Fergal McGovern

How to write for your customers, not for you

Videos and podcasts may be everywhere, but written communication is what drives organisations.

Think of the following ways you interact with your customers:

  • Websites
  • Product descriptions
  • Emails
  • Newsletters
  • Chatbot scripts (for that matter, videos have scripts too)
  • Social media posts

This list is by no means definitive. However, it does give you an idea of just how much writing we all do in our businesses.

The problem is that our writing doesn’t always provide our customers with what they need.

Customers vote with a click… off your website

We all have a lot of choice as customers. If one product or service provider isn’t easy to engage with, there’s a good chance that we have others to choose from.

As a manager or business-owner, you spend a lot of resources driving people to your website. There’s a lot of work involved in ensuring your websites are visible to the customers you want to attract. It doesn’t matter if you follow an organic or advertising strategy.

It’s a good idea to remember that behind every search query that gets someone to land on your website is a genuine question the individual wants solved. And the only way they can answer their question is by reading the content we publish.

This is where things get interesting:

  • As far back as 2008, Jakob Nielsen, the internet research expert, stated that only 20% of web pages are read. That figure is even lower now when 1,440 blogs are published every internet minute.
  • The average bounce rate according to Google Analytics is 50%. This means that half of the traffic you’re driving to your website click off as soon as they land there!
  • Reading ages are lower than you think they are. The average reading age of a person in Britain is 11 years old. If your written communication is not pitched at the right level, people will switch off.
  • Everyone is pressed for time. Even people with higher reading ages will not stay engaged with content that doesn’t provide them with what they’re looking for quickly.
  • People mainly skim read.
  • People read online content in patterns.

How can you ensure that your written communications take all of these points into account?

Why plain language keeps everyone happy

Plain language is defined as “writing designed to ensure the reader understands as quickly, easily and completely as possible.”

Using plain language increases the readability of your written content. Both people and search engines appreciate good readability.

People are able to gain an answer so much quicker from a piece of content with good readability. Search engines view people having a positive user experience on websites as a strong SEO signal.

Following a plain language strategy means:

  • Understanding your customers. Don’t assume all of your customers have the same reading age.
  • Don’t use the passive voice.
  • Break up written communication with headings, subheadings and bullet points.
  • Use short sentences.
  • Don’t waffle, keep things simple.
  • Jargon is never welcome.

Written communication has been evaluated according to subjective editorial guidelines until now. That’s not ideal since people have different opinions on what makes for clear writing. But now developments in technology can help.

There’s an objective standard for plain language

The US Navy developed a plain language reading algorithm in the 1970s. It’s known as the Flesch-Kincaid formula and has been used by multiple US military organisations to standardise their communications.

Readability measures:

  • Passive language
  • Active voice creates clarity. Using passive voice as little as possible increases readability.
  • Long sentences
  • Sentences that are longer than 25 words decrease readability. It’s often possible to split long sentences into two shorter sentences.
  • Complex word density
  • Replacing complex words with simpler words helps readers concentrate better.

**Online solutions to help enhance readability ** Content creators can be working in different parts of an organisation. Or you might use freelancers and full-time staff to create the content you need. An online tool helps ensure everyone is working to the same standard.

It’s important to write for customers to stand out from the noise. There is so much content competing for attention. It’s the businesses who provide a clear message to their audience who’ll keep their customers happy and win more business.

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