Is Your Website Readable?
What Is Readability?
Readability measures how easy your written copy is to understand. Tests like Flesch-Kincaid have been used since the 1920's to analyze written material. Grade Level score is a good indicator of how easy your writing is to comprehend.
The ideal range is around the 6th to 9th grade level. Writing above 10th grade is a chore to read. Even if the reader can understand the words, it will feel like hard work. The last thing you want to do is ask your website visitors to read an academic paper about chess.
Why Is Readability Important?
Having a good readability score on your website is important for two reasons:
1. If your content is hard to read, visitors will leave.
Website visitors only have a brief window of attention. Long-winded, complex copy doesn't fit the way people skim and browse digital content. So you'll be actively driving away potential clients. As a bonus, you'll also lose search rankings because Google uses visit duration as a ranking signal. Every 'bounce' counts against you.
2. You're throwing away hard-earned attention.
Getting eyes on your website is hard work and can be expensive. Once you have a visitor's attention, you have to make the most of it. Unfortunately if your content is complex and verbose, you're squandering that opportunity.
Here's an example of the writing you find on professional services websites:
"We leverage our experience and work as a team to bring comprehensive solutions to our clients."
Exactly. This is fluffy nonsense.
It suggests to visitors that you aren't clear or confident about your services. It asks them to wade through self-serving language like this instead of answering their questions.
How Do I Fix My Readability?
There are great free tools out there to help you with readability. We use Readable. Another popular one is the Hemingway app. You simply copy and paste your content into those tools, and they test your readability. From there it's just a matter of editing your content.
Let's look at an example. Here's some (real) content from a website home page:
"Our culture of teamwork fosters the sharing of experience and knowledge to the entire staff allowing our clients to benefit from increased engagement and more creative solutions. Our team has decades of specialized experience across all areas. They are lifetime learners and enjoy passing on their knowledge to promote a culture of shared learning and collaborative problem solving for the benefit of our clients."
Here's how it scores:
17 seconds to read, at the 'academic paper about chess' level. For what benefit? So you can state you have 'decades of specialized experience across all areas'? It's not only verbose, it delivers little value to a visitor.
Let's try again. How about something like this:
"Our team works very closely together. We share ideas, we collaborate, and we push eachother to expand our knowledge and skills. We make eachother better. So no matter who you work with, you have the experience and firepower of the whole team behind you."
Down to 11 seconds, and a punchy message. Very easy to read, and clearly makes your point.
BONUS: Common Objections:
"Our clients are sophisticated. We need to write professionally."
Are they human beings? Because readability applies to all human beings - even those who wear suits and have masters' degrees. In fact, the more successful your audience, the more likely they are to put a premium on their time. So they're probably the audience most hungry for clear, no-nonsense content. And don't forget, with every "comprehensive solution" and "collaborative process" you sprinkle in, you dramatically lower the odds that anyone reads it at all.
"If we change our text, our message won't be authentic."
Good. If your authentic writing is complex, verbose, and meandering, then it's low-value anyway. Hire an affordable marketing professional, or take a few hours and edit it yourself using Readable or Hemingway. It will still be your voice, just better.
"I'm not a good writer."
You mean you're not a good businessperson? Your website is arguably your most important marketing tool. If you decide "I'm not good at this", then hire someone to help you. Businesses hiring people (or vendors) to solve business problems is a pretty common solution.