How often do you think about the reading level of the men and women who read your web pages, blog posts, and downloadable offers?
While reading level is always a consideration, I’ll be the first to admit it’s something I don’t focus on too heavily, in favour of fluidity and authentic thought flow. That may be changing, though, thanks to a presentation I watched at Social Shake-Up by Ira Haberman of Atomic Reach. His company offers software that can help you analyze the reading level of your content and how well it matches the level of the visitors who are coming to your website. As Ira put it, your content’s Atomic score.
Why Reading Level Matters
Regular readers and Kayak clients will already know we put a huge premium on understanding buyer personas and cultivating messages that speak to them in a personal, relevant way. But if those messages are above (or below) your readers’ heads, you’re not just losing impact, but potentially annoying them.
This is a good place to point out that “reading level” doesn’t just refer to bigger words, but also to industry jargon and cultural inflection. In other words, while one reader might be completely at home with online marketing tips, he or she could feel lost if I was to start injecting phrases like calculating the CTRs of PPC CTAs.
Getting these details wrong can spell trouble because it signals to a reader, consciously or unconsciously, that your content isn’t really meant for them, or worse that you are talking down. It’s an easy next step for them to take their time, attention, and future business elsewhere.
Two Tools for Assessing Reading Level
Following the Social Shake-Up presentation, I’m finding myself more and more familiar with Atomic Reach. Their platform is pretty simple and straightforward – you divide readers into categories like general, knowledgeable, academic, and genius to see how your content matches up. By using their “atomic score,” you can ensure your message is on-target for the audience you want before you ever publish a piece of content.
Once you drill down into the algorithms, you find that they’re measuring content via 21 different metrics, which can be broadly classified into the audience match, linguistics, and structure. These are also backed up by common sense descriptions that allow you to get a quick sense of why your content isn’t where it should be (if it isn’t) and what you can do to fix it.
Another somewhat similar tool for the purpose is the Hemingway app. While it doesn’t measure the reading level of your content with the same complexity, it is quite easy to use. With a colour-coded system, it shows you where sentences might be too long or complicated, where you’ve chosen weak adverbs, and which words in your article or post could be replaced with shorter ones, all based on the language / education level set in the tool.
You can use Hemingway while you’re writing or as a scoring tool for editing your posts after they’ve been completed. And having mobile and desktop versions makes it convenient.
Although detail-oriented marketers will probably prefer Atomic Reach given it’s ability to score across an entire site or content collection vs an individual article, the bottom line is that both could be valuable tools for helping you to clean up and clear up your content writing and editing process.
As with anything in online marketing, it’s possible to overemphasize any one technique or put so much thought into something that you kill your original voice and inspiration. But, while you might not want to go overboard using either Atomic Reach or the Hemingway app, I would strongly urge you to consider trying one or both of them out to see what you can learn.
Not only is creating better content the basis of your search engine optimization and inbound marketing campaigns, it’s a great way to stand out from other marketers who compose sloppy content that isn’t written with the right audience in mind. The more you can do to engage your readers – directly at their level – the easier it’s going to be for you to hold their attention and get them to take action later.