Podcast 98: How to make your B2B content more readable and accessible

Sarah Winters of Content Design London shares tips to help you win over stakeholders, improve your clarity, and make sure your content doesn't accidentally exclude people.

Subscribe on Apple Podcasts. Grab the RSS feed. Download it. Or follow on Spotify.


In this month’s episode of Good Copy, Bad Copy, we’re talking about how to make your B2B content readable and accessible for the widest possible audience.

And who better to talk to on this subject than Sarah Winters, founder of Content Design London? In our feature interview, David and Sarah discuss how our readers really take in information… and how we can make our B2B content accessible and clear, even when writing about technical subjects.

Radix consultant writer George Reith is co-hosting, and talks to David about using contractions in B2B copy. Can they be a shortcut to friendlier sounding B2B content? And when are they best avoided to boost readability?

And as always, we’re sharing another tip from our own team of experienced copywriters. This month Consultant Copywriter Kieran Haynes is on hand with a counterintuitive way to beat the clock when you’re on deadline.

You’ll find a full transcript of our podcast at the end of this post.

What steps can B2B Marketers take to make their content clear and accessible? 

Between 2010 and 2014, Sarah Winters and her team at the Government Digital Service invented the discipline of Content Design, applying new techniques that shifted the focused to user-centred content.

According to Sarah, a lot of people approach writing B2B content differently to content created for consumer markets. Sarah shared some simple things to keep in mind that will boost accessibility and readability for your B2B reader.

Remember your reader is human… just like you

Essentially, readability is about talking to the human; the fact your user is representing a business shouldn’t change that. So, think about the way people take in information. Then, consider what they’re trying to achieve – whether that’s registering for your latest webinar, or gaining a deeper understanding of a technical subject in an eBook. Finally, serve them the information they need to complete their task, in the clearest way you can.

User researchers are your new best friends

It goes without saying that strong user research makes for better B2B content and streamlined online journeys. But it also eases the content sign-off process with stakeholders. You’ll find challenges and push-backs are resolved more easily when you can show your content decisions are insight-led and backed by research.

Some jargon is good (yes, we really mean that)

B2B has a bit of a bad rep for loving a buzzword. We’re still not fans of those. But sometimes a specialist term is really the right word to use for your audience. Sarah suggests the best approach to technical language and jargon is to offer an explanation the first time you use it on a page, and make sure that the words around it act as markers that offer context.

Tiny changes can make a big difference to accessibility

If your content is not accessible, it’s not useful. To boost accessibility in your B2B content, Sarah suggests thinking about language first. Small changes to sentence structure and length are an easy place to start. And will make all the difference to everyone who reads your content.

At Content Design London, Sarah’s team don’t talk about Plain English, which sounds boring and makes people switch off. Instead they champion Clear English. And being clear is all-important for frictionless B2B marketing content. Making content easy to read is a great starting point for making it accessible to more of your target audience.

Sarah shares many more insights and examples with us in the interview, so have a listen… and if you’d like to know more, it’s worth diving into the Readability Guidelines wiki and Sarah’s game-changing book, “Content Design”.

In the rest of the podcast, you’ll also hear an insightful conversation into the best use of contractions in B2B copy between David and George. Spoiler alert: if you find yourself writing shouldn’t’ve, you’re doing it all wrong.

In this episode, you’ll find…

00:57 – A warm welcome for our Radix guest co-host, George Reith.

02:18 – David talks about accessibility and readability with Sarah Winters.

17:15 – George and David discuss jargon, the best use of contractions in B2B writing, and the apps and algorithms that can help boost readability scores in your writing.

35:10 – We announce the winners on our Content Design London resource packs, and hear their winning tips for making B2B content readable and accessible. Thanks to everyone who entered and shared their advice with us.

41:00 – Kieran’s copywriting tip of the month: how to plan your writing time.

Was this your favourite episode yet?

We’d love to hear your thoughts. Tweet us at @radixcom on Twitter or pop us a message on podcast@radix-communications.com. (Or, if you fancy your chances of appearing on the podcast, send a voice memo our way.)

How to listen:

Transcript: Good Copy Bad Copy 98: Readability and Accessibility

Speakers:

  • Sarah Winters, Founder at Content Design London
  • David McGuire, Creative Director at Radix
  • George Reith, Consultant Writer at Radix
  • Kieran Haynes, Consultant Writer at Radix

Sarah Winters: The people who are the most well read, don’t want to marvel at your GCSE English skills…

David McGuire: Hello listener and thank you for joining us for episode 98 of Good Copy, Bad Copy, the B2B copywriting podcast. We’re really very grateful for your company.

George Reith: And this month we’re going to be talking about how to make your B2B content readable and accessible to the widest possible audience. And we have an in-depth interview with an expert on that very subject: Sarah Winters from Content Design London.

