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on Conversion Rate Optimization

Here’s the thing: nobody reads copy.

With the human attention span becoming less than that of a goldfish (eight seconds against nine), writing an engaging copy is a challenging task. According to past research published by Nielsen Norman Group, 79% users scan any new page they come across and only 16% read word by word. The same holds true today, with users finding time to read only 28% of the copy on an average visit.

And of course, unless users understand what your offering is, they won’t do business with you.

So here’s the problem and solution, in two parts:

1) How do we get our users to read website copy?

By ensuring high website readability.

2) How do we ensure our website copy is readable?

Exactly what we detail out in this post, illustrated with examples and tips.

Now before we look at how to arm a website with truly readable copy, let’s be sure what we are talking about.

What is Readability Really?

According to Nielsen Norman Group, the three key barriers to writing effective web copy are:

  • Legibility: Clarity of visual design and typography.
  • Readability: Complexity of words and sentence structure.
  • Comprehension: Ease of understanding the text and drawing valid conclusions.

So strictly speaking, readability only concerns itself with the ‘complexity of words and sentence structure‘. This is a little different from the way readability is understood by most users. For instance, here’s the opening line on Wikipedia about readability.

Readability is the ease with which a reader can understand a written text. The readability of a particular text depends on content (for example, the complexity of its vocabulary and syntax) and typography (for example, its font size, line height, and line length).

In fact, Wikipedia specifically states, “Legibility is a component of readability.”

It’s safe to say that readability, as understood by most, assumes the roles of legibility as well as comprehension. To avoid ambiguity we’ll be using the term ‘website readability’ when we talk about this overarching meaning and simply ‘readability’ when we refer to ‘complexity of words and sentence structure’ in copy.

Read on for seven ways to improve the readability of your copy:

#1 Be Quick in Making your Point

As scanners begin to read your copy, they do a quick Cost and Benefit Analysis in their heads:

Cost : How much time and effort would reading this web page take?

Benefit: What useful information/solution will I extract from this web page?

If the perceived benefit outweighs the perceived cost, they read. How do you ensure that happens, really quick?

Inverted Pyramid Copywriting

One way is to make your point right up and then go on to explain the specifics and why users should believe you. This way of copywriting is called the inverted pyramid style. It helps users easily scan the main points and then decide for themselves if they want to go into the details. Further, use contextual headings, subheadings and keywords in bold so that the user can scan what you are offering. Here’s an example from Apple.

Inverted Pyramid Copywriting - an instance from Apple

Source: Kissmetrics.

APP Method – Agree, Problem, Preview

For business blogs and other content heavy pages, a tried and tested method of copywriting is using the APP method. The beginning of a post is dedicated to getting users to ‘agree’ on a common world view. Like how we began this post saying ‘nobody reads copy’. Once the reader agrees with it, the handshake is made. Then, go on to state the problem and make a promise to solve it. This is where the user is assured of the value from the post. Once you’ve roped the user in, present a preview of the solution and how it will change things for the better. Brian Dean admits to using this style extensively for Backlinko for a super four minutes and four seconds average time on page.

 #2 Assess Readability Quantitatively

Let’s face it, it’s not easy to objectively judge how ‘readable’ a text is. But there are standardized tools that help you objectively compare versions of a copy — readability tests. They calculate the complexity of words and sentence structure. Most tests provide you with either a numerical score or a grade level that determines how easy/difficult it is to read your copy.

For tests that provide a numerical score, the tests themselves recommend an optimum score. For tests that provide a grade level, the optimum grade level is the average reading grade level of the audience you are targeting.

In the US, the average is seventh to eighth grade level – this means that most people are comfortable reading text that is understood by 11 to 13 year olds.

Graph representing reading grade level of population in US
The average reading grade level in the US is 7th-8th grade (Source: Contently)

Here are some of the several readability tests to grade your copy:

Note: Try running multiple tests to evaluate your copy for a more accurate measure of readability.

Here are some tools that incorporate multiple tests to measure readability:

#3 Use Words That Your Users Understand

Users get comfortable with your writing when you filter out unnecessary jargon and trim down on fancy vocabulary. Using words that users can relate to is the key. Readability tests like Dale-Chall use a list of familiar words to gauge readability.

But to use words that your user is familiar with, you have to be familiar with your reader first. Give a little thought to the audience you are writing for, and try to keep your copy in sync with their cultural and educational background.

Here’s a citation to a paper on Pubmed. Papers by medical professionals are heavy on jargon. When writing health care manuals for the general public, this paper advises qualified staff to use language that 7th graders could understand.

Readability assessment of internet based consumer health information.   PubMed   NCBI
Paper assessing readability of health manuals for general public

Here is an example you will be able to relate to:

“Comprehensive lifestyle changes may be able to bring about regression of even severe coronary atherosclerosis after only an year, without using lipid-lowering drugs.” 


“Adopting a healthy lifestyle for an year can reduce symptoms caused by coronary heart disease without medication.”

See the difference? If you try running a readability test on both sentences, the second one is three grade levels down. Or simply, the second sentence makes sense to more of the target audience than the first.

Writing user-friendly copies is easy when you are using user-friendly words.Tweet: 7 Ways to Improve Readability of Web Copy

 #4 Measure Users’ Comprehension

Consider the following sentences:

  • He waved his hands
  • He waived his rights

Both sentences score well on readability tests. Both are short sentences employing short words. While everyone might understand the first sentence, the second sentence has bigger implications that might require a law degree to fully comprehend.

This is why it is important to not just make sure your copy is readable, but it’s also understandable.

You can test how familiar and comprehensible your copy is to the reader using a Cloze Test.

