Everything from the words you choose to the complexity of your sentences affects your readability level, and you need to choose it carefully.
Anyone creating or distributing digital marketing content knows the importance of getting your message across to your audience. You select the right topic and the right key points to cover to make it valuable. What about how easy that content is to actually read? This seems like a simple piece of the puzzle to look at, right? It is, but that may be why it is so easy to overlook.
We’re talking about your content’s readability level. You need to choose it wisely so your readers clearly understand your message and feel connected to it.
But how do you measure it? How do you choose the level that best matches your audience? Read on to learn more.
How do you choose the right readability level?
When choosing the readability you want to target, you need to understand your audience and their expectations. This determines how complex or how simplified your content should be.
For example, say you intend to speak to a team of experienced technical engineers, but you talk to them as if they’re fifth graders. In consequence, many of them are going to check out purely because they assume the content isn’t meant for them.
Alternatively, say you’re speaking to a person who is just starting out and trying to learn about your topic, and you fill the page with complicated phrases and unexplained jargon. They are also going to look elsewhere for what they need.
Additionally, review the demographic statistics for your target audience to identify their education and experience levels. This information won’t be an exact fit, but it’ll give you an idea of the people you’re speaking to. Aim closer to the lower end of this range, as it is much easier to capture an audience who feels the content is a little oversimplified than to engage readers who can’t understand it at all.
How do you check the readability level before publishing?
Readability is normally scored in terms of the grade level that the reader needs in order to understand the text.
There are a number of different formulas commonly used to check for readability. Most of them compare the total numbers of words, sentences and syllables in a text using an equation. This formula determines how difficult the text is to read. Longer sentences and words with more syllables equal a higher reading level.
There are several readability tools available online, such as Readable.com or Readability Formulas, where it analyzes the content for you. All you have to do is paste your text into the box. Having one of those handy is a big help.
How do you adjust the readability level?
Once you know your goal readability level, or the score of a particular piece of content, there are a few factors to keep in mind when adjusting readability:
- Sentence length: Think of the popular children’s book “See Spot Run” in contrast to any of Hemingway’s novels. One of their biggest differences is the length of the sentences. Short and simple is easy to read. Once you head into long, complicated sentences full of punctuation, and full of helpful (yet sometimes confusing) adjectives, the reading level becomes a little more advanced. And it is possible to swing too far in either direction.
- Word choice: This goes beyond choosing an average word length that matches your audience’s reading level. Keep in mind that if you use words that are not well known, such as pedant (one who is overly concerned with rules or precision), your audience may still need to find a dictionary despite the smaller number of syllables.
- Jargon and acronyms: Almost all industries have commonly used technical terms or acronyms. Some will tell you to avoid them as much as possible. But that isn’t always necessary; it depends on your audience. For seasoned veterans, such terms make them feel right at home. For everyone else, it looks as if you’re speaking Greek.
How does readability affect sales?
When your audience is reading your content, it’s all about making a connection. Even if the content is a thought leadership piece with no sales pitch, still situate your company top of mind.
What better way to make a connection than to deliver content that not only is on topic and adds value but that also delivers that value in a language they can understand? Conversely, if customers leave your blog feeling as if the content was either too simple or over their heads, the likelihood that they will think of you again when they need service is pretty low.
Choosing a consistent readability level that matches your persona is critical in connecting with your audience and ensuring that your message is clearly understood.
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