Tag Archives: Content writing

How to Optimise your Content for Success with the Flesch-Kincaid Scale and Readability Statistics

Flesch-Kincaid score

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Like it or not, we’re all guilty of starting to read an article, a blog post or even a novel before giving up a few sentences in when the writing hasn’t immediately grabbed us. But what if users are doing the same with our own hard-crafted content?

Don’t worry, I’m not going to spend the next few minutes simply reiterating that ‘content is king’, mostly because I can’t bring myself to quote the most overused of overused phrases. However, a fair point Mr. Gates does make. And in light of Matt Cutts’ recent guest blogging exposé, there’s no denying that quality content’s reign over SEO success is more important than ever – both on and off-page.

With this in mind, there’s one secret weapon on your quest to creating quality content that you probably don’t even know that you already own:

MS Word’s readability statistics and Flesch-Kincaid scale

If this sounds scary, hold tight. It’s a simple, pain-free process that measures everything from the average sentence length of your content to the ideal reading age that it’s best enjoyed by. We’ll come to why all of this is important in a bit, but first, here’s where to find it:

In MS Word, run the standard Spelling & Grammar check under the ‘Review’ tab. I’m working with MS Word 2010, but the Spelling & Grammar check is straightforward to find in any version (shame on you if you don’t already know where it is). When this opens, click on the ‘Options…’ button in the bottom left hand corner.

Flesch-Kincaid dialogue boxThis takes you to the ‘Word Options’ dialogue box where you can simply click the tick box next to ‘Show readability statistics’ before pressing ‘OK’.

Once this is done, run the Spelling & Grammar check again but this time, go through and correct your highlighted mistakes. As you reach the end of the check, a new dialogue box will open and this will reveal your readability statistics – and you’ll see them from now on, every time you run a Spelling & Grammar check. Here are mine for this very article:

Flesch-Kincaid Readability statistics

What does this mean?

Ok, so everything’s all well and good now that you’ve enabled your readability statistics – but what do these numbers actually mean? And how you can use them to improve your writing skills? Let’s find out…

Counts

I’m going to group all of the subcategories under ‘Counts’ together because, for this first section, there’s not much that you need to know.

  • Words, Characters, Paragraphs & Sentences: These are just your standard totals, saving you from sitting down and manually adding up your word count. Not much to see here, but useful to know nonetheless.

Averages

Here’s where it starts to get interesting (if you’re a word nerd like me) because here the statistics begin to reveal a lot about your content. Take a leaf from the likes of Orwell and Hemingway and remember just one thing: when it comes to making an impact with your writing, less is often more.

  • Sentences per Paragraph: Yep, this is showing you the average amount of sentences that you use in one of your paragraphs. It might seem obvious, but writing that’s broken up into lots of lovely paragraphs is easier to understand than one giant block of text. Not only that, but it’s much easier on the eye and is much more likely to be read.

Top tip: Keep this in mind and try to stick to just two or three sentences per paragraph for easily digestible content.

  • Words per sentence: That’s right; this is calculating how many words there are in one of your sentences. As with paragraphs, short sentences are what you’re aiming for here. A good rule of thumb is to try and stick to no more than 25 words per sentence, but some writers are even more strict and don’t go above 20. Using any more than this might leave your readers with no space to think, whilst you cram as many ideas into their breathing space as possible.

Top tip: I’m a self-confessed long sentence-aholic – but it’s always worth going back and refining that one rambling thought into coherent chunks of information.

  • Characters per Word: This one looks at the average length of the words that you’re using in your writing. It’s a little harder to immediately say ‘shorter words are better’ because, really, it depends on the intended audience of your content. Of course, if it’s a technical piece, there’s probably good reason for your score to be slightly higher here if you’ve made use of lots of impressive terminology.

Top tip: Basically, the main thing to remember here is to be aware of your intended audience and adjust your vocabulary accordingly.

Readability

  • Passive Sentences: This is calculating the percentage of passive sentences in your writing. Just in case you’ve forgotten everything from your old English classes, here’s a quick lesson on the difference between an active sentence and a passive sentence.

A sentence written in active voice means that the subject of the sentence is performing the action in the sentence:

 Active sentence structure

A sentence written in passive voice means that the subject of the sentence is receiving an action by someone or something else:

 Passive sentence structure

Active sentences push your point across much more succinctly – and they keep your word count manageable in the process. With regards to your own writing, your goal is to get your percentage of passive sentences as low as possible.

Top tip: Try to aim for a score of 15% or below for writing that’s clear and concise.

