The first rule of web copywriting

Website copy is not literature. The best copywriters have almost nothing in common with the best novelists. The copywriter’s job is not to challenge the reader or make her think deeply about the meaning of life. The copywriter’s job is simply to get the facts across.

What’s the product or service? Who is it for? What problem does it solve? Answering these questions is a simple job. And it requires simple language.

The best copywriting uses language a ten-year-old could understand. But don’t underestimate the task: writing at the fifth-grade level is harder than you might think. Any adult can crank out bloated, clumsy writing full of jargon and useless filler. But is takes practice to write sentences that are simple, clear, and direct. A man named Rudolf can help you with that.

The readability test
Rudolf Flesch was an Austrian-American author and writing teacher who promoted the use of plain English. He wrote a whole shelf of useful books, including How to Write Better and The Art of Plain Talk. But his most important contribution to the craft of writing was his readability test.

In the 1970s, Flesch and his colleague J. Peter Kincaid developed a formula for testing how easy a piece of text is to read. Based on the average number of syllables per word and words per sentence, the Flesch-Kincaid test gives a score from 0 to 100. The higher the score, the more readable the text. Above 90 is considered simple enough for a fifth-grader to understand; below 30 is university level.

How do you rank?
The Flesch-Kincaid test is available online. We recommend a tool called Readable, which lets you test whole websites without copying and pasting.

Business websites that target a general audience should aim for a readability score of at least 80. The clearer your message, the more persuasive it will be. Would you fork out cash for a product or service that you don’t understand?


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