I do a lot of work for technology companies. One of the challenges with marketing technology is simplifying complex systems into understandable business enhancers that B2B buyers must have to reach their goals.
I just reviewed a paper written for a technical audience. You know it's tough when you have to keep backing up to re-read paragraphs because your mind wanders or because comprehension is elusive. And I read a ton of tech stuff - given my projects - so I should be a slam-dunk reader.
In the Age of Impatience and short attention spans, we've got to make even technical content fun to read. I don't mean rolling laughter or big entertainment - I mean easy to understand so that your ideas become compelling enough to diminish the urge to click on to somewhere else.
Here are a few of the biggest effort triggers that cause your buyers to flee from your content due to the perception of effort:
- Run-on sentences. Fifty word sentences are not normal. They're hard to focus on all the way through. That's what was causing me to back up when I was reading the paper I mentioned above.
- Alien grade-level competency. I tend to run the content I develop through the Flesh-Kincaid readability tool in Word. In case you're wondering - this blog post clocks in at 8.1 grade level to this point. The white paper I mentioned above came in at 24.1 grade level when I checked it. Can you imagine the difference in effort?
- Big-word syndrome. A big word here and there can add interest when used well. Stringing them together in those run-on sentences and tossing in a bit of jargon to top it off can create twitchy fingers on the back button. We may think it sounds cool to use them, but it's like an assault on comprehension. And, as soon as you lose the thread of what the content is about, your mind wanders...and so will your buyers.
- Abrupt transitions - no context. One paragraph we're cruising along and then we come to a new header and we're off in a new direction, unrelated to the path we were following. A header is not an excuse for a 180 shift. A header is a marker along the path. If you remove the text and string headers together, they should provide a synopsis of your content.
- Abrupt transitions - from compelling idea to forced sales pitch. One of the things that bother me the most is when I'm reading about a compelling take on something and then I'm confronted by the equivalent of a solution brief for the last few pages of the paper. Or a bunch of hyperlinks to product pages embedded within the part masquerading as thought leadership. There's a time and place for everything - forcing the issue is not working in your favor.
There are others I can list, but these are the worst of the bunch. Of course if I don't say it, someone will comment - spelling and grammar should be a no brainer.
I didn't bring all this up to leave you hanging. Here are some simple ways to test your content before you set it loose on the rest of us:
- Read it backwards. Seriously, this works. Why? Because when you read forward your mind has expectations and will try to compensate for words that don't work well with what it expects to see. If you've ever published something you know you proofread to death and discovered a typo after the fact, this is likely what happened. Start at the end and read it backwards. This will help you catch words that have different versions based on context (their, there, they're, for example)
- Read it out loud. This is great for the run-on sentences. Have you ever noticed that you read about the same way you speak? You'll often adjust your breathing when you're reading as if pausing to take a breath when speaking. If you have to gulp for air when reading your content aloud, I'll bet you your sentence is over 50 words.
- Have someone else read it. And then take it away from them and ask them to tell you what it's about. Can they identify the key points you wanted your audience to take away? What did they like about it and what did they not like so much? You'd be amazed how people interpret content. Their reaction may be totally different than what you expected to hear.
About that last one - don't take it personally. If people are afraid to tell you what they really think, they won't. And then you'll end up publishing stuff no one wants to read.
It's the beginning of 2014. I invite you all to take the pledge to make sure your content is not tipping the effort scale in the wrong direction. Writing to be easily understood is difficult. It takes thought and practice.
It's a good place to start in the New Year.
In case you're wondering - the overall Flesh-Kincaid grade level for this post is 6.2 with a reading ease of 73%. Only 3% of the sentences are passive. That's another tip for your content. Passive sentences allow the mind to wander. They're boring.