David: My name is David McGuire, I’m Creative Director at Radix Communications, which is a B2B tech copywriting agency, and I’m delighted to be joined by a familiar guest co-host for this episode. It’s the smooth sounds of Radix consultant writer, George Reith. George, welcome.

George: Hi David, and hi listener, thank you both for letting me come back again.

David: It’s always a pleasure to have you here apart from that you made me sound bad.

George: I was just going to say it’s sad that you’ve given me such a warm welcome. I wish I got this kind of welcome everywhere I went really.

David: I can’t speculate why that might not be the case. So speaking of going places, I think by the time this is broadcast, or podcast. The Freedom Day will have come and gone. Are you feeling the freedom yet?

George: David, I’d ask you know, are any of us ever truly free? Even when Freedom Day comes and goes, I’ll still be bound by the meat cage that is my body, and pinned by the weight of existential dread, so…

David: Okay so moving swiftly on. George, I’m sure you know the drill by now please can you tell the listener, how they can get in touch with us.

George: Sure thing. Listener, if you have any comments, questions or suggestions you can get in touch with us via email – podcast@radix-communications.com. Or on Twitter – @radixcom

David: Thank you very much.

George: So David, you’ve wanted to get this month’s guest onto the podcast for quite a while, haven’t you?

David: Yeah that is absolutely true, actually. So, when I saw Sarah Winters speak at The Copywriting Conference, it completely changed how I thought about those conversations that you have with stakeholders about making content clear and readable. I mean, she’s genuinely just one of the best speakers I’ve ever seen.

Sarah is the founder of Content Design London, and she’s the author of one of my favourite books, and she was really fundamental in making gov.uk an accessible site. So she knows a thing or two about that awkward chat where you get accused of dumbing things down. I was obviously really delighted when she agreed to talk about making B2B content clear and accessible. So I started by asking her, “Why should a B2B marketer care about readability anyway?”

Sarah Winters: It’s interesting because a lot of people will pull B2B away from any other market and it’s daft, because there are humans in businesses, there are humans that run businesses. So essentially readability is about talking to the human. The fact that they represent a business is neither here nor there, really.

The way that we take in information and the way that we process it in our brains goes one way, regardless of your language, regardless of your culture, regardless of where you’re sitting on a neurobiological level, it goes in one way. If you have a cognitive challenge or you have a disability, then of course your other senses, or the other ways that you take in information, will do their funky thing but essentially it’s still processed the same way, unless you’ve had like a lesion on the brain from when you were born.

So I find it really odd that people care about readability, depending on the way that you define it, in their day-to-day lives. But they completely divorce it when it comes to business. They’re like, in my day to day life I want you to get to the point, I want you to be amusing or engaging, or, you know, funny. I want you to be tearful, I want you to be, whatever. But I want to essentially complete your task, but when I’m at work I want something completely different.

That doesn’t happen. Never happens. You are a human and you bring everything with you, all the time. You do change slightly when you go to work, and you will maybe introduce specialist terms, or jargon, and that’s fine. There are ways of getting around that so that you’re inclusive and specific. But readability, depends on how you define it, and why you don’t care about it, rather than why you should care about it, if you see what I mean.

David: Yeah, so, how would you define, are there ways of defining that you think are particularly helpful?

Sarah: For us, we just term everything as accessible and inclusive.

David: Right.

Sarah: A lot of people will talk about plain English, and we tend not to. We changed it a little while ago, we’ll now talk about clear English, because if it’s plain, people think boring. And if people think readable, they think, boring. And that’s not the case at all. It just means that you’re being clear, and I think though a lot of people, particularly in a B2B setting, they need to be clear because there’s competition for everything. Right? If you’re not frictionless. If you’re not able to get people through a process, or into your sphere to become your brand champions, whatever it is, if you can’t do that in an easy clear way your competitors will. And you will have lost out.

David: I think one of the things I guess that comes into it, is where you talked about the technical specifics and the jargon that people need to use. Is that something that you find in the clients that you’ve worked with?

Sarah: Yeah, it’s stupid things. Nuances, like, “I’d like a 72 word sentence please with all high punctuation”. It’s like: “Why? You know that you’re going to dump 90% of your audience once you start hitting 14 to 19 words, don’t you? And it’s just about why are you losing so many people?” That’s my kind of question. But you could do really easy things with your content to make it open and inclusive.

David: So, what sort of things would you suggest?

Sarah: So, one is actually to know your user journey. And I don’t mean the sales funnel, I mean the user journey. Nobody wakes up in the morning thinking a brand new idea, you’ve got seven to nine, or seven to twelve, unconscious thoughts before you can make a conscious decision about anything. That language is coming from somewhere. And is it the specialised language or not?

