Done. You’ve just written the best blog article ever. You even managed to include the words disburse, axiomatic and didactic in it! It’s just a shame no one understands what you’ve written.
In this article I’ll highlight the reasons readability is vital to business blogging as well as introducing some great resources to improve your writing.
Why start a business blog?
Let’s get back to basics. There are many reasons why your business may want to start a blog – sharing expertise on a subject or starting up conversations with customers being just a few. I won’t create a list here because some great ones already exist including one by Dechay Watts over at SproutContent called 19 reasons why your business should be writing a blog.
Point two on her list is “Your blog fuels SEO” – search engines thrive on new, relevant content. But while writing for search engines may do wonders for getting your blog found on the web, it’s important to remember that your ultimate audience is still human.
Are readers having to decipher what you’re saying?
It’s essential to know your audience and be clear about the purpose behind writing at the outset. It’s also important to include vocabulary relevant to the topic and industry.
However, if ever your writing goes from being interesting and informative to a minefield of jargon, you’ve just lost sight of an important fact – most people won’t continue to read (or go on to buy) what they don’t understand.
A business blog falling foul of jargon in order to demonstrate authority on a subject reminds me of a scene from a 1977 Bollywood classic – ‘Amar Akbar Anthony”. Wheeled into a party hiding in a giant Easter egg (don’t ask, the whole film is bonkers), Indian movie legend Amitabh Bachchan jumps up and rattles off ridiculous lyrics in order to impress the young ladies present…
“You see the whole country of the system is juxtapositioned by the haemoglobin in the atmosphere because you are a sophisticated rhetorician intoxicated by the exuberance of your own verbosity.”
And the response from his ‘target’ audience? – “WHAT?!”.
In the movie, speaking gibberish works wonders for him. In real life, your audience will either conclude you’re trying to pull the wool over their eyes or that what you’re selling isn’t meant for them.
Tools that can help improve your business blog
Clear communication is very different to ‘dumbing down’ the message. As the Plain English Campaign states, “It’s not ‘cat sat on the mat’ or ‘Janet and John’ writing. Almost anything − from leaflets and letters to legal documents − can be written in plain English without being patronising or oversimplified.“
As well as their incredibly useful guides, there are other tools that can help you get your message across quicker. For example, a few years ago I wrote web copy for a company that sold ‘web caching’ servers across the globe. For most of its customers English wasn’t their first language, so I ran my text through online readability tools to make sure that what I was writing and what the company was selling was easy to understand.
One such tool is The Readability Test Tool which scores what you’ve written for the most used readability indicators.
- Flesch Kincaid Reading Ease
- Flesch Kincaid Grade Level
- Gunning Fog Score
- Coleman Liau Index
- Automated Readability Index (ARI)
In essence the indicators give you the ‘reading age’ someone needs to be to understand what you’ve written, having read it just once. The Writer also has a similar tool on its website as well as an explanation of the indicators and how readability checkers work.
The best readability tool ever
There is another resource you can use when testing readability – people.
One thing that you should always try to do before posting a new article on your business blog is to have someone read it. Not only will they spot any grammatical errors and spelling mistakes you’ve overlooked, they can also put forward ideas for improving what you’ve written.
The downside is that if it’s someone who also works in the same industry as you they may not recognise the jargon as jargon. If you’re writing reads like that of your industry peers, they may see nothing wrong with it.
Getting a professional copywriter to go over your text is the ideal solution, but with my Marketing Dad hat on I have to say ‘get your kids to read what you write’. Kids, younger siblings, nieces, nephews and grandchildren around the ages of 12 to 18 are ideal. Let me explain.
They want to be somewhere else.
The audience for your blog is highly likely to be pushed for time and have a million other things vying for their attention. Whilst the distractions may be different, the urge to be doing something else is the same. Neither group has time for a long-winded ‘story’ so you need to get to the point, or make it easy to skip to the main point.
They’re still learning.
Unless you write for a living, knowledge of grammar and spelling will be fresher in their minds than it is in yours. Children and young adults will be learning written English skills at school and so get to test what they’ve learnt by proof reading your copy and giving them a comprehension test. Anything they can add is a bonus if your own grammar and spelling are letting you down.
Good for the kids, good for the economy.
Not only can young readers make a positive contribution to your readability, proofreading also gives them useful skills for when they enter the world of work. In this year’s CBI (Confederation of British Industry) Education and Skills Survey one finding caught my eye.
Young people need to build their workplace skills on solid educational foundations, but many are still leaving school with poor literacy and numeracy skills: in 2014, 38.3% did not achieve a grade C or better in GCSE English and 37.6% did not reach this standard in maths.
If young peoples’ literacy skills need work shouldn’t they be the last ones you should get to read your copy? Hold on, if you’ll recall I’ve got my Marketing Dad hat on. Getting kids to read your articles gives them an avenue to practice literacy and communication skills useful to their education and future careers.
What’s in it for you? In real terms better readability means your intended audience quickly grasp what you’re saying and trying to sell, be it physical products, services or ideas. Ultimately both of you benefit. In business jargon that would be a win-win :-).
Eating my own cooking.
Just in case you were wondering, I ran this article through the tools mentioned above and here are the results:
Plain English Campaign free guides.
I replaced a number of words that had crept into the article. For example I originally wrote ‘detoxify your message’ when writing about the guides. There was no valid reason to use the word. A quick scan of their website helped me rein in some of my language.
The Writer readability tool.
This article scored 64.9 and a reading age of 13 to 14, which according to the feedback is pretty good. “Your grade is about eight, which is at the same reading level as transcripts of many of Obama’s speeches.” I can’t complain about that. The Writer reckon most business writing should aim for a score of 65.
My 10 and 12 year old children managed to identify most of the main points of the article, having read it once. My 14 year old nephew understood the article but I gave up trying to explain the storyline to the movie to him 🙁