Have you ever walked into a restaurant and instantly known you shouldn’t order anything there? Maybe you didn’t like the interior, it smelled bad, the music was too loud, or you just felt it wasn’t for you.
Every day, people have this same experience on your website. If you want more of them to stay, you need to pay attention to content readability. When content is easy to read, there's a better chance that your readers will continue reading and as a result, convert into leads.
I talk about readability in my book for content writers called From Reads To Leads. Some chapters of this book are devoted to content readability.
Grab your phone and go to Facebook. Go ahead, do it! Open the first link you see in your News Feed. Observe the page: how the content is organized, the margins, the space between the paragraphs, the fonts. You can instantly tell whether this article you’ve opened is easy or hard to read—without even reading it.
Easy-to-read articles have short and sweet paragraphs, legible fonts, well-structured subheadings, white space between paragraphs, graphics that break up long sections of text, and hyperlinks that say “hey! I’m a link. You can click on me.”
Hard-to-read articles, on the other hand, have large bricks of text sandwiched between content on the right and left sidebars or stretched to the full width of the page. These pages scream “you shall not pass!” as you’re trying to break through. And instead of hammering on those bricks, you say “nope, that’s not for me” and go away.
When your content is hard to read, your website analytics will show a high bounce rate—the percentage of readers who come to your website and leave without engaging with your content, clicking through to another page, or leaving a comment. You want your bounce rate to be as low as possible. The whole point of writing content is to make people take action. You want to keep them around so they take the next step down their buying journey.
Blogs that publish dense, hard-to-read articles with long-winded sentences, large paragraphs, few or no headers, and illegible fonts are driving readers away and, in turn, increasing their bounce rates. Want to reduce yours? Make your content readable!
Most of us have a vague idea of what readability is. We feel like a text is readable if reading it feels effortless. But let’s think for a moment: What exactly makes a text easy to read? Readability concerns both the way content is presented and the language used.
There have been many attempts to measure readability in terms of language. One of the most widely used readability measures is the Flesch–Kincaid system, which consists of two tests: the Flesch Reading-Ease test and the Flesch–Kincaid Grade Level test. The Flesch Reading-Ease test uses two variables to determine a readability score: the average length of your sentences (measured by the number of words) and the average number of syllables per word.
Many of today’s apps that help us tidy up the things we write (Grammarly, Readable, Yoast, Hemingway) incorporate decades-old formulas into their scoring systems. These programs want you to aim for an eighth-grade reading level (the lower secondary education reading level).
Content that doesn’t exceed an eighth-grade reading level can be read and understood by a wide audience, including people with disabilities.
A good app that measures readability is a useful tool in the content writer’s toolbox, but it’s not a magic wand. Making your copy look perfect to an algorithm doesn’t guarantee that people will read your content to the end.
Jakob Nielsen, the founder of Nielsen Norman Group, ran a study to quantify exactly how much (or how little) people read online. He concluded that on average, people read only 20 percent of the words on a website page per visit.
If your article is 2000 words, your average reader will only read about 400 of them and move on.
As a rule of thumb, your content should be easy to navigate, readable, and useful so that even the most impatient readers don’t go away immediately.
Here are a few questions you should ask yourself when formatting your content for readability:
Keep your paragraphs to no more than five or six sentences. If you have 10-sentence paragraphs, your readers will be gone before they read the first sentence.
Break up your content into scannable sections with enticing headlines that make a promise. Make the first few lines of every section capture interest but still leave something for the reader to discover.
Pick out images that reinforce your copy and don’t just occupy space on the page, stealing the show from your call to action. Your images need to look good and help you tell a story, not distract your readers and lower readability.
It’s okay to place ads in your content (if this is how you make money), but they shouldn’t distract the reader. Use a maximum of two ads above the fold and make sure they don’t scream at people and encourage them to look for an exit.
Always provide a next step for readers, and make it easy to take. Your readers must clearly know what their next step should be and how to take it.
Your content should say “read me! Look how great I am!” instead of just being another dull wall of text. Readability applies to how content is presented in the same way it applies to the language used. While a designer may select the fonts and design the page layout, when it comes to content, it’s your job to make it readable. If you see that the blog you publish your content on is poorly designed, raise this issue at your team meeting and offer your vision of how it can be improved.
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Hope this article has helped you clarify why editing your content for readability is so important. Thanks for reading and subscribing to my YouTube channel.
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