Y’all. I’ve got something stuck in my craw.
Unreadable content. It’s everywhere and it’s out of control, especially in the B2B space.
Just Google “consulting” and you’ll see what I mean. Sorry FTI Consulting Capital Markets Communications, but you invested in paid search and now you’re my example.
FTI Consulting Capital Markets Communications professionals serve as trusted advisors to board of directors and management teams at companies of all sizes and at every stage of growth. Our teams consist of senior-level investor relations counselors armed with sector, financial research and digital expertise in every major financial market in the world. With an in-depth understanding of what the investment community wants and needs, blah blah blah blah. Blorg.
Did you catch any of that? No? It’s not your fault. Our consulting friends aren’t smarter than you, they’re just rocking that hot B2B trend: totally overwrought sentence structure.
We can easily chill it out. Here’s the same info at a manageable 9th grade reading level.
We’re trusted advisors to companies large and small. Our investor relations counselors partner with your board of directors or management team. We’ve got sector, financial research, and digital expertise in every major market. We know what investors need.
Make some more edits for flow and to focus more on the customer’s needs, and you’re in business.
Here’s why it’s urgent that you invest in readability above all else.
Readability is an essential part of accessibility
According to the Washington Post, 50% of adults cannot read a book written at the 8th grade level.
Let that sink in. When you write at a high school reading level, you’re excluding more than 50% of the population. If your copy isn’t readable, you’re stopping half your prospects in their tracks. You’re leaving up to half your revenue on the table.
If you’re not already shaking in your boots, consider that the government is taking readability seriously. For example:
- The Plain Language Act of 2010 established plain language guidelines and compliance standards for government agencies who serve the public.
- According to the NIH, the target grade level for PEM (Patient Education Materials) should be 5th-8th grade.
- While the ADA doesn’t specify that websites must be accessible, businesses remain vulnerable to accessibility lawsuits. (Remember Dominos?) WCAG guidelines, commonly referenced in these cases, emphasize “clear and simple language”.
Accessibility is for everyone
If your argument against readability goes, “But my customers are college educated!” I want you to slow all the way down.
It’s a common refrain that accessibility helps everyone. Often the most accessible design is the best for everyone—not just folks with physical, cognitive, or emotional differences. Check out this explainer on the curb-cut effect for a real-world example that’s right under our noses.
People with college educations don’t love reading overcomplicated prose. I’m a professional writer and an avid reader, and I often have to re-read copy that’s above a high school reading level. It’s stressful, annoying, and stops me in my tracks.
No matter how smart your customers are, they won’t be drawn in by murky, unclear copy. It’s an unnecessary barrier your business should do without.
Editing for readability uncovers deeper issues
A skilled editor can quickly make your content more readable. But there are side benefits to this work that you might not expect.
When you cut the fluff in pursuit of readability, your thoughts become sharper and more well-defined. You may discover that your content wasn’t saying very much. Suddenly, now that the sentences are shorter, you’ve got room to express even more value.
This is where editing flows into content design and UX. A great editor will make recommendations on the following:
- Information hierarchy
- Key selling points
- Visual design elements (headers, subheads, font readability etc.)
- Voice and tone
Readability is just a starting point. When you begin with readable copy, you position yourself to express your brand more clearly, in fewer words. Suddenly customers can move more easily through your content, and click that CTA with confidence.
Simple is clearer. Simple is better. Just ask Ernest Hemingway. He wrote at a 4th grade level, and got pretty famous doing it.
I’m sold. How do I get started?
My favorite readability tool is the Hemingway app. It’s free, and it gives you instant feedback on your copy’s readability. Just copy and paste. It’ll even make some recommendations on how to improve.
So make readable content your top priority. Scrub the complex language, and you’ll enjoy the beautiful benefits of bringing customers in, not scaring them away.
(If you’re curious, this post measures at a 7th grade reading level. Ahhh!)