In Cloze test, readers are provided with a block of text with every fifth or sixth word blanked out. Users are then asked to fill those blanks as best as they can. The number of blanks they are able to fill with the right words is their score. If users get 60% or more right you can be fairly certain the text is comprehensible. For instance, consider this example below taken from BBC’s terms of use for its Online Services.

3.2.2 If you do not 1)____ a valid television licence you may not watch 2) __________ programmes using BBC Online 3)________ on any device (including 4) ______  phones, “smart” phones or 5) _______, laptops, tablets and personal 6) _________) at the same time ( 7) __ virtually the same time) 8) __ the programmes are being 9) _________, simulcast or otherwise made 10) _________ (by the BBC on 11) __________, unless you have a 12) _____ television licence. For more 13) ___________ on this requirement please 14) ___ the Frequently Asked Questions 15) __ you can contact TV 16) _________ by calling 0870 241 5590 or by visiting

Source: Sticky Content

It is important to understand that the Cloze Test is not an alternative to readability test. Instead, it involves feedback and participation from readers and measures their reading comprehension, not just how ‘readable’ a block of text is.

The only thing better than a copy, easy to read is a copy that’s easy to understand.Tweet: 7 Ways to Improve Readability of  Web Copy

#5 Pay Attention to Typography for Better Legibility

Copywriters and content specialists cannot do much about visual design. A copy-friendly visual design uses default typefaces, backgrounds and layouts that improve the legibility of your copy.

Use contrasting texts and text hierarchy. The text color should appear distinct against the background. Use headings and subheadings and bullet points to make the copy structured and organized.

Smashing Magazine recommends either 16 pixels or more for users to read from a comfortable distance of 28 inches from the screen.

Choosing the right typeface is important. Sans Serif fonts are relatively cleaner than Serif fonts. The primary goal is legibility. If you are using Serif fonts, don’t use it simply for aesthetics; use the ones that don’t challenge website readability.

Related Post: 5 Reasons You Shouldn’t Ignore Flat Design for Epic Conversions

Let’s have a look at the readers scanning pattern:

Tracking eye movement shows the F reading pattern
Tracking eye movement shows the F reading pattern

The line length that is actually read goes on decreasing as we go down the page. In addition to mental fatigue and short attention spans, it is physical fatigue as well. The eye movement from one direction to the other in order to read text gets tiring.

The optimum range for line length is about 45 to 75 characters. If the line is too wide, the user may not be able to focus from beginning to end. If the line is too short, the user may read the same words twice (doubling).

A short line height also increases the horizontal eye movement and exhausts our eyes.

Scanning through the text becomes easy with the optimum line length and height. It also makes reading less strenuous for the human eye.

Responsive web design takes care of adapting the line length to different device screens. You need not worry about fixing the line length with different screen sizes.

#6 Make Your Copy and Concept Stick to the Reader

If your user can comprehend your copy, the next step is to make a lasting impression. An impression helps recall and conclude the desired action. That’s the intended consequence of copy.

Dan and Chip Heath summarise conveying impressionable ideas in six principles in their book ‘Made To Stick’.

The six principles are (SUCCES) :

  • Simplicity: As discussed before, avoid complexity in the language and structure.
  • Unexpectedness: Make your copy interesting. Surprises could be interesting bits of information or surprising data, fun facts that are relevant, examples to illustrate.

Remember this from the opening of this post?

With the human attention span becoming less than that of a goldfish (eight seconds against nine), writing an engaging copy is a challenging task. According to past research published by Nielsen Norman Group, 79% users scan any new page they come across and only 16% read word by word. The same holds true today, with users finding time to read only 28% of the copy on an average visit.

Interesting? Fun fact? We thought so, too.

  • Concreteness: Be specific with numbers. Use stats and figures. Don’t use vague adjectives and long paragraphs. Listicles are popular for the same reason.
  • Credibility: Data points and numbers are instinctive to grasp on, says Dan Heath. The user remembers them more. They also make your copy more credible.
  • Emotion: Using emotion in your copy is to make it relatable – if readers relate, they remember. But be aware of the dangers of overstating a point.
  • Story: Do you remember what happened to Peter Pan? Thumbelina? Pinnochio? Because they are stories. Stories stick to users. See how J. Peterman weaves a story into their product descriptions. Go ahead, swoon.

Product Description at J. Peterman eCommerce Apparel Store

Adding emotion and stories is subjective from copy to copy. Emotional copies may not go down well when what is required is a rational approach. Use these elements with caution, when feasible.

A readable, comprehensible and impressionable copy can help meet your conversion goals.Tweet: 7 Ways to Improve Readability of  Your Web Copy

#7 Use Images to Drive Attention to Copy

It is no secret that relevant images solve the purpose of storytelling and emotional appeal. We discussed both these elements in the six principles that make users stick to your copy.

But did you know that images can be used effectively to shift the user’s attention to the copy on web pages? Here’s an example everyone’s seen:

Heat maps tracking user behaviour due to image
The baby’s gaze in the image got more attention to the copy

Users follow the baby’s gaze and their attention shifts to the copy, as the red spots on the heatmaps indicate.

Not just images, image captions are scannable elements as well. They are read 50% more than the rest of the copy and have a recall rate of almost 100%. Write your captions to capture interest just as you write headlines to woo the reader.

Exploit the scannable elements to drive attention towards copy.Tweet: 7 Ways to Improve Readability of Web Copy


Even with short attention spans, readers still read with purpose. To make readable copy, help the reader extract that purpose easily and effectively.

Have more tips out of personal experience? Post them in the comments as criticism or feedback.
On the bright side, not all copies go unread.


Interacts with people, machines and interfaces. Has an insatiable wanderlust. Likes to traverse through code, literature, music and places. Wants to invent more than discover.

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