How Not To Suck At Website Copywriting: Readability Tools

By Brad Harris - February 27, 2017

struto-blog-readability.jpgIt doesn’t matter if you’ve got the greatest product or service in the world if no one enjoys hearing about it. Great website copywriting can land and hold customers, because you help visitors feel as if they truly understand how you’re benefiting them. Customers need to be educated easily, while enjoying the journey. 

So, how do you know if your copywriting skills are churning out gobbledygook, hogwash, and intellectual nonsense for your visitors? For you, someone who is immersed in your service offering, your content may make perfect sense. But perhaps for a newcomer, who’s only just learning about you, your web content is as useless and confusing as a wad of wet tissues. Therein lies the importance of understanding readability, and writing your web copy with this in mind. 

Getting the gobbledygook out of website copywriting 

Why is readability important for web copywriting? 

If someone offers you a slice of delicious cake, but you have to walk through a dank marsh to get to it, you may just reconsider how delicious that cake could be. It’s the same for writing. If something is easy to read, you’ll find more people attempting to understand it. But, if it’s difficult to read, no matter how delicious the end goal is… visitors shall flee. 

Keeping Inbound Marketing in mind, readability is even more important. You want your customer to be educated and entertained throughout their journey. As I’m sure every married couple understands, sometimes it’s not so important what you say, as to how you say it.

So, how can we write content that’s easy to read?

Writing website content for readability

Writing website content that’s readable depends on several factors.

  1. Your writing style,
  2. Your content’s structure and design, and
  3. Your reader’s unique vantage point.

There’s more, of course. This is simply the basic outline, which we’ve detailed in some finer points below.

1. Write with style: Simply, and with purpose

For good readability, write simply and with a clear purpose in mind.

Once you’ve written a first draft of your website copy, get ready to be ruthless. You should have written the copy with a very specific purpose and goal in mind, and if you haven’t, it’s time to rather go back to the drawing board and start over. If you’re confident you’ve done this, then it’s time to begin reducing your longer sentences, paragraphs, and words. Cut, cut, cut. Edit, edit, edit.

If you can make a sentence simpler and easier to read by cutting a word, then cut the word. Don’t hold back. Write only so much as you need to.

Punctuation should be treated the same. Be minimalist with it, and only use what is necessary to achieve your purpose. More than this distracts readers unnecessarily. Of course, you can use a roaring exclamation mark! But, only if necessary. You can bold and italicise. But, only if necessary. You can do anything, but only if necessary.

2. Structure and design your writing carefully

Readability can also depend on how your writing is presented and designed. The layout, colours, structure, and supporting media, all play a role.

What you want to do is always structure your content so that readers can follow your argument chronologically, present the information in an un-distracting but beautiful design, and to support your words with rich media that caputre the readers' eyes and interest.

To briefly encourage this point, let’s take this above paragraph as an example. It’s not so easy to digest in the above form … but what if it rather looked like this:

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That form is certainly easier to read, and also easier to digest. The rich media icons on the left that act as bullet points interest your eye and your brain enough to pull attention away from the rest of this blog's text. The font has even been carefully selected to offer a readable, but eye-catching, presentation. That’s why structure and design is so vital when considering website copywriting.

3. Understand your reader: Where, who, and why

Let’s return to the first point again. Purpose. That’s what your content is written for: A specific purpose. This purpose is driven by who you’re writing for, your buyer persona, and what action you want them to take after reading your content.

You can’t control all the factors that influence your readers, but you can be aware of them. For instance, you should be:

  • Writing optimally for the platform on which your readers are most likely to read your content.
  • Understand what your readers enjoy, and how much time they have on their hands to read during their day.
  • Understand why your readers might be attracted to you, and what they expect to hear (and how soon they’ll hear it).

Copywriting skills: Testing readability

Still nervous about that gobbledygook and hogwash getting into the mix? Well, that’s why some very intelligent people around the world have designed tests to mark your content’s readability.

Below, we detail the top four readability tests to refer your web copy against. The majority of these tests measure readability in U.S. grade levels, which is why I thought it would be handy to know the equivalent UK grade levels before reading any further.

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1. The Cloze Test

What is it?

A Cloze test removes selected words from a sample of your text and asks readers to fill in the missing words. A sample text length of 125-250 words with about every fifth word removed is recommended. 

How to score it?

When filling in the missing words, you’re looking for readers to at least get 60% correct. The 40-60% range may mean that your readers have difficulty reading the content. Below 40% ... that’s not fit for any website.

2. The Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease

What is it?

This is one of the oldest readability scores (and used in most word processing software). It’s the result of a mathematical formula, which balances the average number of syllables per word against the average number of words per sentence (only per every 100 words).

How to score it?

Results are measured on a scale of 1-100, where 1 is very complicated and 100 is very easy. Most references recommend your content’s readability falls in the 60-70 range.

3. The Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level

What is it?

Also a mathematical formula, the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level measures syllables and sentence length. Your score is returned as an academic grade from 0-12 (US grade levels). This formula was developed to make it simpler for educators and parents to decide what to read to their children.

 How to score it?

Of course, it now all depends on your readers, but 7-8 is a perhaps the average grade standard (which totals more than 80% of U.S. adults).

4. The Gunning Fog Index

What is it?

This index mostly tests readability by analysing complex words. It counts complex words as those with three or more syllables, and runs the number of these found through an algorithm to test readability (it excludes proper nouns, jargon and compound words for higher accuracy).

How to score it?

The final score is a US grade-level, but unlike the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level, it provides a score from 1-unlimited. The recommended average score is 7-8 (but yet again, it always depends on your audience).

Top 5 readability tools for website copywriting

Of course, I wouldn’t expect everyone to have the time to learn how to action all of these readability tests themselves. So, I’ve gone ahead and found the top five readability tools for website copywriting online, which incorporate the above testing methods.

  1. Learnclick.com is a Cloze test creator.
  2. Readability Test Tool measures Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease, Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level, Gunning Fog Score. This one can test an entire web page or a whole block of text.
  3. Microsoft Office Outlook and Word measures Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease and Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level. These tests are carried out while you type a document, which is often seen working by blue or green underlines of complex sentences.
  4. OnlineUtility.org measures Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease, Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level, Gunning Fog Score, and even a few more. This one too can be used to tests an entire web page or a whole block of text.
  5. Readability Score measures Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease and the Gunning Fog Score for an unlimited block of text. Unfortunately, it doesn’t support web page tests.

If you’d like to know more about differentiating your content, download our free Inbound Marketing eBook on How to Differentiate your B2B Tech Company below.

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