The readability of your marketing copy isn’t a matter of opinion. You can measure readability with formulas that have been developed and tested over decades.
It’s scientifically proven and produces real-world results in business.
Customers who find reading more difficult often have other amazing talents and achieve great things. And they may control the purse strings of a household, a department, or run an entire business.
They will be valuable customers if you can market to them effectively.
And I have great news! There are tools that make it easy to check — and even improve the readability of your copy.
What is readability
Readability is the ease with which your audience understands your copy. Legibility and context are important factors. But your content — the words you choose and how you structure them — is critical. These factors can make or break the success of your marketing message.
How readability formulas work
Most readability formulas analyze a few factors that can include:
- Word length
- Sentence length
- Frequency of easy words
It sounds almost too simple.
But researchers have tested these formulas against readability surveys of human readers. And they have repeatedly proven these formulas produce similar results. But, they are much faster and cheaper.
You don’t have time and money to recruit readers of varying levels to test the readability of your marketing copy. But Microsoft Word has built-in tools based on these formulas to give you similar results in a couple of clicks.
Understanding readability scores: lower is better
Readability formulas usually rate your content with a grade-level score. Scores can range from 1st grade to 18th grade (post-graduate) levels. Content at an 8th-grade level, should be understandable to someone with an eighth-grade education.
Some people assume that a low grade-level score is bad, or that you’re talking down to your readers.
But in almost all cases, when you write something at a post-graduate reading level, you haven’t done something very smart. You’ve done a very bad job of making your message easy to understand. Most people will have difficulty understanding it.
Why readability is your secret weapon
Your audience won’t believe your marketing claim, if they can’t understand it.
Yet most of your competitors are not checking readability. And they’re probably leaving money on the table.
There are two great reasons to care — a lot — about readability. If your content is more readable, it will:
- Appeal to a wider audience
- Be easier for everyone — at all levels — to understand
Appeal to a wider audience. Win more customers.
Let’s say the message on your home page is written at a tenth-grade level. You can expect people who read at a tenth-grade level and above to understand it. But people who read below that level will have a harder time. The lower their level, the harder it gets.
Now, let’s say you revise the home page. You make it readable for a sixth-grade reading level. Your message still appeals to everyone it did before. But you have a much better chance to gain the business of people who read at sixth, seventh, eighth, and ninth grade levels.
Help everyone understand why they should choose you
There is an axiom in the world of accessible web design: When you improve accessibility for some, you improve it for all.
Readability works much the same way. In fact, readability is an important factor when creating an accessible website.
When you improve readability for those who read at lower levels, you improve it for those who read at higher levels too. Easier for some is easier for all.
How to think about readability and the reader
Education may play an important role in a customer’s ability to understand your message.
But the task of visually decoding written language to assemble meaning in the mind is a complex set of specific skills . It requires specific parts of the brain to perform very specific behaviors. Like anything else, some people are just better at that one skill than others.
Information processing challenges, such as dyslexia, also affect the readers ability to understand your message.
Non-native speakers, both domestically and internationally, have their own challenges, but can be an important source of new business.
But no matter the root cause these members of your audience may have other, powerful intellectual, emotional, or social skills. that can make them important decision makers in the customer journey for your business.
It’s best to think if these readers as people for whom reading is a more expensive task. It takes more time, more effort, and more focus for them to extract meaning from your text.
They’ve mastered other skills, such as skimming and scanning, and are bloodhounds in detecting information scent.
You should also consider the fact that they don’t have to read anything you write. They can glance at your page, decide it’s too much work, and “pogo stick” back to their Google search results page to visit your competitor’s website or return to whatever you
There are many popular readability scoring methods in use. Most methods use a combination of the number of characters, syllables, words, and sentences as a basis of a score.