnel engagement.
Stop using proprietary language
Jargon is a form of what I call proprietary language. It comes in a couple different flavors: Jargon, or language specific to a person, industry, or company; and “stopper” words or phrases that sound important but only make the reader pause. Both should be avoided like the plague.
Scholars and lawyers live in a world where nuance is everything. You don’t. Unless you know that every potential customer is deeply familiar with the terminology you use around the office and speaks great English, what matters at the top of the funnel is the big picture. Forget trying to sound like a company and talk like people talk. You beat your competitors by doing a better job of communicating your value.
We’ll help you cut the jargon and $10 words and get to the point. It won’t sound like anything you’ve done, but it will sound like a person.
That is the point.
Readability scores for this page (sticky sentence and all):
Average grade level: 7
Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease: 72.6
Percent complex words: 10.4%