Have you come across this? When clients have written their own marketing messaging, website content, emails and socials – and packed it full of big, fancy words – thinking more about how they want to sound, than how they want their customers to feel?
It’s understandable when you think about it. Human instinct is to present our best possible image to the world. To tell them how amazing we are, to display ourselves as shiny and impressive.
However, when it comes to engaging content – do customers choose to work with businesses because they are impressed by their vocabulary?
So, it’s up to us to put our clients straight (tactfully, of course). Because if they’re not putting themselves in the customer’s shoes and understanding their language, all that effort going into their comms is unlikely to be effective.
Impressive hyperbole, industry jargon and a glossy sheen might impress their peers, but unless they’re the target customer it’s likely to be missing the mark.
So how can we help our clients understand the need to simplify their language?
Some time ago, I worked with a startup client who’d developed an idea for a service-based business and wanted a website. He’d put a great deal of thought into how he wanted to come across, the services he wanted to offer, and how to describe their general amazingness.
What he hadn’t considered was his audience. The kind of people they were, what their needs were, and the kind of language they used.
All his preparation notes began with “I”. His language was complex and sophisticated because he wanted to come across as an expert. In actual fact, he was coming across as elitist, unclear and unrelatable.
But this was how he saw himself. Because in his eyes he was putting his ego on the line. Of course, he was going to put his best foot forward! Completely understandable. And effective for a job application, perhaps. But not for customer engagement.
This is the kind of messaging he wanted:
“We’re dynamic, elite, agile problem solvers. Our future-focused methodologies enable real-time strategies at the forefront of managed propositions.”
But it’s not the kind of messaging he needed.
Speak the customer’s language
This type of writing appears frequently in B2B content. All the copy begins “We” or “I” and lists the features and services of a business and why they’re so great. They waffle on forever and use far bigger words than necessary.
However, the emphasis is in entirely the wrong place. And this kind of overblown copy won’t engage prospects unless it speaks to them about their needs, in terms they can understand. B2B people are still people, after all.
Simplification makes a huge difference. And by encouraging our clients to see customer problems from their point of view and address them in the simplest possible terms, they’ll be far more likely to get engagement.
“At last! Plain English!” the customers will cry, in joy and relief.
So how did I help my startup client?
Well, together we turned his business idea on its head and thought about it in reverse. Who was having what problems and would benefit from his help? What would they be searching for? How could we address this in their kind of language?
The actions that worked. We:
- carried out customer and competitor research, to understand the target audience and the language other providers were using
- created a home page that addressed customer pain points and offered help. Benefits first, services second.
- condensed long sentences into short.
- used an online thesaurus to find simpler vocabulary and a readability checker to keep our score above 60 (as a rule of thumb, business writing should be 60-70).
- read the text aloud to ensure it could be understood aurally as well as visually.
These are all techniques that can be easily applied. Just by creating client-focused, simpler language, copy can be made so much more effective.
What about that tricky client who just won’t budge?
Well, if you’re working with a client who’s determinedly attached to their grandiloquent verbiage, here are a few more reasons for them to simplify:
It will improve their bounce rate
Language choices have a huge impact on bounce rate. Google focuses on finding the results that are clearest and most helpful to users. What this means in copy terms, is that if you don’t engage site visitors on your landing page with simple, clear language they can easily understand, they will leave and go straight back to the results page.
By checking readability, cutting out waffle and writing from the perspective of the customer, you can reduce bounce rate and improve engagement.
The rising importance of voice searches
As voice searches become the norm for many smartphone users, copy not only has to work on the page, but also when heard. Sentence construction and vocabulary choices are increasingly important factors. Complicated, over-long sentences are very confusing when heard aloud, so these are good reasons to aim for simplicity.
It’s time to think much less about language that reflects the image someone wants to portray and much more about being a source of accessible expertise and information.
Why readability is important
A low readability score means that the language is very difficult to understand, which narrows the number of people you can reach. Your client may think that graduate-level language matches their brand, but internet users prefer quick and easy to understand. Whatever the audience’s level of education, overly complex language is off-putting.
So, when you next write a blog or website content, try cutting and pasting it into an online readability checker, or use the readability tool on MS Word.
The higher the score, the more people can access it. For B2B, 60-70 is about right. For B2C, aim even higher. Removing words of more than 3 syllables and condensing long, complex sentences into shorter, simpler ones can also make a big difference.
When did you last check the readability of your copy? The Fleisch Kincaid score reflects the readability of a text. You can use this free readability tool to check your pages.
First published on LinkedIn