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Posted on 21 Feb '23

Why Our Postgraduate Marketing Needs High Readability

Simon Fairbanks is Head of Student Recruitment Events at the University of Nottingham. He previously worked as a Senior Content Strategist at Pickle Jar Communications. In this blog, he explains the importance of improving readability for a postgraduate audience.

What is readability?

Readability is a measure of how easily a person can understand our written content. We should all be aiming for high readability!

This can be achieved by:

  • Simple words
  • Simple sentences
  • Short sentences
  • Short paragraphs
  • Sub-headings
  • Bullet-points

There are lots of other methods too. Best practice for writing web content is to aim for a maximum reading age of 9.

But . . . we’re postgraduate marketers

You might encounter some pushback in your university. After all, we’re not marketing to 9-year-olds. We’re marketing to prospective postgraduate students. This is one of the most intelligent audiences on the planet.

This audience includes:

  • Final year undergraduates
  • Current postgraduates
  • Academic researchers
  • Working professionals
  • Older generations
  • Business leaders
  • Parents

Surely, surely, these accomplished people can handle a word with four syllables. They don’t need spoon-feeding our content in short, snackable bullet-points.

Why are we dumbing down our content for smart people?

Well . . .

Readability is sensitivity

We need to be sensitive to our audiences. Just because they can handle complex writing, doesn’t mean that they should have to. The people listed above already have incredibly demanding reading loads.

Consider their responsibilities:

  • Exams
  • Research
  • Meetings
  • Dissertations
  • Caring for a child
  • Caring for a parent
  • Caring for themselves
  • Running a company

They are busy, tired, distracted, stressed, multi-tasking. Their cognitive burden is under pressure. Their headspace is limited. We need to make their life easier with highly readable content. Otherwise, they won’t engage.

Complex wording will make it harder for them to complete a task. They will simply delete our email. Shut down their browser. Toss their phone aside.

They will find another university that is more accommodating.

And there are other advantages too.

Readability is accessibility

Readability allows us to engage a more diverse range of audiences.

For instance, readability helps with:

  • Anxiety
  • Dyslexia
  • Neurodiversity
  • Intellectual disability
  • Cognitive impairments
  • Motor impairments
  • Visual impairments

For example, if you have repetitive strain injury (RSI), it could be painful to scroll through cumbersome text. Clear, concise content requires less navigation.

Equally, readability is better for visual impairments. Short, simple sentences convey meaning in a smaller visual field.

And think of global accessibility too. Our universities have ambitious targets for international student recruitment. Many international students won’t speak English as their primary language. Readable content will be easier for them to understand.

Readability is discoverability

It’s not just our audiences who welcome readable content. Search bots like it too. They seek out webpages with headings, bullet points, and a low reading age, then report back to Google.

Google wants to signpost people to these readable webpages. It likes offering search results with a high conversion rate, and readable content is more likely to have returning visitors.

As such, readability will improve your Google ranking, so more people discover your content. This is a critical consideration in the competitive field of student recruitment!

Readability is sustainability

Digital content has a carbon footprint.

Longer webpages, blog posts, and emails require more energy to host. And a person will spend more time on a complex webpage than a short one.

If they are wrestling with our wording, then their tasks will take longer to complete. This means their electronic device will be switched on for longer.

Readability isn’t just helping our audience save time. It’s saving the planet.

Readability is quality

Readability is also a development opportunity.

We should challenge ourselves as marketing professionals to write better content. By aiming for readability, we are expressing ourselves more succinctly, clearly, inclusively.

And rest assured, readability doesn’t rule out creativity. Some of the most impactful campaigns have succeeded with just a few short words:

  • Think different
  • Rest in power
  • I’m lovin’ it
  • Just do it
  • Me too

And this simplicity makes them even more memorable and accessible. Imagine if we embraced a similar approach in the education sector! Simplicity could be our new superpower.

Remember . . .

There is nothing patronising or undermining about readability. Our audiences aren’t going to be impressed by convoluted content. But they will be impressed by a university which is considerate, helpful, and making their life easier.

Readability makes our content accessible to every audience around the world.

We’re not dumbing down.

We’re opening up.

Now that you know why you should improve your readability, you may wish to learn how. In this recorded webinar, Simon offers 23 ways to improve your readability in 2023.

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