What is the number 1 biggest mistake in eCommerce marketing and lead generation?
Using website copy that your customers don’t understand.
Confusing web copy is something that most people can relate to, small business owner or not. We’ve all come across advertisements or websites that were difficult to read and made no sense. As a business owner or marketer, the last thing any of us want to do when posting something online is to create any type of confusion. But unfortunately it does happen. A lot.
When this does happen on a website or advertisement though it’s often a case of marketing people disobeying the first rule of marketing – “Speak the same language as your customers”.
Well that’s all well and good, but wouldn’t it be great if there was a tool or measuring stick to be able to keep up on track with our online copywriting? A tool to let us know when we’re verging on confusing our readers so we could avoid doing so? Well, you could hire an editor, or use a trusted friend as a proofreader (which you should probably do regardless).
However as a first step I’d like to introduce you to a tool that is freely available that you can begin using today for yourself.
The Gunning Fog Index
Simply put, the Gunning fog index measures how easily text written in English is to read. The index measures this by using an estimate of the years of formal education needed to understand the text on a first reading. For example, a Fog index of 10 corresponds with a reading comprehension level of a grade 10 high school student. An index of 14 requires the reading comprehension of an undergraduate university student. Finally, an index of say… 20 means that only someone that is super smart would be able to understand what you’re trying to say.
The test was developed and named after its creator Robert Gunning, an American businessman, in 1952.
The fog index is a great tool for writers to confirm that text can be read easily by the intended audience. As a rule of thumb texts for a wide audience generally need a fog index less than 12 (meaning that a reader with a high school graduate level reading comprehension could understand it). Texts requiring near-universal understanding generally need an index less than 8.
These measures of readability are especially critical online. Since online readers are more conditioned to quickly scan pages they visit, and are far less inclined to spend extra time on a site trying to decode what is being said. That’s why most online marketers should aim for copy that scores less than 12. This can get especially tricky when it comes to product copy since all industries bring with them their own specific jargon, which generally scores poorly in the Fog index. The lesson there is simple. Whenever possible try not to use it.
The Gunning fog index is calculated by considering a number of factors in your writing such as
– Number of words
– Number of sentences and use of punctuation
– Number of complex words (3 syllables or more) – This is often why jargon often scores poorly
For those of you who like to do things by hand, the complete formula is as follows:
If you’re like me and prefer a bit of automation in your calculations, there are a number of free online tools that can be used to measure the Fog index of your writing. Simply cut and paste blocks of text into the tools and let the suggestions guide you to clearer, easier to understand copy.
One of my favorite free tools is posted here.
While the fog index is a good measurement tool for hard-to-read text, it’s important to remember it has limits. Not all complex words are difficult. For example, “asparagus” is not generally thought to be a difficult word, though it has four syllables. Likewise a very short word can be difficult to understand if it is not used very often by most people.
That being said, it’s still a great tool to have handy as a quick check for the readability of whatever copy you are using on your website and in your advertising. As always the best way to check anything, including readability, is to check with your own customers. But using a free Fog index tool before you hit publish is a great place to start.
This post originally appeared on the Forewards Ecommerce Blog