May 18, 2020 How to write inclusively and reach a more diverse audience

By Tom Halpin

man sitting on a chair

The scientist Steven Pinker once said that “language is a window into human nature”. Far from being neutral, language can be persuasive, inclusive, and emotional. As business owners and decision makers, the success of a company’s marketing efforts rely on language to facilitate key messaging and communication to a variety of audiences.

Whether you’re writing a pitch deck for a product offering or sending out communications in a time of crisis, language is a powerful tool. WCAG defines ‘inclusion’ as: accessibility for people with disabilities, computer literacy skills, language, and much more. So, how do we get the language right, speaking in a more inclusively way to a wider audience?

Be more engaged with your audience

If you’re working remotely and finding your usual communication channels blocked during the COVID-19 situation, or you’re sending more emails than ever before and it’s stressing you out, you’re not alone.

As a business owner or key decision maker, you’re probably under a lot of pressure right at the moment. Which is why, now is the time to reach out to existing customers as your ‘life buoy’ – while also engaging and attracting new customers too.

An effective way of engaging with your audience is to focus on building emotional connections. Maybe you decide to introduce yourself on social media, contribute to online forum, or share exclusive content or offers with customers. By doing so, you’re reaching a wider audience and consciously making decisions to include others in your conversation. It could mean turning challenges into new opportunities, taking more risks, or focusing on what really matters. How about picking up the phone instead of shooting an email back? Or teeing up a video call with a colleague that you’d usually bounce ideas off?

Sticking to your strengths and engaging with people online is important not only for business, but for our wellbeing and health, too. Just look at the miscommunication spreading across social media about the COVID-19 situation – and the panic it causes. By avoiding misunderstandings, and getting your message across succinctly and accurately, you’ll make life a lot easier for you and your intended audience.   

If you can take an active effort to be inclusive of everyone, your business will instil a culture of confidence and trust around you.

Understand a more diverse audience

Inclusive content acknowledges the diversity of your audience. It’s no secret you want to reach their widest possible audience within your target market. However, your diverse audience isn’t usually your ‘typical audience’ (who can already access your content). Rather, diversity is about reaching people who aren’t currently accessing your content or have needs you’ve not previously considered.

For example, many content marketing strategies consider demographics like: age, country of origin, sexual preference, and disabilities. Knowing these data points can help you plan your content around individuals or larger groups.

What makes content inclusive?

Think of the broad spectrum of your customers. Ask yourself questions such as: Where are they from? Why are they interested in your product and service? Does your content serve these people? Does it serve non-native English speakers?

Inclusive content can range from a making a site more usable for someone who’s running old legacy software, to someone who’s vision impaired and uses assistive technology to access content.

Stephanie Thomson, an editor and content strategist at Google, likens inclusive content to leaving the door open: “I try to make sure we’re using language in a way that ensures the door is open to anyone who might want to come inside.” This doesn’t mean that your language, tone and voice have to be perfect every time. It’s OK if you don’t get everything right all of the time. But as long as you’re making your website work for people with different needs (that aren’t necessarily your own) and within a variety of environments, you’ve done some of the hard work.

An overview on WCAG

WCAG is a set of guidelines for making web content accessible for all users, individuals and organisations, worldwide. They’re particularly relevant across web pages and apps, for designers, coders, content writers, and any digital decision makers.

The Australian Human Rights Commission endorses the application of WCAG in an Australian context in its World Wide Web Access: Disability Discrimination Act Advisory Notes.

Fortunately, they also act as great ‘how to’ for approaching inclusive writing. In fact, W3.org has a dedicated page on accessibility, usability, and inclusion and view these pillars as closely related aspects in creating workable websites for everyone.

How to make your website accessible and inclusive

With accessibility, usability, and inclusivity in mind, here are four things you should always consider when creating workable websites:

  1. Make it easy to see. Consider designing for different forms of colour ‘blindness’. Inclusive designers often go beyond well-written HTML, making sure a website has an acceptable contrast between text colour and background colour.
  2. Make it easy to hear. By adding text-to-speech to your CMS (e.g. Shopify or WordPress), you can reach people who have a vision impairment and those who a low literacy rate. Through text-to-speech, users can listen to the information on your page and actively participate with your content.  
  3. Make it easy to use. One example is using different types of chatbots to engage with visitors and answer their queries via chat, instead of making them call to speak to someone. Or you could be debating the current UX design of your website. Perhaps you want to include user-friendly features like intuitive site navigation and use visuals and prompts to guide the user journey.
  4. Make it easy to understand. This is where engaging, well-written search engine optimised content comes into play. For example, you can build your content strategy on blog posts, case studies, videos, social media, and more. These are just some ways of reaching a diverse audience.

Creating inclusive content

Let’s look at the nuts and bolts of creating inclusive content.

Reshape your content marketing efforts

We all want to create amazing and immersive website experiences. And often, written content is the best way to get noticed on search engines. But you might be missing out on customers.

Some customers prefer the more direct approach of video. Alternatively, audio recordings and podcasts will reach your vision impaired customers, and videos with captions will reach the hearing impaired and deaf community.

Use plain and inclusive language

Plain language is clear, concise, and organised. It’s also appropriate for the intended audience. It makes text less intimidating (unlike jargon and acronyms), and easier for readers to skim. It draws inspiration from your old English teacher telling you to “omit needless words” and write in the active, not passive voice.

Inclusive language is guided by the preferences of who you’re writing to. If you don’t know your audience, you can conduct some user research or create user personas for your products or services. You can also consult the conscious style guide, a website to help writers think critically about using language to empower, instead of limit voices.

Use meaningful links

Ambiguous links can be frustrating for people who are blind and visually impaired. Someone with a screen reader often jumps from link to link to decide where they want to go next. If each link says, “click here” or “read more”, without any context, they won’t know what the link is pointing to.

It’s best practice to concisely describe the link’s target and ensure it makes sense when read aloud.

Add images with diversity

Whether you use branded images you take yourself, or find stock images, it’s important to consider a diverse audience in the pictures you choose.  

Most customers identify with companies when they see people like themselves in images. However, is it enough to say you’re a diverse company serving everyone, when all you have are similar generic images?

Instead of searching your Getty Images or Shutterstock account for ‘business meeting’ or ‘teamwork’, you could dig a little deeper and add terms like ‘senior’, ‘African American’ or ‘person with a disability’. If you widen your search query, you’ll be selecting images that represent all of your customers.

Speak directly to your customers

Writing inclusively is about knowing your audience and making the conscious effort to include everyone you can. You’re not going to hit the mark every time, but you’ll reach a wider audience, and give them a great website experience.  

At Avion Communications, we’ve been writing inclusive content for diverse audiences for more than a decade. If you need a team of thoughtful, expert communicators, reach out to us today. We’ll take time to understand your customers and make sure your language reaches them from the get-go.

If you’re interested in learning more about digital accessibility and WCAG, read this stellar interview piece on why digital accessibility is now more important than ever.