  • Flesch Reading Ease: Finally, we reach the elusive and mysterious Flesch-Kincaid system. Congratulations if you’ve made it this far. In a nutshell, the Flesch Reading Ease uses all of the above statistics to calculate how easy your content is to read on a scale of 0-100. The lower the result, the more complex your piece is to read, with a score of 100 meaning that your piece is 100% readable and you should win a medal.*

Top tip: Again, this depends on your target audience and how easy you want your writing to be. However, speaking widely, anything around 60-70 is a desirable level for the average reader.

  • Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level: Your Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level takes everything we’ve covered so far and magically calculates it all into a hypothetical American school grade level. In other words, it tells you how many years of education someone needs to understand your writing. If you’re not familiar with the American grade system, simply add five onto the grade number and you’ll get the average age instead.

Top tip: As with the Flesch Reading Ease, the best age for your content entirely depends on who it is that you hope will be reading it. Does it need to be understood by a five year old or does it need to appear sophisticated and knowledgeable? The choice is yours.

Why is this important for SEO?

As a large generalisation that I can be confident is mostly true, internet users are looking to find the answers to their queries as quickly and as easily as possible.

On the one hand, if your Flesch-Kincaid level is too high and your content is too hard to read, users will quickly leave your page in search of another. On the other hand, if your content goes too far in the other direction and scores a very low grade level, users may find it too simple and a waste of their time. It may come across as lacking in value and worthy of only a quick read-through before they move on with their search. Both of these things will give your page a high bounce-rate, leaving you with users that aren’t engaging with your content.

Although by no means a requirement, running MS Word’s Flesch-Kincaid scale and readability statistics will show you exactly what your writing looks like to someone outside of your own brain (mind-blowing, I know). It gives you the chance to add the final polish to your writing, the one that might just make it a hit with your desired audience.

Put all of these tips together and you’ll be sure to have yourself a great piece of readable content; content that will reign supreme.

*there’s no medal.

Finger and a question mark

What is a Creative Content Strategist?

Finger and a question mark

At Verve Search, we currently have a host of creative content strategists, and we have all experienced our family and friends asking us what we actually do at work. Our response could be, “I write articles online for clients,” “I’m currently researching this information for an infographic we’re creating,” “I work in an SEO company where I write articles,” or, “I’m a creative writer, working on articles and blogs online.” Maybe the easiest way to explain it is to break down the definition of the job title:

  • Creative“Having the quality or power of creating
  • Creative writing“Resulting from originality of thought, expression, etc.”
  • Content- Substantive information or creative material viewed in contrast to its actual or potential manner of presentation”
  • Strategy“A plan, method, or series of maneuvers or stratagems for obtaining a specific goal or result”
  • Strategist“An expert in strategy.”

With these descriptions, you might have a better idea of what a content strategist does. Businessdictionary.com defines creative content strategy as:

The outline prepared by the creative team of an advertising agency for the launching of an advertising campaign or message. A creative strategy is generally the result of a team composed of one or more copywriters, an art director and a creative director. The creative strategy generally explains how the advertising campaign will meet the advertising objectives of the business.

The main responsibilities for a creative content strategist at Verve Search are:

  • Contributing to weekly content meetings
    • Creating content – Content might also come in the medium of: Infographics, photography, videos, big data reports, competitions and giveaways
    • Opportunity hunting and pitching content
    • Reporting and communication with the client

The process of content strategy

The bulk of our effort is focused on getting our content published on well-respected websites. The process can involve, in any order:

  1. Finding a site you would like your content to get published on. We use programs to get data and numbers about the sites we’re researching. These numbers can tell us if the site is trustworthy and worth contacting.
  2. Brainstorming ideas for the chosen site that provide opportunities to mention the client, then create an article, infographic or other unique content such as slideshows, lists, guides and even videos. We often brainstorm as a team before writing the article, where every thought and idea counts. Articles will include a specific link to our client.
  3. Contacting and negotiating with the site owner or web admin to get the article published.

A week in the life of a content strategist

To give you an insight into what a working week is like for a creative content strategist here’s an example. I once found a website about food all over the world; the numbers were right and the site looked interesting. I did my research on food in Barcelona, Spain, asked for insider tips from a Spanish colleague, and wrote the article on food experiences in Barcelona. I then sent the article to the owner of the targeted site who appreciated it and wanted it on their site. It got published. Most importantly, the client was mentioned in the article.

There’s no rule on how you’ll get your content for an article. You have a lot of creative freedom to explore subjects and topics. Ideas come from our travel experiences, cultural history, online research, books, recommendations from friends, and much more.

Let’s say our client is an online fashion shop. I want to write about a seasonal topic or trend, for instance “best bikini selection for your beach holiday”. I’d start by researching online, and get an idea of the current bikini-scene, look through blogs. After having a better idea of the topic, I would grab a magazine and look at the latest fashion spreads and read about current design inspirations. I’d get an idea of the writing methods and layout I want to create for the article.

