5 ways to improve your reading age
You put a lot of effort into writing your blogs, but they just aren’t getting the level of engagement that you want. You know that your topics are important and interesting to your audience, so what is going on? It’s possible that the way you write isn’t catching the attention of your leads. Luckily, this doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer. Reading age is here to help you tweak your content and get the leads flowing in.
You’ve read that your blog should have a Flesch-Kincaid Reading Age grade of between six and nine. You plug it into a calculator and get a score of 11. You know that isn’t great, but what do you actually do next? How do you improve that score to where it needs to be?
We’ve done our own research, along with some trial and error testing, and here are our top five tips.
1. Get active
Sentences written in the passive voice are no good for readability. They make your text harder to read, and often don’t add value. A good measure of this is to count how often you use them in everyday speech. How often would you say, “the last piece of cake was eaten by me”, instead of “I ate the last piece of cake”? Remember that the goal of reading age is to communicate with your readers in a way that is familiar to them, and easy to understand.
The active voice also comes across as more dynamic, which is exactly what you want when you’re encouraging your reader to perform a follow-up action. Moving your prospect from simply reading, to actually filling out a form.
2. Less is more
If you had to write an essay at any point during school or university, you’ll know about “gaming the word count”. When the instructions ask for 5000 words, and you’ve written 4950, you start to look for ways you can sneak in an extra word or two. Instead of “most” you write “the vast majority of” and so on.
Hopefully, it is clear why this approach can move your reading age in the wrong direction. By adding more words, but leaving the meaning unchanged, you are making the sentence harder to read.
3. Thirdly, avoid adverbs
When applying the “less is more” approach, some kinds of words are a higher priority than others. Adverbs are a good example of these. As in this section title, “thirdly” isn’t needed, as there are two headings above. It should be clear that this is the third section of the blog post!
It can help to think of adverbs as signposts. If your layout is already clear, you shouldn’t need them. “In conclusion” is another prime example. Both the layout and structure of your content should mean the reader is expecting the section to contain your conclusion, so you’ve added two words but no extra value.
4. Banish the buzzwords
I once read a Jeremy Clarkson column which suggested that pieces of jargon are like passwords. You use them to show off that you know what they mean. At the same time, you exclude people who don’t understand them. The problem is that exclusion is the exact opposite of what you are trying to achieve with marketing. This is especially true of blogs. They are usually the first piece of content that your prospect will read. Blogs should be the most accessible and easily readable of all your content.
Another reason that you should avoid jargon wherever you can is that people don’t use it. Any term which is only used inside your company is a definite no-no. You should also avoid industry jargon in blogs and web page content, as people will search using their everyday vocabulary. Anyone interested in getting their content onto page 1 of a Google search will probably type something like “appear on search engine page 1”. They won’t type in SERP (Search Engine Results Page) because that’s a term only used by specialists in the topic.
5 Consistency is king
A recent Nielsen Group study found that most people will only read 20% of the text on any given page. With so many resources available, it shouldn’t be a surprise that readers skim over content. This is the human brain’s version of a keyword search, as we try to judge quickly whether the text contains the information we’re looking for.
This means that content with a highly readable opening paragraph, which then starts to ramble and become too complex, is not going to get results. A skim reader will quickly pick up on the fact your writing is too dense and move on to another source.
This is where an editor like Hemingway is especially useful. Hemingway displays the reading age of the content at the top of its editing tab and highlights individual sentences which are hard to read. This gives it an advantage over a simple calculator. Even a blog which scores appropriately (6-9 in Hemingway’s case) may contain individual sentences which are hard to read. You can therefore see your score update as you go, rather than score your content, rewrite it, then score it again.
Go forth and write!
Just because reading age relies on algorithms to score your writing, that doesn’t mean it’s hard to use. Follow these four tips and you will be well on your way to perfectly-pitched content. Once your content is readable, you will see more of your website visitors getting further into the funnel. You will even find it easier to upsell your existing customers, as you gain confidence in explaining new products and services clearly.