So by understanding the journey that people go through to get to you, and what language they’re bringing with them, and what preconceived ideas that they have, you can actually work out where those specialist terms should be.

So, if you work from a user-centred perspective, you would have, I don’t know, social media and mainstream media and all of these things that kind of inform the way that you think about something. And you can use more lay terms there, and introduce specialist terms.

The way to introduce specialist term is to just introduce it the first time you use on a page. That’s it. But often people will pull things that should be two or three steps down the line, up-front. And that’s where they lose people. And nobody by the way, is using terms like “synergy”, or whatever it is that you’re using. You know what I mean, you can use them, but know where it is in the journey. That’s the crux of it.

If you’re introducing a term, like I say, use it the first time you use it on the page, and work out all the words around it, so you’ve got context markers throughout a paragraph. Any paragraph, doesn’t matter how big or small, you will have context markers. So your brain is kind of telling you something about the content before it happens. If those are too heavy. You will get people switching off.

And again, they’re going to go to your competitors, they’re not going to stay with you. So you need to work out how much emphasis you want to put on your jargon and on your specialist terms. And what it’s going to cost you.

So if you have a 72 word sentence, loaded with jargon, loaded with buzzwords, you can do eye tracking, you can get eye trackers really cheaply now, and watch people skim through the middle of it, get to the end and either bounce out or carry on. But where they trust you less, because you can test for that as well, or that they’re disengaging with you.

So you’ve really got to have that conversation with stakeholders, I normally term it as, “Do you want them to read it, or do you want them to act on it?” Because often, those can be two different things.

David: Sure.

Sarah: And then with the reading thing, “Do you want them to read it, or do you want them to engage?” Because those are two different things. And so you have to have that balance because if you get boring the brain shuts down and then that’s that.

David: Because people will say, our audience are very, very, very, very smart, they’re very, very educated. If it doesn’t sound like a PhD thesis, no one’s going to read it. But that’s not true.

Sarah: That’s not remotely true. There was a study, I’m trying to think of it off the top of my head, where somebody was saying, the most intelligent people on the planet are the most well-read. And the people that are the most well-read. Don’t want to marvel at your GCSE English skills.

David: True.

Sarah: They want to get what you have to say, and apply it to their own lives, to their own context because they’ve got a lot of reading to do, they’ve got a lot to get through. And it’s not to wade through your sentence structure. And often readability, accessibility, usability has nothing to do with intelligence. It has more to do with boredom, Are you boring me, because you’ve got a long sentence, you’re not getting to the point fast enough, you are not engaged.

I’m not talking about funny cat GIFs, or whatever, shoving those everywhere, not that. People come with a task, again, knowing your user journey. Where’s the task ? Where am I able to be amused? Where am I able to be engaged? And where do I want to do a task? And then reflecting that journey back to them. That is the most effective way of getting to people.

David: I’ve noticed that one of the things that you’ve researched is the impact of contractions on readability and accessibility. I think as copywriters, particularly in B2B, you know, people want the copy to sound friendly, they want it to sound conversational, like you’re talking to a human being. Contractions are a huge go-to. It’s like, yes, use them, you know, please. It’s not as simple as that, is it? There’s another side to it.

Sarah: Yeah, there is. Jo Schofield did a Medium post. She was working for Co-Op or DWP at the time, and they did some testing on contractions. English as a second language, particularly, find contractions very difficult. And other people are looking for the word, ‘not’.

So, when we read, you have three eye fixation zones and the third one is where your brain says, “Do I need to read that word or not?”. Now the word ‘not’ could be the only thing that turns that sentence or that paragraph from positive to negative.

And when people have that in mind because they are task orientated rather than engagement orientated, and they miss it, they could literally read a piece, think it’s positive, and it won’t be. It’ll be negative, because it’s literally hanging off an apostrophe.

So you need to be careful. Of course, if you go, “would not, could not…” Well that has a tone, but remember, it’s only one contraction into two words, that’s it. The rest of your piece can handle it. So if you think that your, your entire work is hanging off a contraction, then I would probably look at all the things that are going on in the page.

But, just be aware that particularly negative contractions can be difficult for English as a second language, and people with learning disabilities. There’s 1.4 million people in this country with a learning disability. They have jobs. They will be on the other end of the business that you are trying to engage with, so just, is it worth it? That is the question.

David: That seems like a good way to segue into making things accessible for people with disabilities of one kind or another. Readability and accessibility are quite closely linked, in that sense.

Sarah: I think they should be. If it’s not accessible, then it’s not useful. Basically, there’s 13.9 million registered disabled people in this country. That’s not even including temporary disabilities like migraines, stress – which a lot of people in this country will understand now.

David: So, I mean in a B2B context, when people are making content for B2B marketing, what are the main things they should be thinking of from an accessibility point of view?

