Readability Matters

Read This for Tips on Readability

It’s now just what you say; it’s how you say it. There are many masterpieces in literature that aren’t very readable. But in the world of readability, what really needs to be readable is marketing content. And it absolutely matters.

It impacts SEO, user experience (UX) and the success of content marketing. If you don’t care about readability, you should. The days of keyword stuffing are over. Google cares about how readable your content is not just that you used the keyword a few times. As voice search becomes more popular, the emphasis shifts much more so to readability.

If you don’t think readability impacts SEO, your’re wrong. Maybe you’re wrong a lot; I don’t know. I am not basing this on anything but pure experience as a professional writer and content marketer. I write upwards of 5,000 words a day so I understand what it takes to write on many different topics and be interesting. Yes, I care about SEO and keywords, but I don’t force it. I choose quality every time.

Readability is also a factor in UX. If you publish poor content that emphasizes keywords over telling a story, the user will not have positive experience. They then become unlikely to read more of your content or become a customer. Just as every element of design impacts UX, your copy does, too.

The elements of readability

There are certain specific areas around readability. Again, my experience is the basis for these thoughts. I didn’t copy this from another article. It’s just what I think matters.

Kill adverbs and adjectives unless that provide context. You do not need seven adjectives in one sentence. It comes off as being fluff and not authentic. Use them sparingly so that when you do, it’s purposeful.

Vary the length of sentences. It’s good to have a variety of sentence lengths. When in doubt, edit and cut. I was provided copy to review recently, and one sentence had 42 words. 42 WORDS! There is a rhythm that happens with readable content. Read it out loud to understand if you are on point with rhythm. Don’t make sentences so hard to read that it takes three huge gulps of air.

Use active voice. Passive sentences don’t read well. Sometimes passive cannot be avoided. However, consider the syntax of the sentence. Revise as necessary to create a better balance.

Don’t use every word in your extensive vocabulary. Most content should be written on an eighth grade reading level. Unless there is a good reason, be simple. When writing about very technical topics, using big words makes more sense. Remember simplification isn’t dumbing it down. It’s making it more accessible to your reader.

Grading your readability

It is possible to score your readability. There are many tools that will give you a grade. The Flesch reading scale is used by many applications like Yoast. The scale grades how easy it to read the text. It looks for how hard a sentence would be able to read (the 42 word sentence did not bode well). I am a big fan of Yoast. It’s my preferred plugin for SEO on WordPress. I also use the Hemingway App, which is a great working tool that highlights where the issues are.

I encourage every writer, content marketer and SEO specialist to care about readability. I know people don’t read much these days. They scan. We live in a world where content is created and consumed at a rapid pace. But before you publish, do at least this – read it.

(P.S. I scored this on Hemingway App. It received a grade of good.)

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Marketing Chat: Insights & Best Practices

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I’ve had the pleasure of being part of many great conversations about marketing, both with those in the discipline and outside of it. I’m always happy to share my experiences, what I’ve learned, my opinions and what I think are the most critical strategies. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions or discussions I’ve been a part of recently.

1. What are the best ways to build an email list?

First, you have to do it legally. Anyone you email has to agree that you can email them, and they have the ability to unsubscribe at any time. Email is a currency. You get people to “pay” with their email address so you have to create value. Hubspot recently posted a blog on this that was spot on. This is what I think are the best strategies:

  • Landing pages with relevant offers – typically this would be high value content that is targeted to specific segments and is centered on education and information rather than a product
  • Social Media: connecting with followers in almost any platform provides you the opportunity to allow them to opt in
  • Website forms: include forms throughout your website for a variety of offers based on what pages they are landing on – subscribe to blog, download an asset, schedule a demo or any other CTA (call to action)
  • Webinars: these are low cost events that are virtual in nature and should again be educationally focused. If you have a great topic that can genuinely help someone with their challenges, they will sign up for webinars, and spend an hour with you.

But do not buy lists! These people don’t know you. Your unsubscribes and bounces will go up. Don’t spend your marketing dollars here. 

2. What should I post on social media?

I typically advise that the rule should be 50/30/20: 50% should be your content that is general, educational and informational; 30% should be content not authored by you but is relevant to your industry or audience (leading experts, SMEs) and 20% promotional, wherein you have a specific social media promotion, like a giveaway or offer, to generate leads.

3. Should we do direct mail campaigns?

In most circumstances, I’d say no. They are costly and have little response. It’s hard to track ROI on this unless there’s a promotional code. For B2B, I would advise it only if it’s clever and relevant. Do you have an actual product versus a service? When I worked in the large format printing industry, we had a laser cutter that was a really innovative piece of machinery. I often toted around small samples of what the machine could do. People could see the quality and intricacy of the finished product. To add relevance, I often brought them samples of their logo to keep. This would have been a neat direct mail campaign that could have generated interest from current and prospective customers. For any direct mail campaign to work, it’s got to be targeted and executed well.

4. Do I need a content strategy?

YES! Content strategy at its most fundamental is creating the right content for the right audience and posting it in the right place. It’s not something that’s best done off the cuff. It takes research and planning to learn how to cultivate and repurpose content and to ensure it has a clear voice while also changing tone where appropriate. Content strategy is a huge part of your overall marketing plan and shouldn’t be ignored.

5. Why inbound marketing?

I’m an inbound marketing enthusiast. I absolutely believe in its ability to connect with audiences and generate quality leads. It has the power to convert unlike outbound marketing or cold calling. It relies heavily on well-written, authentic content. It takes into consideration who your buyer is and where they are on the buyer’s journey. It integrates content, SEO, email and social media. I could write for days on the marvels of inbound marketing. If you are not currently embracing it, do your research. Understand its importance in elevating your brand to the next level. I recommend inbound.org as a starting point.

6. How can I increase my open rate on emails?

When considering open rate, think about these metrics:

  • How many people actually received the email (hard and soft bounces)
  • Is it optimized for mobile? We as a society now tend to open most email on phones.
  • Am I clearing spam filters?
  • Is my subject line intriguing? Is it short enough? Does it present the idea of value?

7. How do I determine what content I should require an email to view versus what do I give away?

This is subjective. But I’ve considered this when building websites and took on a scoring approach. The shorter the content the more likely I was to tag it as free. The content I felt was really for those at the beginning of the buyer’s journey I typically didn’t require an email. Whitepapers, which are longer and require more research, most likely required an email. The more work I had to put into producing it; the more valuable I believed it to be so I wanted an email for all my hard work! You can also look at trends to see how well content fared from a landing page or email campaign. It if it was popular that may mean people are willing to pay with their email address. Also more targeted content usually required an email address because it was for such a select industry or group.

8. What are the biggest obstacles to marketing success?

Speaking personally, the challenges I have faced in being successful were:

  • Lack of Tools: not having the right software or platforms to manage, measure and automate. If you have do most of this manually, it takes a long time, and you don’t have time to focus on more important things. Tools provide amazing insights and help you see trends so that you are aware of when a lead is sales ready.
  • Inability to Execute: Fear from the powers that be kept me from executing many planned out strategies. I developed websites, product launches and social media strategies that never went anywhere because the company didn’t really understand the value of marketing. They were so afraid to make any little mistake that fear kept them from doing anything. I’m not a status quo kind of person so it was pretty impossible to succeed in this type of environment. When you hire people that are experts in their industry, trust them! They really know what they’re talking about, and if it doesn’t work, then keep trying and learning.

These are a few highlights from recent conversations. I’d love to hear from you! Tweet me, or reply below. I’m glad to answer them or have a discussion. I’m always up for a marketing chat!