I’d like to introduce you to David Leonhardt. Expert writer? Yes! Wordsmith extraordinaire? Absolutely. David is going to explain how we can improve our writing for digital marketing communications to sound crisper, stronger, and more confident.
There’s a useful download at the end of this article summarizing David’s five key tips for using plain English words to make the sale. Be sure to download it and share with your favorite digital copywriters.
Take it away, David!
What’s most important in digital marketing? Tools? Platforms? Search? Video? Artificial intelligence? Lists?
Or maybe it’s the words you use. This one fact is true: if people don’t read your message, you won’t make a sale. I’m not dissing all the shiny toys, but all your email marketing and SEO won’t work if you don’t get your words right.
Literacy rates around the world are abysmal. By around the world, I include in America. Over half of Americans cannot easily read to a grade six reading level. And if they can’t read your message easily, they won’t read it at all.
If they do read your message anyway, they are likely to misunderstand it. Or they might not understand it. So, you’ll have to hire extra customer service reps, adding to your overhead.
The good news is that it’s not that hard to write to a grade six level or below. I’m writing this post to under the grade 5 level, and I’m not dumbing it down one bit.
Shorter Words and Shorter Sentences
At the most basic level, shorter words and shorter sentences improve readability.
Yes, there is more to it. I go through 51 tips in my plain language writing guide. But if you take away just one thing from this article, take away a plan to shorten your words and shorten your sentences. The rest of this article is just mechanics – how to do it.
Start With the Words You Use
That’s where most people start. There are a few easy things you can do to use shorter words or use fewer words in your sentences. The beauty of this approach is that these five ways to shorten your words will also shorten your sentences.
- You can use shorter synonyms
- You can use the simplest verb tense
- You can remove meaningless words
- You can use the words people search with
- You can use verbs for actions, not the longer nounified forms
The shortest word is not always the best to use. There is more to a word than the number of syllables or the number of letters. The words people search with might not always be the shortest, but they are the customer’s language. The shortest word is not always the clearest, so be careful.
1. Use shorter synonyms
I am about to make a few enemies in the digital marketing world. Over the past decade, everybody is selling a “solution”. This is one of the most misused words ever, because there can be no “solution” until a problem is specified.
However, that’s not why you need to do better. You need to be clearer because that three-syllable word replaces words like “tool” and “app”. Those are good, solid one-syllable words.
Here are a few other needlessly long words we often read in the digital marketing world:
- Utilize (Write “use” instead.)
- Currently (Write “now” instead – if you write in the present tense, you don’t need either word.)
- Assist (Write “help” instead.)
- Assistance (Write “help” instead.)
- Demonstrate (Write “show” instead.)
- Difficult (Write “hard” instead, except where other meanings of hard could confuse people.)
- Individual (Write “person” instead.)
There are dozens, perhaps hundreds, of words we use that could be replaced by simpler, easier-to-read words.
2. Use the simplest verb tense
Unless you are talking about the past or the future, use the simple present tense whenever possible. That’s how we all learned to read.
Far too often, we use the present continuous tense. We might write: “I am blogging to drive traffic to my business.” Much better would be: “I blog to drive traffic to my business.” Your marketing materials will sound crisper and more action-oriented, as well as being simpler to read.
3. Remove meaningless words
Some words you don’t really need. Some words you don’t need. See how often you could remove one of these words from your sentence without changing the meaning one iota:
- Of the
- In reality
- Component (before “part”)
4. Use the words people search with
These words might not always be the shortest. But they will be most of the time.
They might not always be the simplest. But they will be most of the time.
They will always be the ideal words for your customers and for SEO.
In the long run, those words will help you reach a better grade level of writing.
5. Use verbs for actions, not the longer nounified forms
You might have hidden verbs. Check for nouns that end in ment, tion or ance. Check for delexical verbs (assistant verbs) like take, make, reach, give, offer or have. These often support nouns that describe an action.
Most of these should be verbs, rather than nouns.
Do you make a choice? Or do you choose? Sorry Rush.
Do you take proposed edits under consideration? Or do you consider proposed edits?
Do you submit your registration for a webinar? Or do you register for a webinar?
Do you make an announcement about a new service? Or do you announce a new service?
Do you have a discussion on the advertising proposal? Or do you discuss the advertising proposal?
You can see how much simpler your sentences are when you use a verb for action, rather than a noun supported by an assistant verb. It makes even more of a difference if you improve several sentences this way.
Your plain language edit is bigger than the sum of its parts.
You might wonder how important some of these tips are. Each of them seems to make so little difference. But when you combine them, your whole text looks, feels and is easier to read. When a reader is on the edge of a subconscious decision to keep reading or to do something more fun, every bit counts. Plain language makes the sale.