Readability of newsletters is a subject that can take the writer in strange directions as they grapple with getting the message across in an accessible and effective way. There’s a rule of thumb that any customer-facing copy should be understandable by an average 12-year-old.
That is, the use of advanced words and long, complex sentences should be eliminated from your content. It’s not a bad rule to follow, but there can be pitfalls, especially if you stick rigidly to algorithms and formulas that are popular in SEO circles these days.
You might have seen readability scores on word processing packages and digital marketing suites like Yoast, Searchmetrics and SEMrush.
They feed your copy through an analytical algorithm and gauge its readability, usually from “primitive” to “complex”. In theory, you want to aim for a midpoint, i.e. somewhere between CBeebies and an explanation of the latest experiment from the Large Hadron Collider.
They do this by looking at measurable factors like average word length, average sentence length, the education level of vocabulary used, and also factors like the use of headings and paragraphs. It’ll mark down anything that strays too far from its predetermined standards.
The important thing to remember is that this score is only meant to be a guide – not hard and fast rules. Interesting writing breaks the normal rules every now and again, and sometimes short, stuttering sentences drive a message home, while other times, it’s impossible to get a point across in a sentence with fewer than 30 words. Like spell checkers, they’re useful as a guide, but don’t swear by them.
Your audience is the ultimate arbiter of readability. If you’re selling components to an engineering firm, your language will be very different to that used if you’re selling holidays to families. The skills of copywriting – identifying needs, benefits, pain points and solutions – should always trump any algorithm.
So your starting point should always be to get under the skin of your potential readership and write for them, in a language they speak. Look around websites of the industry you’re selling to and you’ll get a good idea of the level and expectations you should aim for.
With email newsletters, you also have the opportunity to drill down into exactly how readers are interacting with your copy, from subject line to clicked links. After you’ve been running an email campaign for a while, you’ll have gathered plenty of usable information from customer interactions. If people are opening the emails but abandoning them after the first few sentences, you know you’ve got a problem with your offering or your readability (or both). Look at ways of enhancing it, which might include hiring a professional copywriter.
Finally, don’t forget how readability isn’t just about the words themselves – it’s about how they look on the screen. That all comes down to email template design, and a good design can have a profound effect on the readability of the email on the range of devices, apps, clients and operating systems out there. Again, you are well advised to turn to the professionals to create these templates, so why not get in touch?