The reliable sales rule is: Write at a 7th grade level.
Before you protest, please understand this has nothing to do with your prospect’s intelligence. It’s simply the most effective way to penetrate your reader’s busy mind.
Because we all have so much running through our heads at any given moment, it’s difficult to concentrate on what we’re reading. And when we read sales or marketing copy, we usually give it much less attention.
By keeping your writing at a 7th grade level, your message penetrates the reader’s busy brain and half-hearted interest.
Just as important, it makes your message easier to remember.
Get your message across
When selling, you’re not trying to impress people with fancy words and flowery thoughts. You’re trying to prove you’re the ideal solution to a need or desire they want fulfilled.
I can hear you argue, “But if I write to educated professionals. Won’t they feel like I’m talking down to them?” Or “My audience is used to reading complicated writing. They’re _____s (insert high-fallutin’ profession here).”
It doesn’t matter. Because complicated, formal sentences make their brains work harder. Remember, they’re busy. They don’t want more work, they want solutions to problems they need solved. Or desires they want fulfilled.
Simpler sentences help them move effortlessly through your copy. The easier they move, the more they stay focused on your message. That’s why this post is written at a 7th grade level. Actually, it’s 6.4 grade level and I’m guessing you didn’t feel offended, right?
Of course, there are exceptions to this rule. Such as if you represent a government agency. Or you’re at an advanced stage of the sales cycle, addressing an elitist group. You need to know your audience.
But for most of us, whether we’re selling to our neighbors or other businesses, we make more money by keeping it simple.
Tips for easier-reading copy
If you use Microsoft Word, turn on your readability statistics. Aim for 70% or higher reading ease. And the magical 7th grade reading level. Sometimes, you may have a paragraph here and there that can’t get any simpler than a 9th grade level. That’s ok, so long as your entire document averages around 7th grade.
Avoid passive sentences
Passive sentences occur when the subject isn’t performing the action. Passive sentences weaken otherwise good copy by adding extraneous words and robbing its impact.
- The document was sent by Sally.
- They have been noticing the pending storm.
- The car was damaged by the shopping cart.
- Sally sent the document.
- They notice the pending storm.
- The shopping cart damaged the car.
Use shorter sentences
Keep your sentences brief and in digestible chunks. If you need a semi colon, you’re better off making that a period and starting a new sentence. If you have more than two commas…ditto.
Some people complain baking is difficult, but you can make it easier by having all of your ingredients and tools prepared and ready to go before you start; such as, having all of your ingredients measured, starting with a clean area free of clutter and dirty dishes, and having all of your equipment easily accessible. (Reading ease: 49.7; Grade level: 13.1)
Some people complain baking is difficult. But you can make it easier by preparing your ingredients and tools before you start.
- Measure out all of the ingredients
- Remove nearby clutter or dirty dishes
- Have equipment easily accessible
(Reading ease: 67.2; Grade level: 6.4)
Use simpler words
Some copy looks like a thesaurus vomited ten-syllable words all over the page. The writer may feel smarter, but complicated words are like long sentences. They force the reader to slow down and work through the message.
Remember, every time you make the reader work (even slightly), you give them the opportunity to stop reading. That’s death to your conversion rates. So keep it simple. Don’t imbibe when you can drink. Don’t pontificate when you can think.
Sometimes, you must use bigger words because they’re industry terms or scientific names. This may lower your reading ease and increase your reading grade level, but that’s alright because they’re necessary.
Break the rules
Have you ever noticed when you read, your voice says the words out loud in your head? Don’t worry, nearly all of us do it. When you write in a conversational style, it helps that voice in your reader’s brain glide through your copy and retain it better.
Since most of us don’t speak in proper, grammatically correct English, it’s ok to mimic some of that in your writing.
You may notice I start a lot of sentences with and, but, and because. I respect proper grammar, but I purposely sacrifice good grammar for good reading flow. This doesn’t mean it’s alright to go wild tossing all the rules out the door. Some audiences can handle more leeway than others, so break rules strategically and don’t break so many you risk losing credibility.
Should you make your copy easier to understand? Try a grammar check on your last email, a section from your brochure or website. Your goal:
- Passive sentences: 0%
- Reading ease: ≥70%
- Reading grade level: ≤7.0
Then adjust your sentences until your message flows effortlessly when read out loud.