Sarah: Probably, language first. What languages and where. Sentence structure and length. These are all tiny things that just make such a massive difference. And it is that jargon, it’s that jargon. There is a stack of research out there, that people can use to kind of bash their stakeholders with.

And even in this country, a B2B example will be the Health Regulatory Authority took the government to court, because their website was legally signed off by lawyers, it was 100% legally compliant, but it was confusing because there was too much content on the pages.

So a High Court judge declared it in favour of the defendant – in this case, Richmond Pharmaceutical Company. And so the government had to pay loads of money, and loads of charges, and all this sort of thing. Because the website was confusing. So a High Court judge set a precedent in this country: you can be legally correct. If you’re confusing, you can be taken to court for it.

David: Where can the listener find out more about you, and more about the resources that you share?

Sarah: So everything is on Content Design.London. We have a Readability Guidelines Wiki – it’s in the book as well. It’s in a free wiki that you can just go and see. And it’s everything that I’ve talked about, has research backing this up. And so when you go into a conversation, you can pretty much stay quiet and say, “You see this research, you see this research, you see this research, what you want to do?”. So if you have a look at Content Design London, or we’re on Twitter, which is @contentdesignln. And we put a lot of our research out there as well, so everything that we say is backed up by usability.

David: You said this was a market you really wanted to talk to. So, what did you really want to say to B2B marketers, while you have their ear.

Sarah: I see you. I know how difficult it can be. We’ve done it as well, so I know how difficult it can be to explain to stakeholders that they do not need to have all the marketing, and all the jargon, and put out everything that they’ve ever thought, ever, onto the internet. There is research out there and your best friend will be a trained user researcher. Because they can go out and get videos, really quickly, of people failing and getting bored, which you may not be able to get from your analytics, but you will be not grabbing them to convert. So, your best friend will be a user researcher.

David: Thank you so much, Sarah, it’s great to finally hear from you on the podcast, and so much practical advice for our listener. George, what stood out there for you?

George: So what stood out for me, is that I think Sarah has somehow dived into my brain, or at least my copy, and is personally calling me out for my use of contractions. In all seriousness, a lot of really interesting points here and things that I sort of, I think, take for granted sometimes. Maybe just do by default, and suddenly listening to that I’m now starting to interrogate that a little bit more.

Because to me, I’m just, like, contractions all the time. Obviously it makes things sound more casual, it’s like a free way to kind of get a bit more flow in your copy, and especially when you’re writing about something quite dense and technical and abstract and complicated. Having that kind of free, easy way in the copy make things a little smoother, a little easier to read, to a native English speaker, of course, that’s the default for me.

But obviously I’ve foolishly not really considered how it might read for somebody who doesn’t have English as their native language and might be using it as a second language, and therefore contractions suddenly reduce readability. That was an interesting one for me.

David: Yeah, I mean because you’ve got the whole thing with English as a second language, or you’ve got whether they’re reading on, say, a mobile device, which adds a whole bunch of cognitive load anyway. I get it ,but still, at the same time, from a voice and tone point of view, if you don’t use contractions at least some of the time, your brand can sound like a pompous ass.

So, I think there’s a balance. Our colleague John actually wrote a really good blog post about this, he had a dive into the research. I think, you know, the bit that Sarah was saying about the negative contractions, in particular, I think those are the ones that are particularly important.

I think, some kind of simple positive contractions are fine. But then there are ones that are either excessively complicated or they’re negative. You know, if you find yourself writing ‘shouldn’t’ve’, or something like that, then maybe think twice about it. But I think there’s a balance, I think maybe some contraction use is okay.

Are you one for being very standard within the client’s brand, copy, about which words you will contract, and which words you won’t? Because I tend to feel like, again in the spirit of writing as you’d speak, I wouldn’t always contract, or not contract, certain words. And, so I mean, I’m actually deliberately inconsistent about it in the content that I write, but I don’t know if that would just really wind people up.

George: Yeah, it’s interesting, actually, because I, I think I’m alarmingly consistent at just contracting absolutely any word, where it’s appropriate, and probably some where it’s inappropriate to be consistent.

David: You’re just alarmingly consistent in general.

George: If you say so. But I’m a big ‘contraction-er’, I don’t know if that’s a term. I’m going to make it one.

David: You are now.

George: So yeah, but this is really interesting. The idea that some stuff adds more cognitive load when it’s contracted than others. So the negative element is a really valuable point. Especially, Like Sarah said, when the only thing that signifies you’re talking about negative is the contraction.

But then it’s also easy to miss if you’re skimming through a document. So I guess there must be a line there right of sort of where it seems inconsistent versus where actually you’re doing the reader a favour, and I think finding that line is going to be an interesting one and I guess it will depend massively on what you’re writing.

