VC Blogs Are Burying Their Own Message – causing ‘cognitive churn’
Aspiring entrepreneurs often turn to the blogs of VCs (Venture Capitalists) as a way to quickly learn about start-ups. They share critical insights into what it takes to successfully run a business. These often include key SAAS (Software as a Service) metrics like; MRR, ARR, quick ratio and Churn.
But this blog post is not about SAAS business metrics, we’re interested in something else… We want to see how clearly VCs communicate on their blogs. Does being an expert in high growth businesses translate to being an expert communicator?
Just like metrics such as MRR are leading indicators of business growth, we can use readability metrics to test for good communication in written content.
So we analyzed the blogs of five leading VCs to see if their readability matched their business acumen.
Now as a control, we also ran a scan on the blog of Seth Godin – an author, entrepreneur, marketer and public speaker. Seth subscribes to the same ideals we hold regarding readability and clarity of language. So, it would be pretty interesting to see those stats, to highlight whatever strengths and weaknesses we might find in the VC blogs. We analysed 100 pages on each site and here’s what we found.
Now there is a lot of good news here. All writers use a relatively low level of passive voice, always a good indicator of clarity. The reading level at between grade 7 and 10 is positive too. A lower grade level means a more accessible message to a broader audience. Web copy authored by different people with different styles often shows up with vastly different stats. A sure-fire signal that marketers need to audit their web site clarity and brand tone.
But not all is well. Our scan highlighted a high proportion of long sentences across the board. And with long sentences, you run the risk of burying your message in complex, run-on sentences.
In our little experiment, Marc Andreesson’s blog is the worst culprit. Here’s the summary stats from our analysis of his blog.
His percentage of long sentences is 3.5 times the recommended level, and his average sentence length is similarly very high.
He runs the risk of burying the message that he’s trying to communicate. Jumping down to the specific URL level, we see this:
Let’s look at some specific copy. If we click into “Why Bitcoin Matters Marc Andreessen”, for example, we can immediately see an example of an over long sentence, burying the message:
“The practical consequence of solving this problem is that Bitcoin gives us, for the first time, a way for one Internet user to transfer a unique piece of digital property to another Internet user, such that the transfer is guaranteed to be safe and secure, everyone knows that the transfer has taken place, and nobody can challenge the legitimacy of the transfer.”
Now, the language in this sample is commendably clear and jargon free. But this single sentence contains multiple important ideas, ideas that we should split for easier understanding.
Andreessen’s writing style follows a similar pattern in this blog post “Google Glass and the Glass Collective Marc Andreessen”:
“The exciting part about today’s announcement of the Glass Collective is that just like with the Internet and smartphones, a huge amount of that work will be done by third-party developers, who are going to have in Glass a brand new platform and springboard for creativity to play with.”
Both sentences have multiple clauses. And both have a ton of important insights. The meaning is still visible to the very interested reader, but extra cognitive overhead causes a type of ‘cognitive churn’.
Average readers will likely require a second read through, and may churn prior to absorbing the message.
Let’s go back to sentence on Bitcoin, and see if we can simplify it. Try this:
“Bitcoin gives us a way for one Internet user to transfer a unique piece of digital property to another. The transfer is guaranteed to be safe and secure. Everyone knows that the transfer has taken place, and no one can challenge its legitimacy. Bitcoin is the first platform to meet these goals.”
By making minimal changes to the sentence, we make the message easier for the reader to follow. We could further refine the example above of course. Ideally, we should be able to understand the message at first glance.
Taking a look at Tomasz Tunguz’s blog, we see similar issues:
“Tableau has been able to grow very much like a SaaS company, and arguably required less capital, though it has taken the business some more time to achieve the milestones and the company doesn’t benefit from the long-term revenue streams that subscription customers offer.”
And again with Fred Wilson:
“There have been some unsung heroes, many of them women interestingly, like Jane Margolis , who started working in the LA public schools a decade ago and wrote a book about that which woke a lot of people up, including me, and Jan Cuny at the NSF who has funded a lot of the curriculum development work over the past decade, and many others who have been working for a long time to make this happen.”
If you can automatically pinpoint overly long sentences like these, it will improve your copy overnight. It’s a cheap hack.
You may not be a leading Venture Capitalist (or then again, maybe you are), but as we’ve seen here, no one is above writing overlong sentences. However, that doesn’t excuse it. Make reading your content easier for your readers. Simplify long sentences where possible. Your readers will be able to understand your message on first reading, and they’ll appreciate it.