Mention the phrase "content strategy" among marketers and you'll receive dozens of suggestions on how to spend your time and budget to see results.
What we don't often see, though, is how readability impacts how those highly strategized pieces are written. With 7th grade as the average reading level in the US, marketers need to accommodate their audience.
It's also important to consider every option to improve marketing efficiencies. Building out a content strategy is usually a tedious process, but it doesn't have to stay that way.
Instead of manually running every blog or white paper through a readability tool, marketers today are using AI to improve how they create content and ensure that it's easily understood by their target audience at scale.
Before we cover the power that AI brings to your marketing suite, it's important to start with an understanding of what readability is and how it's evolving through applying developing technology.
Readability Is Your Content's Superpower
Readability is how well your audience will comprehend a written piece, and the goal is to make it as approachable as possible for your intended audience.
If you're writing a piece on SAT prep for high school students, you're going to use a different level of readability than a technical guide for a Navy pilot who has completed their training.
Its benefit is simple. Ignoring readability loses readership.
Either they won't have the reading level to comprehend the piece, or it won't be provided in an easily digestible way so they'll give up. The better the match to your ideal customer's reading level, the more likely they will be to understand your content and buy your product.
So, if we're supposed to keep our content easy to read, how easy is "easy"?
In the US, experts recommend maintaining a Flesch-Kincaid Reading of 60. The higher the score, the easier it is to read. Reader's Digest ranks at a 65 while The New York Times is a 52, making it harder to comprehend than Reader's Digest.
Let's dig into what those numbers mean, which also requires choosing your methodology.
Readability: Do You Want the Civic or the Tesla?
There are two types of methodologies: conventional and modern.
Think of it like that reliable 10-year-old Honda Civic that was your first car, and a Tesla Model S. Your Civic is trusty. It gets the job done. But the Tesla Model S? It makes driving more enjoyable, makes your commute far less draining, and it's leading the future of transportation.
Choosing the Conventionally Appropriate Civic
The conventional methodology includes standards like the Flesch Reading Ease test.
This ranks a written piece on how easy it is to read, with a higher number denoting better readability. Based on a formula developed in the mid-20th century, the Flesch Reading Ease test scores based on the average sentence length and the average number of syllables per word.
Another conventional readability methodology is the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level test. It has a similar formulaic approach to readability as the Flesch Reading Ease test, but the result is a number between 0 and 18. Each number corresponds with a grade. (Numbers 13-18 are considered college "grades".) If a piece is ranked as an 8, the reader needs to be in grade 8 or above to comprehend the meaning.
Tools like Yoast's WordPress SEO plug-in utilize these reading tests, and they do it well. However, their approach may not always offer the best suggestions once the piece's context is taken into, well, context. And while this traditional approach and website plug-ins have served us well, it's time for a new approach.
When AI & Conventional Formulas Love Each Other Very Much...
The modern methodology-the Tesla-combines the established conventional approach with AI algorithms to rank a piece on its readability. These algorithms use machine learning to rank the piece in context, which conventional methodologies are not able to accomplish.
This added context improves the accuracy of the result, which improves how companies write for their ideal audience. The better the content matches the context, the stronger the piece will be. And AI makes this simpler than ever to accomplish, which saves you time. It's a winning situation that utilizes the leading edge of technology for your benefit.
Now that we've established these two approaches to readability, we want to apply this to a B2B audience to maximize your content's power.
Improving (Business) Dating Outcomes Through Readability
Your potential customers in the B2B space are busy.
They've been researching all day and they just want the answer. Luckily, there are a few ways to drastically improve your writing's readability so your website visitors get the information they need while establishing your company as a thought leader. There are three core ways this is done:
- Specialized terminology
- Pyramid writing style
- Minimizing cognitive load
Kneecaps vs. Patellas: What's the Difference?
A blog on Runner's Knee for the general public would use the term "kneecap", while a scholarly article in a medical journal would use the term patella. This illustrates a very important lesson in readability.
You always want to write in terms your audience understands, because your content's readability improves when the terminology fits your audience.
When considering how specialized terminology supports readability, always go back to your audience. What's their knowledge of the industry? Are they a C-suite executive or an entry-level employee? These questions will shape the type of industry terms you use throughout your writing.
This is something traditional readability formulas aren't able to measure. A multi-syllabic word that would ordinarily impact a readability score could be a beneficial addition based on the audience. AI, by combining the conventional and modern approaches, can accommodate those complex words and help you create content focused on your audience, not a specific grade level.
Maintaining the correct level of terminology may seem like an obvious statement for those in content development, but you may be surprised at how quickly it's forgotten. Keep this as one of your content development tenants and you'll see your content resound with the people who matter most: your audience.
Our next connection-building recommendation is to travel back in time.
Writing Like an Egyptian
Improving readability includes more than the words and sentence structure. It also applies to how you organize a piece. Think of your topic like an upside-down pyramid. You begin the piece with an overview of the topic, then you drill down into the details until you end with your final, specific points.
Let's use this piece for an example. We started with what readability is, and why it's essential. Then, we increased the specificity of the piece so you know more than the basics by sharing the conventional and modern approaches. By the end of this piece, you'll know how AI integrates into improving your content's readability.
Even with this approach, though, make it clear in the introduction what readers can expect to learn so they continue reading instead of closing the browser tab. Then you can start the Egyptian approach to content marketing by using the upside-down pyramid.
There's one more way to improve your writing for B2B audiences, so let's head back to the 21st century.
Missing Expectations with the Wrong Cognitive Load
Just like in dating, missed expectations can ruin a potential business relationship before it even begins. In order to maximize the amount of content that your readers can process, use familiar terminology and maintain a consistent writing style.
This terminology and writing style directly impacts a piece's cognitive load, or the level of thought it takes to process an idea.
When writing for a B2B audience, you want to match the cognitive load with your audience's knowledge and expectations.
This isn't the time to recreate formatting best practices, either. Only 16% of people read a web page word-for-word. The rest skim it! Focus on using frequent headlines, bolding important phrases, and short paragraphs.
This ensures that the maximum number of people can comprehend the meaning of your piece so you can continue to establish thought leadership in your industry.
AI Makes Your Content Work Smarter, Not Harder
Your content is for more than just free information on your website. It's designed to drive traffic and increase conversions.
Without the right level of readability, though, your content is just... content.
Turn that around with an AI-driven approach to content marketing.
These AI tools utilize machine learning and marketing data to show you what strategies produce the best results, from blogging to email marketing to product descriptions.
Let machine learning do the work for you and decrease the amount of A/B testing needed to reach your marketing goals.
30% of marketers state that they will be exploring AI to improve efficiencies in 2019.
Will you be one of them?