I suppose, like if it’s, you know, quite short, to the point important message about what a reader should do about something, like a practical guide, maybe you don’t want to contract as much. But if it’s a much longer piece maybe contractions would be okay, because you’ve got more text to kind of work around and show when you’re switching to a negative.

Although, that’s contradicting myself straight away, maybe a longer piece you can get away with less contractions. Because it’s such a long piece, there’s already a lot of cognitive load associated with it. Does that make sense?

David: I think so. Yeah I think so. I think some of it is about where you are in the document and what you’re trying to do. I think sometimes you can be at a part of the document where you want to slow things down, and be really serious. You know, like I said, sometimes in an email, you know, you might want to say, “we won’t bother with so and so…”  or in another sense you might say, “we will not do this”.

George: Yeah, I just wanted to say about how refreshing it was to hear somebody talking about B2B content, and saying hey, a little bit of jargon is fine. And that’s nice because whenever I attend a copywriting conference, someone always goes like, “jargon is the worst thing you got to get rid of all of it, that’s the main culprit of overly complex writing in B2B.”

And I sort of get where they’re coming from and obviously some jargon is less helpful than others but you know. Yeah, it’s nice to hear somebody really knows what they’re talking about saying hey, you know, jargon is how people understand their industry. And sometimes it’s fine. Assuming you can get the rest of the sentence to be pretty straightforward, having specific terms that apply to that industry is important and useful. Those terms do mean something. And it’d be silly not to use them.

David: It’s all about speaking the language isn’t it. It’s all about speaking their language that they actually use. I think the issue that we have, particularly in B2B writing and B2B tech writing, is that people have come to, I don’t want to say misunderstand what jargon means but certainly the meaning of the word jargon has expanded, the accepted meaning. So, strictly speaking, it is that the terminology of your industry.

So we’re both copywriters, I can talk about an Oxford comma and you’ll know what an Oxford comma is. Now, it has kind of expanded to when people talk about jargon to include all of the kind of business bullshit terms that go in. You know, “oh it’s innovative solutioneering”

George: Synergistic! I actually don’t think ‘synergistic’ has actually been used by people for like, what 15 years at least. That used to be the standard, okay here’s you know, business BS right here.

David: Yeah, “Let’s leverage our solutions”, all that stuff. But, you know, I think that because there still is a certain element of technical specificity, which is hard for me to say, on a Friday.

If you think about it, what I like to do is think about the water cooler or the break room where your audience works.

And if you think about two engineers or two technical people. Two experts, you know, they’re not going to say, “the big machine’s broken again, the red light is flashing. It’s hurting. Can someone make it less sad? Can they come and make it all better?” They’re going to talk about the specifics.

But neither are they going to say, “Ah! The Flugelbinder is operating at sub-optimal efficiency once again, this is a most inconvenient turn of events. We should arrange for a Maintenance Solution to leverage his expertise forthwith.”

George: I’ve never written about a Flugelbinder before, but I really want to now. It sounds quite exciting.

David: I’m going to have to invent it. So that you can. See, there’s a bit in between, where we use technical specifics but in short, easy to understand sentences.

Because when you talk about talking their language in a B2B tech context, you talk about technical specifics but presented in a simple way.

George: Yeah absolutely and I think as well, if he tried too hard to simplify something, and avoid those terms that that people are actually using, I think it just sounds weird, you know. Like an engineer would look at it and be like, “Why aren’t you talking about these things?”. “What are you talking about? You’re not using any of the terms I would expect to see in a document about, I don’t know whatever it would be, DevOps or what have you…” I don’t think there’s any point avoiding it for the sake of it, right?

David: It’s all about the context. It’s all about the audience and speaking their authentic language. I think when you’re talking with jargon, a lot of complexity gets dragged in. And so, it was a while ago now, but you did look into readability and things for us and you wrote that fabulous blog that has sections of different Flesh Kincaid grade levels, and that kind of thing. I mean, do you find yourself ever kind of looking to algorithms and things just to kind of give you a steer if your content is in the right kind of area readability wise?

George: Yeah I did try to. I do, but in a quite a gentle way. I mean, you know I’ve been doing this a fair few years now. So, more often than not, on a default job I’ll kind of just assume the stuff I write is at least mostly readable, like you’d like to think after eight years I can at least do that, right?

But, if there are special requirements, if I’m writing something that’s definitely going to be translated into other languages, then I suddenly think, okay, well, the burden of readability here is going to be greater, because you know there’s a lot of stuff that will translate quite poorly. Or make the translators job the hell on earth and I don’t want to do that.

I’ll run through stuff, just to make sure I’m certain that nothing is really going to throw a spanner in the works. I do find them useful as well in general, just every now and then, just to make sure things are on track, but I think I get a bit frustrated sometimes with how they’re used in other organisations.

