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  • How Dumbed Down do You Have to Be?

    In today’s world, SEOs are telling copywriters that web copy needs to be written at a sixth grade level; otherwise it will go over the majority of the audiences’ head. Excuse me? How dumbed down do we have to get? I’m not saying use a bunch of ten dollar words in every post, but it can’t do any harm to stick in a word like subliminal once in a while.

    The real problem with the idea isn’t even that it insults the average web reader (although it does). It’s that it completely disregards the fact that ALL content should be geared toward your target audience. If your target audience is a bunch of twenty something’s looking for a fast place to score movie tickets or a hot club to hang out in for the night, quick ad copy with a straightforward message and a minimal vocabulary will probably do just fine.

    On the other hand, if you are offering professional solutions t professionals, you want to ensure that you are taken seriously. If the industry uses twenty dollar words, you have to keep in step.

    In was reminded of this recently when working on a site for a commercial application. They wanted quick and dirty content to get the site live. I made the mistake of following protocol, and spieling out ten pages that broke the application down so that a grade-schooler could understand it. It was nice and professional looking, don’t get me wrong, but it kind of was redundant for the intended audience.

    The site owner asked for a revision, and explained that the people reading this particular section of the site would be knowledgeable about the product already. The need was for a brief overview that showed how their product differed from others already on the market, and the assumption could be safely made that they were familiar with the industry terminology.

    It would have been nice to have had that info up front! I redid the pages, and the client was very happy. The point of the lesson I learned is that you always need to be sure what audience you are writing for – not all readers are created equal, even if some survey claims most read at the level of a sixth grader.

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