You must make your web site really easy to read

Readers of web sites do it quickly; they take a quick glance, get the gist of what is being said and then move on. Few people spend hours poring over every last detail of your web site or blog. To be sure those people understand, you need to aim your writing for primary school children.

I’ve been testing the readability of a random sample of 50 web sites and blogs and most of them are at the “Graduate” level. In other words, you need to have a degree to understand them. That’s not good.

So that people can understand your web site you need to be writing for children aged around eight or nine years old. The reason is that we cannot understand information and remember it unless we read it carefully. But almost all the reading we do online is rather casual and we don’t approach it in the same way as we would a text-book, for instance.

New research underlines the importance of making your web site really easy to read. Psychologists at the University of Connecticut looked at whether regular users of Instant Messaging understood what they read.

Unsurprisingly the distraction of instant messaging meant that comprehension fell – as did exam scores. However, while people are looking at your web site they are also using something like using MSN, or Twitter. Or they are checking emails in a separate window on their desktop. Fewer and fewer people are reading web sites and blogs as a “single task”.

They can only grab limited information from your web pages. That means if your pages are written in difficult to understand language you won’t get your message across too well. However, the benefit of aiming your writing at primary school children is that it can be absorbed with less mental effort. This means you get your message across even if your audience is also doing something else like instant messaging.

You can always check the readability of your blog or web page by pasting the text into this readability service. I did so for this page and you’d need to be around 14 years old to understand it – still far too high for my liking.

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