How Easy Are You To Understand Online?

Who knew writing copy for your business would be such a pain in the backside, right?

No one teaching you about starting an online business ever warns you.

Then there’s also wondering if your readers will love or hate what you’ve written.

After spending hours on your copy, how can you be sure what you’ve written is something they’re going to understand?

In fact, can you be sure they’re absorbing what you’re saying?

There is a way I can help you do that.

When reading becomes a chore

The other day I stumbled across a website belonging to a motivational company. The company hadn’t been in business long – less than 18 months – and I was curious to learn more about them.

Unfortunately, the whole “learn more about them” thing didn’t go very well. I didn’t end up learning much at all, once I started investigating their copy.

Here’s an example from their About page:

“There seems to be a fair amount of scorn or in the mainstream of the culture towards the term “dysfunctional”, but that scorn or derision is misplaced. It is not a stereotype, meaningless term. The definition of “dysfunctional” is, most simply, “the opposite of functional”, and of course, “dysfunctional” and “optimally functional” are always on a continuum within any context. Is there any scientific consensus for the range of “optimally functional” behavior for human beings?”

That’s quite a paragraph, right?

Not only did I not understand anything it said, I had no idea what it was trying to communicate.

I also had this distinct feeling that perhaps I wasn’t intelligent enough to be reading this text. That if I was more intelligent I would’ve understood it.

I wondered who their target audience was.

I don’t think even the company knew, going by the rest of their website.

A website that was doing a good job of alienating potential readers.

Where you and your reader stand

It’s not just about keeping your words friendly to readers.

It’s about making sure anyone can understand it easily the first time they read it, even if they’re just passing by.

And if they’re your target reader, it helps forge relationships in a subtle way, seeing as you’re helping them understand you.

That said, how do you go about making sure your copy is easy to read?

Well, thanks to J. Peter Kincaid and his work for the US Navy in 1975, he’s done all the hard work for us.

Scrutinise your copy

Kincaid designed two readability tests, one focused on technical information, and the other on general reading ease.

And it’s his second test – called the Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease Test – that we’re focusing on for the rest of this post.

The Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease Test evaluates your copy on a number of variables including sentence length and number of syllables per word.

Then the score you are given at the end corresponds with a specific reading level.

The reading levels are:

  • 90.0 – 100.0 – easily understood by an average 11-year-old student
  • 60.0 – 70.0 – easily understood by 13-15-year-old students
  • 0.0-30.0 – best understood by university graduates

If your score falls in between these, then the numbers closest to your score is your reading level. Moby Dick, for example, was scored 57.9 by Amazon.

Kincaid’s test isn’t perfect, of course. It doesn’t check for spelling mistakes or check if your sentences make any sense.

But as a tool for reading comprehension, it helps you keep your copy simple and warns you of where you might be overcomplicating things.

So how did the motivational publisher’s website score? It got 45.7, which is closer to university graduate level.

And the copy on my website? I scored 80.8.

If you want to test your own copy, all you need to do is take a look at this site (it’s free). You simple copy and paste in an example of your text to find out how you score.

The ultimate test of copy

Creating copy everyone understands is always going to be a ongoing challenge for us all, as we grow our businesses.

And if you discover your copy isn’t at the level you want it to be, at least you have a guideline on areas you can improve.

Image: Felipe Morin

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