So I’ve only had a few clients before that have said, “Right, this piece of writing, it’s got to hit 9 on the Flesh Kincaid grade, anything above a 9 we won’t accept.”  And you know, I’m looking at how that algorithm works and I’m like, yeah, but you know the whole blog is about DevOps solutions and the single phrase ‘DevOps solutions’ spikes that algorithm by like a point in whatever sentence it’s in.

That’s a bad example but you know you get these terms that are quite long quite complicated terms. You can’t not use them because that’s what the blog is about, and you’re sat there arguing with somebody. “I know you said you needed a 9, but I’ve got, got it as a 9.2 Is that okay?”

And as long as people are willing to flex a little bit here and there, I think it’s fine to ask a writer to do that sort of thing. I’ve had some awkward conversations about, no, no, it’s got to be below nine, it has to be. And I’m sat there thinking, I don’t think it’s possible when you’re talking about server virtualisation. there’s too many syllables in that word, I cannot get this down further.

And I appreciate I’m going places about this, I have way more thoughts about this topic than I thought, David, you’ve awakened something within me. One more thing I found as well is that I’ve noticed recently I’ve had quite a few clients ask me to run this stuff through the Hemingway app.

David: Oh yes?

George: And I think the thing that I find interesting about that is, I did a lot of stuff in the Flesh Kincaid reading score. I quite like that, as a readability metric to aim for, because it’s very transparent what it’s calculating. You can look it up, it’s a known thing online. And it’s just sort of the amount of words in a sentence,

David: It’s words and syllables.

George: Exactly. So that’s great because I can look at it and if my score is crazy high, I know what to do to fix that, I need to go back and reduce the amount of words, reduce the amount of syllables in the words, and I’ll start getting somewhere.

Some of these algorithms though, like the Hemmingway app, it didn’t feel quite as obvious or transparent to me. Now I haven’t done a lot of work in it, maybe there is a really obvious algorithm that I just don’t know about yet.

But it’s when I don’t know what it’s looking for, I’m there like, how do I start reducing this number? What do I need to do to make this more readable according to this specific app? So I think that’s a bit of a danger there, I prefer something that’s less of a black box, but there we are.

David: And you’re a kind of expert on Grammarly at Radix, as well…

George: Well, I wouldn’t call myself an expert I think I’m just by default the guy that was left holding the bag, when people went, “Right, someone needs to train everyone on Grammarly and everyone ran away, and it was just me left standing there.”

David: As most technical person in the organisation. With Grammarly you’ve got different flavours, it asks you to suggest which kind of flavour of copy you would like.

George: Yeah I’m quite impressed with Grammarly on that front actually. Because I hadn’t used it for a while, and you know I remember seeing early reviews of it, it sounded like it was all quite general. But seeing they’ve now implemented these things, I don’t know how long this has been in there, but now I’ve started using it again. You know, you have these radio buttons, you can dial in, “How technical is the person you’re writing for?’ That kind of thing. “Is this for business, or consumer stuff?”

That’s really cool to be able to narrow that down, but again I do sort of feel sometimes, it’s very simple to use, which is great, but as a result they don’t give you a huge amount of info on all these different things.

So I’ve set mine to obviously be for a business context of writing. And then I’ve set it to be for professionals. But I could set it to be for academic people. And I’m like, what would it pick up for academic people that it won’t pick up for professional people? Where’s the line there for Grammarly?

I’m sure there’s all sorts of complex rules in place to make a distinct way of writing for both of those people and give you different suggestions. I haven’t played around with it enough yet, but I would love just to have a list of things that I could look at on Grammarly’s website, or a wiki somewhere, or something, so I know what kind of things it’s going to be looking out for.

Because, who knows maybe ‘academic’ would be more suitable for some jobs? I don’t know yet. And I can’t find out unless I start playing around with it. Maybe it’ll be homework for me I don’t know.

David: Sarah also talked a bit about making content accessible, as well as readable, to make sure that people with different  abilities, and visual impairments and things, can access your content. Are we seeing our clients doing anything new or different? Or giving us anything kind of standard in the style guide and things? I mean, some things we just, you know, have been left I think in some cases to work out for ourselves as writers.

George: Yeah, I mean, you know what I still feel that’s what’s happening. I mean you know I would really love to have been able to give you a great answer here of, look at all these clients they’ve been doing all these amazing things, really putting it front and centre.

I’m not quite seeing that myself just yet. I may have been unlucky, or maybe I just haven’t asked enough questions for them to talk to me about accessibility thoughts they’ve been having in their content.

