Despite its push in recent years to move beyond listicles featuring cute cat pictures and 90s nostalgia and into legitimate journalism, Buzzfeed’s most popular articles are still mostly written at a level that a 9-year-old can easily understand them. The top 500 shared articles achieved average scores of 5.56 Flesch Kincaid Grade Level, 3.13 Gunning Fog, and 3.83 SMOG Index — averaging out to a 4th grade reading level.
For comparison sake, we also ran the top 500 articles from Huffington Post and CNN through these same tests. We chose these two sites because Huffington Post does a balance of traditional journalism along with the clickbait Buzzfeed is known for, while CNN is an example of a site that focuses exclusively on “real” journalism.
Here’s how Buzzfeed stacked up against those sites:
Buzzfeed vs HuffPo vs CNN
As expected, both Huffington Post and CNN are written at a higher average reading level than Buzzfeed. But the sites have different audiences and different types of content. Saying that Buzzfeed articles are written at a 4th grade level while CNN’s are written at a 7th grade level isn’t meant to be a cheap shot at Buzzfeed.
The lesson here is that you have to know who your audience is, what they’re looking for, and how to adapt your content to best appeal to them. Buzzfeed wants its content to be easy to read and enjoy for a diverse audience across all ages, so it makes sense to keep the language simple.
As a blogger, your job is to communicate with your target audience in a way that best resonates with them. That might mean writing at a 4th grade reading level or at a college reading level. It’s up to you to know your audience.