‘The grandma test’ and 4 other ways to gauge your content

From ‘the grandma test’ to personalizing your message, these guidelines can help you engage website visitors and email recipients alike.

Worried your digital and social media content aren’t effective? Worried your content isn’t connecting? Do people “get” what you do for a living and what you’re trying to say online? Here are five simple tests to determine whether your content is effective:

1. The grandma test. Ask your grandma (or any grandma or grandpa who doesn’t work for your organization) to review your content. This applies to your website, social media, digital marketing, or anything you’ve written or produced.

If a grandparent isn’t available, try this with a ninth-grader or even a college student (or all of these). Ask them to read your content and then tell you what your organization actually does. Also, ask how long it took for them to figure it out.

You’d be shocked how many outsiders look at a website and have no idea what that organization does. If Grandma can’t figure out what you do, the odds are Google and a good chunk of your market can’t find you by searching online.

The reason the grandma test works is that organizations are frequently overwhelmed by their own internal jargon as well as the buzzwords they’ve picked up. Many who build websites aren’t the best communicators.

Many in your office or industry use jargon and buzzwords, but most people—including many of your potential customers—don’t know what they mean. If they’re confused, they’re likely to simply stop reading or watching and move on to something they understand.

Problem: Not seeing the forest for the trees. You’re too close to your own organization, and you’re giving people what you think they want rather than what they actually need. My grandmothers were sharp, avid readers and full of common sense, but I never expected them to know the jargon or the internal politics of my world. When you’re talking respectfully to Grandma, you’re more likely to speak in a way that more people will understand.

Solution: You need someone who is objective and not too close to your organization, but also reasonable, helpful, and filled with common sense. Find a good grandma or an objective young person who can give you that impartial, slightly removed, commonsense perspective.

2. Writing for your readers. The classic guide “Writing for Your Readers” was written by Donald Murray, former writing coach at The Boston Globe. The main lesson is to think about your readers (or viewers or users) by focusing on an individual and talking to that person.

Murray taught writers to forget that they were writing to a mass audience. Instead, he said, imagine a “typical” target audience member, and then write everything with that specific person in mind.

Another classic tip from Murray: After you’ve written something, read it out loud multiple times to see if it literally sounds right. If it doesn’t, there’s something wrong. Change it.

Re-read or re-listen to your content, and ask yourself whether either method was used when it was produced. It’s highly unlikely; only the very best wordsmiths use these methods. Imagine what it should sound like if you were writing for your readers. That’s the key to great content and to building relationships.

3. Pretend you’re the ideal customer—one who hasn’t heard of you—and do a Google search: Your organization should come up first if you type in the name of your organization. If you’re not coming up first, you have a serious problem, because 30 percent of searchers click on whatever listing comes up first.

What if a potential customer—who has never heard of you—is searching for an organization exactly like your without typing your organization’s name? Pretend you are that person, and ask yourself what search terms they’d use; then type those into your search engine. Are you coming up? If not, you need content that includes those terms.

4. Review the numbers; how many people are engaging now? Two quick data points to check: email open rates (if you use a good digital marketing platform that measures open rates) and reviewing the “word count” for key Web content pages.

With digital marketing, the typical industry goal is to shoot for an open rate of 20 percent (one of every five bulk emails you send out should be opened). Organik typically has higher open rates, but we’ve encountered potential clients with open rates as low as single digits.

For Web content: Are your key content pieces at least 300 words? Organik has found numerous organizations with Web pages with very short content pieces (200 words or fewer), and—surprise—Google isn’t noticing their pages because they don’t have enough content.

5. Review these content creation guidelines and social media guidelines.

Joseph J. Serwach is Organik’s managing director. A version of this article first appeared on Organik Consulting’s website.


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