But you know, I know there are some specific elements of copy though that a lot of people have been talking about industrywide for a while. I know CTAs have kind of been the big one for a while, particularly. I think, there seemed to be an era, about five or six years ago, where every CTA button was “Get it now” or “Learn more”, or something like quite high level and vague.

And then I feel like we had a bit of a turning point, where a lot of people picked up that this is awful for screen readers. They’re like, get more info on what get what. And so you’re seeing a lot more specific CTA buttons. Text that says, you know, download the eBook, get the ‘name of the report’. So I was sort of seeing small nudges towards accessibility like that.

But for me, it tends to come from like other writers, rather than clients pushing it from the top down. Which is fine, I think, but it’s a shame. I think if more clients started thinking about it and telling their contractors, their writers, their employees, to push these things we might see change happen faster, so I’d love for that.

David: Yeah and it might be something that actually we need to get a style guide together and push on it, because it’s not right that people just can’t access your stuff. I mean, from a moral and a business point of view.

George: Obviously accessibility is mega important for people who, you know, can’t listen to things because of a hearing impairment. But also just in terms of usability for somebody who can hear, it’s a great thing too. Because you know, if you’re on a crowded bus and you haven’t got any headphones, brilliant. I mean, I used to have that thing, ads are getting smarter about this now, I’m sure you’ve had it where you’re scrolling Facebook or Reddit, or what have you, and you see an ad pop up, and it’s got audio, and no subtitles.

And I might actually be quite interested in what this ad is promoting, but at the moment there’s no audio. I’m sat on a bus, I’m not going to turn on audio for an ad and blast that out of out my speakers on this bus, right? No chance, I’m skipping that. But if you’ve got subtitles, I might look and go like, “Oh look this man’s waiting for a call from someone, but his phone’s waterproof, so it doesn’t matter he dropped it in a puddle”. But, no subtitles? No chance, I’m not buying it.

David: I’m chuckling about this elaborate bus story, when actually you’re talking about browsing Facebook in the office. aren’t you?

George: Oh yeah, I mean, to be clear I haven’t ridden the bus since the beginning of the pandemic. So yeah I tried to make myself sound really down to earth, “Yeah, I get on the bus too, you know, I do the public transport”. No. I’ve just been a hermit for ages, so no bus and no advert about people dropping phones and puddles. But you can see it happening, right? That that wasn’t a terrible example.

David: So I think that one of the things that we said is that it’s good to have guidelines and to get some stuff in place. And actually we’ve got an opportunity for some people to win some  guidelines. So let’s hand them out, shall we?

George: So David, are you telling me we have honest to God prizes to hand out this month?

David: Unbelievably, that is true. After we finished recording, Sarah generously offered us three prize bundles to give away. Each of them, comprises the Content Design London readability guidelines and a copy of Sarah’s book Content Design, which I highly recommend.

So, I took to social media and asked the audience. I said, “What is your best tip for making B2B content readable and accessible?” And we picked out three favourites, and we’ll send each of you a pack. George, do you want to know what they are? He said, rustling his papers.

George: Yes, I do.

David: Okay, he said, having destroyed some trees. Okay so we have some great responses. And the ones that we picked as our favourites are in no particular order… Livi Cracknell, who’s a Digital Content Strategist at Accenture Interactive, responded to us on LinkedIn.

She said, “I would approach it from a strategic point of view to ensure consistency and longevity. So first establish the guidelines that content must meet to be deemed clear and accessible. And when does it fall short? Group these into categories. Translate this into a framework, or a scorecard, or a checklist that could be used to govern the content creation process. And run all the content through this framework during the production cycle.”

Jennifer Law, who’s a Digital Marketing Manager at the Institution of Engineering and Technology, responded on the B2B Marketing Propolis hive for content and brand strategy, and she says, “Some of the things we do within my team are,” (There’s a bunch of these, but they’re all good – I said that, she didn’t). “Attend accessibility forums, held with various user groups in our organization to understand barriers, and then take these learnings back to see how we can apply them to our content.

“Number two, my team holds monthly accessibility meetings to agree on outcomes we are trying to achieve, to improve accessibility within our remit, We look at things like images, documents, page content, etc, and choose which ones to tackle next.

“Number three, we create short guides and ‘lunch and learns’ to educate stakeholders and business units involved in content creation, and to educate the agencies we use on our requirements.

“Number four, we regularly take time and read up on accessibility to understand more about this topic and discuss our meetings and agree on the next steps.

“Number five, we use Semrush and SiteImprove to run audits on our content. If we don’t own the content we talk to the business owners, about our findings and discuss potential changes we can make.

“And number six, we regularly conduct SEO audits to understand questions and the language people use to make sure that our content is readable and resonates with the needs of our audiences. PS, we have also recently completed an accessibility audit on some of our websites, and we are about to do the same on some of our downloadable content to understand how accessible they are.”

