Is Your Landing Page Copy Outsmarting Your Prospects? Use This Free Tool To Find Out

by 15 05/16/2012

Rumor has it that the average American adult reads at the 8th grade level.

True or not, the fact is that the readability of your landing page copy is critically important.

If the prospect that is reading your copy can’t understand it, it will have zero chance of converting them into a customer, donor or subscriber.

While readability is a somewhat subjective term, there is a way to apply some science to it.  Formulas, such as Flesch-Kinkaid and Gunning-Fog, have been developed to approximate the reading level of text.

Most readability formulas judge the reading level of a text using some mixture of the below variables:

  • number of words with multiple syllables
  • length of sentences
  • number of characters in words

These readability formulas certainly have their limits and should not be used to make the final decision about the readability of your landing page.

But these tools, combined with common sense, can make a big difference in the effectiveness of your landing page.

Consider Your Audience

Before you go changing your landing page copy to read, “I am Sam.  Sam I am.” make sure you understand your audience.

Your audience will have a particular set of demographics including:

  • age
  • sex
  • marital status

And, yes, reading level.

Wall Street Journal Landing Page

For example, the Wall Street Journal is certainly catering to an audience that is, often, well educated.

The reading level of their landing page suggests that they are aware of that with the average reading level score of their copy being nearly the 11th grade.

For a more general audience, the copy on this page might be too difficult, but for the WSJ perhaps they are right on target.

Readability Formula Grade
Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level 9.8
Gunning-Fog Score 10.2
Coleman-Liau Index 13.6
SMOG Index 8.8
Automated Readability Index 9.5
Average Grade Level 10.4

Safeco Insurance Landing Page

On the other hand, the copy on this landing page for Safeco Insurance might need to be simplified a bit.

Safeco Insurance is aimed at providing low-dollar insurance to people that have been turned down by mainstream insurance companies because of traffic tickets, accidents or lapse in coverage.

Safeco’s target market is, at the risk of being stereotypical, less educated.

With an average readability score above that of the Wall Street Journal above, there may need to be some editing done to this landing page copy.

Readability Formula Grade
Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level 10.2
Gunning-Fog Score 12.2
Coleman-Liau Index 13.3
SMOG Index 10.5
Automated Readability Index 9.4
Average Grade Level 11.1

Google + Landing Page

Google + is aimed at the masses.

Although they may skew towards the younger and more educated set, Google + needs to appeal to individuals at all ends of the spectrum if it’s going to compete with the indiscriminate Facebook.

It would appear that Google is aware of this fact with their average readability score sitting comfortably at the 7th grade level.

Readability Formula Grade
Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level 5.7
Gunning-Fog Score 7.3
Coleman-Liau Index 10.3
SMOG Index 4.4
Automated Readability Index 6.9
Average Grade Level 6.9

Apple iPad Landing Page

While you could make the argument that the iPad appeals to the more educated among us, it is clearly an item intended for the mass market.

Apple’s iPad landing page copy is both simple and persuasive.

With an reading level of the 7th grade, Apple copywriters ensure that the bulk of their market is able to understand the compelling copy they have written.

Readability Formula Grade
Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level 6.2
Gunning-Fog Score 7
Coleman-Liau Index 11.4
SMOG Index 6.2
Automated Readability Index 4.9
Average Grade Level 7.1

The Tool I Used

While writing this post, I played around with a number of free readability tools.  The one I found to be easiest is called simply Readability-Score.com.  It’s simple and intuitive and has a nicely designed layout.

Consider giving a donation to the creator of the tool if you find it helpful.

A quick Google search of ‘readability calculator’ will result in a number of free tools you can use to check the readability score of your landing page copy.

Whichever tool you use, make sure to couple it with some common sense and a good understanding of your target market.

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About 

Russ Henneberry is the Editorial Director at Digital Marketer. He's worked on digital marketing projects for companies like CrazyEgg, Salesforce.com and Network Solutions. You can connect with Russ on Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ or on his blog.

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15 COMMENTS

Andrew Winstanley

Hi Russ,
Very interesting piece. One thing: The description you’ve used to describe the types of customers that are a good fit for Safeco is inaccurate … dramatically so. If you can email me using the address associated with this comment, I’d appreciate it.
Thank you,
Andrew Winstanley

May 16, 2012 Reply

    Russ Henneberry

    Hi Andrew — I apologize. I am the author of this post. How would you describe Safeco’s target market? I would be happy to append this as an update to this post.

    May 16, 2012 Reply

Navigator Multimedia

Mindful article, Russ! It reminds me of a piece Angela Colter did for Contents Magazine last month, in which she discussed content creation/delivery for a low-literacy audience. I love having these two valuable articles side-by-side for reference. And your tool suggestion is much appreciated.

Cheers!
Sarah Bauer
Navigator multimedia

May 16, 2012 Reply

    Russ Henneberry

    Thanks Sarah! Do you have a link to that article from Angela Colter or was that a print piece?

    May 16, 2012 Reply

David Kartuzinski

Hi Russ,

This is interesting. I do a lot work for hotels and their individual websites. I think you’ve inspired me to run these metric tests on a bunch of sites and since I have the analytics for them, see if readability is a potential factor in the conversion rates. Sometimes i have sites with tons of traffic, beautiful pictures, apparently well designed sales funnels and practically zero conversions. Then other sites are ugly and terrible but convert well. And vice versa. Ugly sites not converting well and good looking sites converting well.

You make me wonder if readability is perhaps the “untested” link!

Thanks.

-DK

May 19, 2012 Reply

    Russ Henneberry

    @DK — Thanks for the compliments David! It sounds like the copy is the place to test — whether it’s the readability or other factors with the text. Thanks for commenting and giving us your real life application of this topic.

    May 20, 2012 Reply

Ferran

Thanks Russ,

Do you know if readability-score.com would work with spanish texts? if not, are you aware of any other method?

May 19, 2012 Reply

    Russ Henneberry

    I believe it would because it isn’t necessarily looking at the words themselves as much as it is looking at the length of words and sentences.

    May 20, 2012 Reply

    Dave

    Hi Ferran. I’m the author of readability-score.com. The tool will give you some scores, but some will be more accurate than others. Anything that used a syllable count would be quite unreliable. As far as I can see from a quick look, the Coleman–Liau and Automated Readability Index scores should have approximately the same accuracy in almost any language, but the rest of the scores should probably be largely ignored.

    May 21, 2012 Reply

      Russ Henneberry

      Hey Dave — I’m just curious as to why these tools aren’t accurate with foreign languages. Aren’t the main variables more to do with the length of the word and sentence? In this case, wouldn’t anything with our alphabet work?

      May 21, 2012 Reply

        Dave

        The main problem is syllables. Most of the scoring systems use syllables, and to count those accurately in other languages requires the software to understand some general rules about how words are pronounced. The scores and indexes were also designed for English, and their multiples and so on reflect that.

        So, you’ll get a score in any language, but the accuracy will be worse for languages with different pronunciation rules to English.

        May 31, 2012 Reply

Dave

Hi – I’m the geek behind readability-score.com. Thanks very much for the link :)

If there are any features you think would be useful additions to the tool, please let me know!

May 21, 2012 Reply

    Russ Henneberry

    @Dave — Thanks for the tool Dave! It’s a very useful tool! And very well designed!

    May 21, 2012 Reply


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