Sales copywriting secret No.1 – Readable Text

Is your sales copy readable?

Take a look through your website, your emails and your letters.

Does your writing style say more about you than you think?

Are you using Readable Text?

You would be amazed how many websites are almost unreadable.  And if your sales message is unreadable it’s not getting read.  Is it?

The good news is, there are tools you can use to check how readable your text is.  They are quite easy to use – all you need to do is cut and paste your text into a web page and the “readability” score for your text will be displayed.

There are some examples on this website.  Here’s how we use one of these methods to test the readability of our writing…

The idea with sales copy is that you guide the reader through your text.  Every line leads to a new line and the reader has to be encouraged to work his way through from one stage to the next.  The words you choose and the way you write will make the reader decide to read on or not.

If she doesn’t read all of your message, you’ve lost.

Using a readability index is one way to make sure your sales copy is at least readable (we’ll take a look at other subjects later in this series).

So what makes text readable?

It’s simple stuff really:  Short sentences.  Using words of less than three syllables with good punctuation.

So it’s now easy to work out what makes text unreadable isn’t it?  Long sentences, using words with three or more syllables and bad punctuation.

For some reason, many people seem to think that passages of text using long words and longer sentences makes them look clever.  In some cases that might be true, but in reality all they do is stop people from reading.  You usually only get one chance with an advert, a web page an email or a sales letter.  Wouldn’t it be good if your prospect actually felt comfortable reading it?

Readability Examples

If you look at some of the pages on this website you might see a number noted near the bottom of the text.  That’s a readability index score.  There are a few different types of readability index.  I use one called Gunnings Fog Index because I understand how it works.  In the US  the Reading Ease score is more commonly used.

What Gunnings Fog Index tells you

This readability index makes a calculation based on the number of words in a sentence and the number of words using three or more syllables.  This calculation is expressed as a number.  The number tells you,

how many years of full time education the reader would have had to complete in order to read the text passage once and understand it

So for example, you finish primary school with 7 years of full time education, secondary school with at least 11 years, a university degree with 14 years and a doctorate at perhaps 17 years.

The numbers you’ll see on this website will usually be somewhere between 9 and 11.  Sometimes it goes higher because we have to  use words with lots of syllables in them.  Marketing is full of these.

In reality, readability is important.  You can learn good readability writing skills just by reading newspapers, here’s how some of them score :

  • The Sun – about 7 or 8
  • The Times – 10-12
  • The Financial Times – at most 13
  • The Economist – around 10 – the quality and readability of writing in the Economist is very good, making complex topics easy to understand.

Yet if you go onto the internet there are people making a real mess of this.  Readability scores in the high teens and low twenties are often found.  If that’s your web page this means that nobody knows what you’re talking about, because nobody reads it.

So far, this text has a Gunning Fox Index readability score of 8.78.