Straightforward exposition entices additional positive behavior. (That’s terrible.)
Simple writing converts better. (Pretty good.)
Short words sell good. (Too much, too much! Pull back!)
Content marketers, if you want your sales copy to generate more leads, it needs to be simple. It has to be good, it has to be interesting, and most of all, it has to be simple.
I would also argue it needs to be interesting, but that’s for a different article. Plus, there’s no software that can really measure that, although Google’s Time On Site and bounce rate stats may be a step in that direction.
When users don’t like your content, Google doesn’t either. It works like this. A user accesses your website and decides (in a few seconds) whether she likes it. If she doesn’t like it, she bounces. Google records this information – short visit, then departure – for future reference.
Another user does the same thing – quick visit; then bounce. Another user does the same thing. And another.
Google gets the idea. Your website isn’t satisfying users. They aren’t engaging with it.
Google decides that your website doesn’t need to be ranking as high, and you start to slip in the Search Engine Result Pages.
So if you want your content to be accessible, it needs to be easy to read. If it’s easier to read, people are more likely to stick around for more than a few seconds.
There are plenty of other factors to consider — page layout, use of sub-heads, use of white space — but the number one factor for a readable, accessible page is the simplicity of the language.
Content Marketers, Know Thy Flesch-Kincaid Score
If you want to know whether your writing is simple or not, you need to know your Flesh-Kincaid score. Specifically, your Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level Formula.
This is the score that represents the readability of a piece of text at a U.S. grade level, so it’s easier for teachers and parents to know how hard or easy something is to read. It basically matches up to the grade reading level required to understand the text. If you get a Flesch-Kincaid score of 8, your reader needs to be at an 8th grade reading level to understand it.
I checked out a few different writing samples to compare their Flesch-Kincaid Grade Levels.
- Ernest Hemingway, Big Two-Hearted River: 4.3
- Hunter S. Thompson, The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved: 4.8
- This post: 5.4
- Indy Star sports stories: 6.5
- Cathy Day, A Memo to English Majors About Hustle: 7.3
- Jay Baer, “The Time I Spent the World Series in Handcuffs“: 7.7
- Lorraine Ball, Get Ready for the Holidays: 8
- Malcolm Gladwell, Starting Over: 9
- Scott Monty, Living in a Post-Factual World: 9.3
- USA Today, “Trump not very interested in intelligence briefings, Washington Post reports?: 10.5
Most mainstream newspapers are written at a 6th grade reading level, USA today notwithstanding. Other USA Today stories I checked ran between 10th and 13th grade, thanks to complex and long sentence structures, not overly complex words. That suggests problems with editing, not word choice. And I’ve found that most business writing clocks in at a 7th and 8th grade reading level
It’s not that our readers are stupid, or only have an 8th grade reading level, it’s that people don’t want to put a lot of mental bandwidth into deciphering more complex and convoluted articles. They don’t want to slog through a complex, jargon-filled multi-syllabic narrative. They want to read something easy.
And if your content is easy to read, they’re going to read it. If it’s not, they won’t.
How to Measure Your Flesch-Kincaid Score
There are a few ways you can measure your Flesch-Kincaid score. Microsoft Word users have that functionality built right in, so it’s easy to find. (Check the Show readability statistics box in your Spelling and Grammar preferences.)
For Apple users, use the Hemingway app, which you can use to identify not only your grade level, but the number of adverbs, uses of passive voice, and sentences that are hard to read and very hard to read (like this one). You can use the Hemingway app on their website, but I bought the $19.99 version on the Apple store. (It’s available for Windows as well.)
The problem with the Hemingway app is that they don’t give you decimalized grade levels though. If you want that extra accuracy, you can use the Readability Test Tool by WebPageFX. That’s the tool I used to get the scores above. My other complaint about the Hemingway app is that it doesn’t ignore html text; the Readability Test Tool does.
Content marketers, if you want your readers to stick around and read your work, it needs to be easy. Try to keep it at a 7th grade reading level or lower. That means concise words, succinct sentences, and compressed paragraphs. (That’s terrible.)
Sorry, I mean short words, short sentences, and short paragraphs. (Ah, much better.)
Photo credit: Wikipedia.org