Writing SEO Content that Targets the Average Reader

  June 12, 2008   Category :     SEO Content Writing |SEO Copywriting   Philip O'Hara

Author: April Hall

Internet Copywriter

Internet copywriters are often a unique blend of accomplished, talented writers who also have an uncanny knack for marketing. We are skilled at taking those all-important keywords and creating content that flows well, provides information and is interesting to read. There are times, however, when some of us feel compelled to put marketing keywords on the backburner in favor of demonstrating our creative prowess when it comes to the written word. For those of us who create SEO content every day, and who work to create useful and understandable content for our readers, the following information about trusted newspaper and magazine publications may be extremely useful:

Plain-Language Services conducted a study of the world’s leading print publications, using the widely-accepted “Dale-Chall” formula that analyzes writing and gives each piece a grade level designation. Some of the world’s leading newspapers write at a surprisingly low grade level:

Grade Level and Circulation of Current Periodicals

Periodical Grade Level Circulation
Times of India 15 2,144,842
London Times 12 619,682
Los Angeles Times 12 1,292,274
Boston Globe 12 707,813
National Enquirer 12 2,760,000
Sydney Sun-Herald 12 393,000
China Daily 12 1,000,000+
Atlantic Monthly 11 1,500,000
Better Homes and Gardens 11 7,628,424
Atlanta Constitution 11 606,246
Cleveland Plain Dealer 11 479,131
San Jose Mercury News 11 298,067
New Yorker 10 1,900,000
New York Times 10 1,680,583
Washington Post 10 1,007,487
USA Today 10 2,665,815
TV Guide 9 13,200,000
The Sun (UK Tabloid) 9 3,541,002
Daily Mirror (UK Tabloid) 9 2,148,058
Harpers 9 230,159
Time 9 4,114,137
Reader’s Digest 9 12,212,040

>Were you as surprised as I was to learn that Harper’s writers target a 9th grade reading level? Or that the National Enquirer publishes at a 12th grade level? Here I was thinking that I looked like an intellectual by carefully displaying New Yorker magazines around my coffee tables, when I would have been better off picking up the latest tabloid in the grocery store line!

So, what does this information mean for those of us who work with internet copy? It means that we need to always keep our audience in the forefront of our minds as we create new content. If the largest print publications in the world–TV Guide and Reader’s Digest–understand that to reach the most people, the most effectively, writers need to aim for a 9th grade reading level, how much more carefully should internet writers use language?

The reality is that the internet is the reading source for millions of people around the world, so your content should definitely be geared to reach them. Unless you are writing an academic article for an online journal, you really shouldn’t be using language that only college graduates would understand; and, in fact, you should probably shoot for the grade level that local newspapers often target, which is a 5th grade level. As a former English teacher, it pains me to recommend that SEO writers lower their writing level to reach site visitors rather than to spur readers to stretch their level of understanding… However, as SEO writers, our purpose is to provide relevant, understandable information in order to promote our sites as well as our products and services.

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