Post it for a creative content strategist

 

Final thoughts

The articles must include a snappy headline that’s clever and easy to read, and interesting photos that are going to entice the reader and get them to read the article.

The strategy for the client is important, and strategy in this matter means that we strategically have to place our articles where it’s going to get hits and write content that’s seasonal and appropriate for the client and the website.

I love this job. It’s such a great platform to learn about all kinds of different things that I’m interested in or curious about. I get to focus on and research topics for a couple of days, which then becomes knowledge that I can convey to my readers. Plus, I’m becoming an expert in how the Internet actually works. And that is priceless!

How to get a job as a creative content strategist

If you think you have got what it takes to be in this role and if you feel that you can live up to the responsibilities a creative content strategist has and you’re wondering how to become a creative content strategist, I’ll try to give some tips on what you can do.

1. Start your own blog so you can showcase your creative abilities.

2. Attempt to optimise your blog to demonstrate your understanding of SEO.

3. Guest blog for other blogs to show you understand the value of guest blogging.

4. Grow your social media following to show you can grow online communities.

5. Go to industry meet ups and be friendly and curious.

6. Help a friend’s business with their SEO/Social media so you have something to talk about in your interview.

7. Read blogs from successful SEO agencies to make sure you’re up to date on every level.

8. Bring a little personal notebook everywhere you go, you might come up with great ideas when you least expect it.

Good luck!

Image Tsahi Levent-Levi

 

5 Easy Ways to Improve Your Content

You’ve spent hours slaving away to create your content: redrafting paragraphs, rephrasing sentences and, if you’re anything like me, hesitating over the placement of a comma. So why is nobody reading your article? Or worse still, why is no-one commenting on it, Tweeting it or Facebook sharing it?

Whether you’ve experience this dilemma first-hand or the mere thought of it is enough to send a shiver down your spine, there are actually a few things you can do to prevent your content from being forever condemned to cyber space anonymity. It can take minutes to turn your beautifully written copy into a highly readable, shareable article. Here are five ways!

 

1.      Consider Your Layout

The first thing to remember when writing your content is that when it comes to the internet, people will often scan pages rather than read them. This is an unavoidable fact and sadly, must influence the way you write – you’ve got to keep things snappy! Think about your layout and break your writing up into short, manageable paragraphs – big chunks of text can be intimidating. Make line breaks your friend and your nicely-spaced article will be pleasing on the eye, enticing readers to continue.

Think about sentence length, trying to keep them short and to the point. Cut out pointless filler words that drag away from your point – is something that’s ‘very unique’ any more so than something that’s already ‘unique’?

 

2.       Make Use of Formatting

Be strategic with your formatting, for example by bolding important concepts to add emphasis to them. This means that at a glance, the reader is drawn straight to the most important things that you have to say. However, don’t fall into the trap of thinking everything you have to say is important (difficult, I know) and over-highlighting everything, drawing attention to nothing.

Bullet points are easy to scan and provide a visual break from large chunks of text or a lengthy paragraph, presenting ideas in an easily digestible way. It’s even better if you can keep your bullet points symmetrical with similar line lengths and the same grammatical form. It’s easier on the eye which means, of course, it’s easier on the reader.

 

3.      Plan Your Subtitles

Everyone loves a subtitle! A great technique to help you plan out your article is to write all your subtitles first, filling in the content later. Well-written subtitles make your ideas concise, easy to understand and highly impacting on the reader. It also means you can review your content from a distance – can you make sense of your article just from reading the subtitles? That’s the aim of the game here.

 

4.      Use Numbers

Much like subtitles, numbered lists ensure that the points that you’re making are crystal clear. Using a numbered list also gives an idea of how long your article is (and how far from the end you are!) which is great for hitting points home and making them memorable. It will also give the impression that you know what you’re talking about and that you can articulate it accurately. Try numbering your main points and see if it makes your article more compelling and powerful, just like this one.

 

5.      ‘Write drunk; edit sober’ – Ernest Hemingway

Take this one as literally as you like! What our friend Hemingway was trying to say here is that your personality needs to shine through in your writing – it’s always better to edit it out later than to not have any to begin with. By writing in a way that is real and genuine as opposed to a faceless, anonymous drone, readers will naturally listen to what you have to say and what’s more, they’ll trust whatever it is that you’re saying. And trust breeds authority. How many times has someone’s enthusiasm rubbed off on you without even trying? Enthusiasm is infectious, so let yours shine through in your writing and your involvement and connection with your reader will be sky high.

 

So next time you’ve got a great article that just doesn’t seem to be hitting the spot, give these tips a try and watch your popularity soar.