Choose them carefully. The words we use matter. There are over 1,000,000 of them in the English language. Most of them are terrible for your marketing. Some work better. Much better.
Some words are simple to understand. Others require a bit more work as they bounce around in the readers brain. They require more knowledge and education.
Any sentence can be measured on a readability scale, which correlate to education levels, from 12th grade (more difficult to read) to 4th grade (easier to read).
Not every visitor on your website is a college graduate. If you’d like a rough estimate of the education level of your visitors, head over to Alexa.
Not everyone on your site has a PhD. In fact, some estimates suggest that 30% of internet users are low-literacy readers. That’s a lot.
But regardless of the education level of visitors, word choice and readability should be simple. Here’s the proof…
When the NN Group rewrote a pharmaceutical website to bring the readability level down to an 8th-grade level, the success rate for low-literacy users went up. A lot. When the site was more readable, these visitors were 135% more likely to complete tasks.
But surprise, surprise! The success rate for high literacy users also went up. That’s right. All visitors prefer to read at 8th-grade level writing.
That means simple words. As you choose from the millions of words available to you, pick the easy ones.
Write like the Dude. Not like Lord Grantham.
Note: For the record, the readability of this article is about the 6th grade level.
I do it myself sometimes. It usually happens when I’m trying to impress someone. I can almost watch it happen. Just before I say the word “and” my brain switches it to “as well.”
We do it because we want to sound smart. But we’re taking a risk. When we try to make ourselves sound smart, we might make our audience feel dumb …and that’s bad for the success rate of our websites.
Your readers don’t know your jargon. They’re not in your industry. They’re not looking to be impressed. They’re looking for information.
So drop the jargon. It’s dangerous to your marketing.
In the business of web design, there are a ton of industry terms. But we have to very careful about word choice.
According to the LA Times: “1 in 10 Americans think that HTML is a STD.”
We published an article that listed the words that have the amazing power to increase traffic. They do this in all kinds of ways. Some words are…
More likely to get clicked in search results
More likely to be shared
More likely to get retweeted
Increase email open rates when used as subject lines
All of these tactics can grow your total number of visitors! Fun, right? Here’s the full list of 131 words that increase website traffic.
Now that we’ve carefully picked the right words, let’s be honest with ourselves: people aren’t going to read them all. In fact, people won’t read most. Yes, there’s a good chance you’re skipping this sentence.
Another study by the NN Group looks at the average number of words per page, the average time spent on pages and the average reading speed of 200 to 250 words per minute. What did they learn?
“On the average Web page, users have time to read at most 28% of the words during an average visit; 20% is more likely.” – Jakob Nielsen
Website visitors read only about one in five words on any web page.
The answer is to write for scanners. Website visitors, you and me included, scan pages more than we read them. So we must adapt for scanners. And there are some simple ways to do it: with formatting.
A great web page is structured to give readers lots of information at a glance. Here are a few:
Headers and subheaders
Break up your pages into sections with meaningful, descriptive headlines.
Bullets and italics
Call out the text that is most important for them to read.
You should almost never write a paragraph that is longer than four lines. Long paragraphs get skimmed. Very long paragraphs get skipped!
Links are usually another color and underlined, making them stand out among the text around them. This guides the visitor’s eyes down the page, toward the actions you’d like them to take.
Formatting is actually more important than word choice. The best, most compelling words will never be read if they’re trapped within a huge, dense block of copy. That’s just how it is.
Great structure pulls the reader in. Great writing keeps them there.