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Before any piece of writing can be compelling, it must be understood. Having a specific audience in mind as you write copy for a marketing campaign or a website page helps to keep the narrative focused on speaking to the right target. But once the copy has been written, it’s in your best interest to go a step further and ensure that the target audience can understand it.
There are many effective ways of checking the readability of copywriting to make sure your messaging aligns with the viewers’ ability to comprehend it. Some of these methods, however, take more time than communications professionals have available before a campaign is set to launch.
If you need to get marketing copy finalized as soon as possible, check out the tips members of Forbes Communications Council share below to ensure that your copy will be easy for clients, prospects or another target audience to understand.
1. Show It To A Friend In The Audience
Talking with your audience is important; talking at them can prove detrimental. In other words, write copy that is on their level. Use language that your audience knows and can easily use in conversation. The fastest way to check this is to show your copy to a friend who is in your audience and ask for their feedback. If they don’t get your message without being provided background, make the necessary changes. – Gavin Smith, PC Matic
2. Bullet The Information And Look For Gaps
I create a bullet list of the key information I’ve gathered from the content I’m reviewing, then look for any gaps in the information where we could see fallout or where the audience could go astray. Our copy must always be clear and concise, highly aligned with the amount of time we’ll be afforded by our audience to review the message we’re providing, and connect the dots for them each step of the way. – Stacy Bliek, Integrity Staffing Solutions
3. Have Someone Younger Than You Read It
I ask someone half my age to read it. If they don’t get distracted or bored on their way to the end, it is short enough and engaging enough for any reader. The social media/Millennial “cocktail” has taught all of us how to get straight to the point. – Boaz Santiago, energyware™
4. Utilize Readability Tech And Tests
When it comes to the readability of website pages, the Yoast SEO plugin gives specific feedback according to its readability algorithm. It is great because it adjusts as you edit. For copy in other locations, Readable.com has a very inexpensive copy checker. In general, I favor the Flesch-Kincaid readability tests. – Melanie De Caprio, SG360°
5. Read It Out Loud
I’m a big fan of reading copy out loud. Our data science team studied email success rates and found out that middle-school-level English had the highest responses. Keep. It. Simple. If you read your copy out loud to a friend or co-worker and they can’t understand your message, your intended audience probably won’t either. – Sydney Sloan, SalesLoft
6. Assess Whether You Are Using Plain Language
Always ask yourself, “Am I using plain language?” Plain language provides four distinct benefits: fast reading, quick understanding, better message retention and preference for the author. Avoiding lengthy, jargon-packed copy in favor of plain language allows your target audience to understand and remember the text more easily. Further, a clearer, more effective message builds the reader’s trust. – Molly Doran, Labrador
7. See If You’re Using The Words Customers Use
First and foremost, copy should typically be built from actual conversations with customers. The easiest way to ensure it resonates is to use the words that customers use themselves. As others have stated, testing is the next way to ensure it resonates. A simple email A/B test is often the fastest way to get results quickly. – Michelle Denogean, Roadster
8. Run It By One Other Person, Then Through Grammarly
As a marketer and communicator, I find that the easiest and quickest way to know if my target audience will understand my copy is by running it by one other person, then through Grammarly. Though that might seem very “new age” to some, Grammarly’s settings allow you to dictate “who” will be consuming the information, which gives me a good indication of whether or not it will resonate. – Melissa Fasano, Charcoal Bianco Collective
9. Make Sure Skimming It Provides The Key Takeaway
Is it skimmable? Let’s be real—everyone skims almost everything these days. A fast way to make sure your copy is easily digestible is to skim it yourself and make sure you’re able to understand the key takeaway. – Ashley Jorgensen, Mailing.com
10. Read A Sentence And Try To Explain It
Read a sentence, then close your eyes and explain what the sentence is saying in simple layman’s terms. If you can’t remember what you just read, it’s probably so full of industry jargon and technical terms that most people will gloss over it, or it will go right over their heads. My favorite quote is attributed to Einstein: “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” – Irene Froehlich, DrFirst, Inc.
11. Count How Many Key Messages You’ve Included
Effective messaging is all about scannability. Attention spans are shorter than ever, and very few users read entire passages of copy. Businesses should include only two or three hyper-relevant key messages and make them stand out—any longer and the copy won’t stick. Flowery, verbose or overly technical language might be the right fit in some contexts, but it’s usually best to be simple and clear. – David Greenberg, Act-On Software
12. Take It To The Front Lines
Run your new content past your customer service, tech support or sales reps—the people who interact with your client base on a daily basis. Of course, it’s ideal to test copy with your actual audience, but if you need speed, using your front-line team members as proxies can be the fastest way to gather feedback. – Ellen Sluder, smrtPhone
13. Read It First Thing In The Morning
Start with what your target audience wants and their pain points, then give them some value. For understandability, go one step beyond that: Read your copy first thing in the morning, right when you get out of bed and you’re still half asleep. (Yes, before you’ve had your coffee!) Does it still make sense? Was any piece of it tripping you up? If so, you know you need to rework. – Christina Hager, Ovations Digital
14. Phone A Friend
You should always have those reliable pals you can text, Slack or even call for a quick copy review. Running copy by someone who will candidly tell you when you’re being too wordy or using big words when smaller ones would do is key to a writer’s success. Find, build and grow a community of supportive wordsmiths who are willing to give you an honest opinion at a moment’s notice. – Melissa Kandel, little word studio
15. Read It Out Loud To Your Kids
Read it out loud to your kids and ask them what they understood. If it is not clear to them, rewrite it. While we would certainly expect our target audiences to have a better understanding of the subject matter, their attention span is often even lower than that of our kids. So, the kid test works really well to simplify messaging and get the most relevant parts highlighted accordingly. – Rafael Schwarz, TERRITORY Influence (a Bertelsmann group company)
16. Walk Away From It And Return With Fresh Eyes
To make sure the copy will land with my target audience, I walk away from it for 30 minutes. When I come back to it, I read it as if I’m someone outside of the company who is hearing about us for the first time. – Erica Morgenstern, Welltok
17. Check For Clear Headlines And Skimmable Headers
The most important things to check are that the headline clearly explains what’s to follow and that headers at regular intervals throughout the content provide a guide to the rest of the content. This makes the content skimmable and guides the reader down the page to the end. – Tom Treanor, Treasure Data
18. Look For Long Sentences That Can Be Split Up
I check to see if there are any sentences of 20 words or longer. If there are, I split them into two or more sentences. This way, the prose is easy to read and doesn’t cause anyone’s attention to stray. Far too often, copywriters are too verbose and wordy. Simply getting to the punch can go a long way toward sustaining your reader’s attention. – Amine Rahal, Regal Assets