Wow, there’s a whole load there from Jennifer, who has more than earned a prize bundle, I think. And we didn’t just need, you know, reams and reams of suggestions. We also, on LinkedIn, had a response from Chomparani Ali who’s a content specialist in Germany. I think she’s in Germany. She says, “Clearly structure content with subheadings and bullet points, a lot of B2B blog posts ramble on with long sentences and paragraphs”. Amen to that.

George: I was going to say, we’ve all seen that. Fair play.

David: A wall of practical, usable advice and I think that they’ve all, earned themselves prize bundles, so we’ll be in touch to get your addresses and send those out to you. Well done to you, and thanks to everyone else who took the time to engage and sent tips. Obviously we can’t read all of them.

George: Okay, well, now it’s time for our copywriting for the month. This time it’s from Radix Consultant Writer, and International Man of Mystery, Kieran Haynes.

Kieran Haynes: Hi, I’m Kieran, I’m a Consultant Writer at Radix. My favourite copywriting tip is: don’t start writing before you’re ready. When I first began working as a copywriter, I can’t have spent more than twenty percent of my time planning what I was going to write. I would rush to get some words on the page, to protect me against the ever approaching deadline.

Then I’d edit, I’d rethink, I’d freak out, I’d unpick and I would restructure. It wasn’t a fun or effective way to work. Today I probably spend the majority of my time planning. I set out a narrative flow. I know what all my references and proof points are, and where I’m going to use them. I trust in my writing process even as the clock is ticking down, and my work has is much better as a result.

David: He does sound like an international man of mystery in that piece.

George:  If anyone in this business was going to turn out to actually be a spy or assassin, that I never knew about, I think it would be Kieran. Don’t tell him I said that, I don’t want him to get too big for his boots. But I could see him just going, “Yeah, I’m just going to Switzerland for a week”. And I would just be like, I know what you’re doing, you’re not going skiing.

David: I don’t know I think that Kieran would be too obvious.

George: I thought you were going to compliment him and say, “He’d be too nice. But no, too obvious…”

David: He’s too cool, He’s too cool. But yeah, as ever, Kieran, making the rest of us look bad, with his sheer thought process and discipline there. Do you agree with him, George?

George: You know, we were talking about this just earlier today, David. I mean, you know, I have an immense amount of respect for Kieran, because I see him as like, my polar opposite in how he approaches work. You know I feel I’m quite workman-like when it comes to approaching copy, but Kieran is ever the artiste. He is a man who accepts nothing less than perfection, and his planning process is in and of itself a work of art. I think he really commits to it and it produces really great content, so I can’t argue with the results, also unfortunately it couldn’t be me, I just dive straight in and get going and pick it apart like a sculpture.

David: I’m afraid that is all we have time for this month. Listener, join us again next time, when we’ll be talking to Paul Cash about emotion in B2B. In the meantime, George, would you thank our contributors and remind the listener, where they can get in touch, please.

George: Sure thing. So thanks again to Sarah Winters for such an informative discussion. Thanks to Kieran for his copywriting tip and continuing to make me look bad. And thanks and congratulations to our three prize winners, but most importantly, thank you listener for your company.

And please don’t forget, if you’d like to contact show you can do so on email: podcast@radix-communications.com, or on Twitter: @radixcom. And if you’re listening on Apple podcasts, please leave us a review; it would be great.

David: And thank you George for co-hosting, have you enjoyed it.

George: I always enjoy it, David. It’s always pleasure.

David: You never look like you’re enjoying it.

George: I’m one of these people, I’m cursed with everything I say sounds sarcastic, And it gets me in a lot of trouble. I’ll be talking to one of the guys in the office, and say, “That’s a really good piece of work, I guess”. And somehow they like think I’m making fun of them. I’m not, I genuinely mean it.

David: I’m one of the few people that’s old enough to remember that guy on The Mary Whitehouse Experience but, you know, none of the audience, none of the listeners, none of our colleagues will know who that is. So I will move on. Until next time, listener, remember, nobody will ever complain that you made something too easy to understand. Well, except for that one stakeholder. You know the one. Sorry.

David and George: Goodbye!

Acknowledgements and thanks

Thanks once again to Sarah Winters; it was great to finally hear from you on the podcast, and we hope you’ll come back soon.

Thanks also to George for co-hosting so smoothly, to Kieran the international superspy for making us all look bad with your copywriting tip. And thanks and congratulations to our brilliant competition winners: Livi, Jennifer, and Chomparani (who is indeed in Germany, it turns out).

Hello to Jason Isaacs.

And last but not least, thanks to Bang and Smash for mad podcast production skills.

Improve your own writing: get our monthly copywriting tips

Receive regular B2B content writing tips and advice — from our team of writers, direct to your inbox: