Many people believe that the smarter and more complex they write, the more acknowledgment they will get. However, this is a misconception. The first, and probably most important thing about writing is to retain a reader’s interest. The second is to ensure that your target audience gets the message.
What is Readability?
Readability is about making your writing understandable and easy for targeted readers. It may not seem significant, but when you’re talking about Online Content, marketing to your audience is important. When a website’s content is clear, legible and easily understood by your targeted audience, they will learn about your service or product, and in turn, search engines will favor the site and help it rank higher.
This is not something new; plenty of people have studied, written about and applied it when creating articles. In fact, a short article written by Rand Finshkin on SEOMoz back in 2006, addresses the matter.
Here is a more in depth description on how to make your articles more readable for your audience and search engines.
The Less the better
People read dozens of articles a day and most don’t have a lot of time to bother with long generic articles. Yet they want to learn and acquire information. The trick is to get your message across with as few words as possible. If you can write something in 10 words instead of 25, do it. Try to keep the important content at the beginning of your article.
Use Short Paragraphs
Short paragraphs are easier to read, and they also make the reading seem to go by faster, hence keeping the readers’ interest. At first glance, long paragraphs make readers think they don’t have enough time to read the entire post. With short paragraphs you give readers time to breath.
Headings & Subheads
Give a short description for the introduction; this will let your readers know what the next segment will be about. Certain readers are very specific about the content they are searching for and headings help them know if the upcoming information is relevant to them or not.
Placing your key words in <h1> - <h3> tags will improve the reader’s experience; and help the search engine determine what the page is about.
Fonts & Alignment
There are hundreds of font options out there; choose one that’s adequate for what you’re writing. Don’t choose Comic Sans when writing a serious document. Avoid small text as well; your readers shouldn’t have to force their eyes to read your articles. When it comes to aligning your text, separate it enough so people can skim through it quickly and not get mixed up in the content.
Writing is a Visual Art.
Studies have proven that certain people can hold information better when it is presented to them in different colors. Not only will it make the document look more interesting, but it will also highlight the important points in your articles.
Our brains are trained to be more responsive and engaging to colors and images. Pictures help us absorb information and highlight the most relevant parts. Infographs, instructographs and pop culture memes are a great way to do this.
This are a number of changes one can make to their writing style that can impact the way articles are perceived. One of the most complete and detailed guides I’ve stumbled upon is AJ Kohn’s Readability and SEO.
How readability affects SEO
SEO professionals have become precise on their keyword content creation. Yet, the majority of content on the web is not generated for readability. This basically means they are getting their positioning but people are not reading it. In time, this can hurt their results.
Search engines have always considered readability as a ranking factor. Those who employ readability will have an advantage when it comes to content creation. Remember, great content isn’t great unless it’s read and understood. Many managers are accustomed to having precise and well written content, unfortunately sometimes the readers may not be as well versed and find it hard to understand. Try to consider your clients when creating your online material; do they understand your message? Can someone who is new learn from it?
Remember, as writers you’re creating content for people. Don’t just focus your writing for search engines alone. The challenge is to find the right balance between SEO and context.
According to Renown SEO Writer and Author David Amerland “Readability is frequently overlooked in the drive to chase search rankings but here’s the rub: an increasingly important part of SEO is the socialization of your website’s content. This involves the engagement of the visitor who lands on the page who reads, reacts, comments and, frequently, reshares the page, thereby creating a specific social signature for your website which is a ranking signal, at the moment. Google will turn this in future into a full-blown ranking factor. If your website fails the readability test then you are creating content only for search engines and that is the surest way to fail Google’s intense focus on quality sites and drop out of the very rankings you are chasing. The age of ‘hard’ SEO where rankings were achieved when all the technical SEO boxes were ticked are over. This is the age of the semantic web where SEO success is intrinsically bound to your website’s ability to deliver true value to its visitors and the online world. Generating value is an advanced concept, which requires hard thinking and a carefully detailed content-creation plan. The road that leads to it has many steps and readability is a good place to start.”
If content readability is difficult, users will leave the web page immediately and search for something easier to read.
If you were a law firm, it wouldn’t be a good idea to write your content in legal terminology. No one would understand and you might scare people away. Yet, if that same law firm wrote like a 5-year-old, people wouldn’t take them seriously. They may see it as lack of professionalism, and will immediately leave your site. Find the equilibrium.
If the content is not written towards the intended audience it will create a high “bounce rate” – which will result in negatively affecting your placement in search engines.
Does your Website and blog have a readability level?
How do you know your content or articles have readability? There are plenty of online tools that check spelling & grammar, which can indicate the readability of your posts. Those tools can also tell you the reading ease of your document and its grade level.
Not every business is the same and the level of readability could vary. Trying to find the balance between smart and easy content is not simple. Once you know your audience, you’ll not just capture their attention, but also capture the support of the search engines.
When the Spelling & Grammar check is complete the results will be presented in the Readability Statistics window.
Flesch-Kincaid Level scores are:
90 – 100 Understood by an average 11-year-old
60 – 70 Understood by 13-15-year-old
0 – 30 Understood by university graduate
If you’re writing content for SEO, first write for your audience. Only after you have created value should you optimize the content. Your writing should be focused and concise. A good Flesch-Kincaid score can range from a 6-8th grade reading level. To put it in perspective, a New York Times article on average has a 10th grade reading level, and a romance novel has a 5th grade reading level.
Gunning Fog Index
Similar to the Flesch-Kincaid scale, the Gunning Fog Index compares syllables and sentence lengths. Like its name, ‘Foggy’ words contain 3 or more syllables. It’s an estimated measure of how many years of schooling it would take someone to understand the content. The lower the number, the more understandable the content will be for the users.
5 = readable
10 = hard
15 = difficult
20 = very difficult
How to Check your Website’s Google Readability Level
While there are many ways to test your website’s readability level, let’s use a simple tool in Google. Open the Search Engine and type: domain.com in the search field.
I’m going to use my site as an example, you can use your brand, on the left hand side of the search engine results page, click on the “More Search Tools”. Select “Reading Level” under all results and you will see a table displaying the reading level for the webpage chosen. I.e.
As you can see, Boastingbiz.com has opted for a basic to intermediate Readability Level. Simple and legible content that helps connect with the target audience and their reading level.
To compare let’s look at the Readability Level of NASA’s webpage. NASA’s content is more complex and advanced. This comes from use of more technical terms and higher degree of phrases.
What to do with all the data?
Bear in mind that readability tests are only a screen shot prediction that helps determine if the text is suitable for a particular reading level. Remember that the formulas do not take human factors into account such as, readers experience and knowledge on the subject. So don’t underestimate or overestimate the suitability of the material just with the readability scores.
Consider that at higher-grade levels the scores are not reliable. The background and content knowledge become more important than word complexity. Take a second to think for whom you’re writing and what they look for in the article – knowledge, education, entertainment or research.
How to make your Readability better
Now that you have all these tools telling you how your writing is, what do you do next? The hardest thing I encounter is trying to “dumb” down my posts. I’m not saying my audience is dumb; I’m trying to not complicate their lives, give them what they want and make sure they don’t lose interest in the process. The easiest thing to do is locate complex words and find short simple synonyms to replace them.
There is no shame in getting ideas from others. If you have a website or article in a specific field, find similar work with good readability scores, but look beyond readability. Is their content good? Does it answer questions? As a writer can you add anything or even simplify it?
At the end of the day, it all comes down to what you are writing about. Certain subjects will be more complex than others. And certain audiences will be able to read things with more ease. Our job as content writers is to get our message across to the target audience as legibly as possible while abiding to Search Engine guidelines.
BTW. This Article has been written at an 8th Grade level and has Reading ease of 63.