Search Engine Optimization – or the art of getting your website’s content to rank well – is a complex and misunderstood practice. Many variables make up the algorithm that determines how your content will rank against your competitors. However, one variable that is becoming more and more important is the readability, or reading level, of the content. How this is rated is by using the Flesch Reading Ease formula. Let’s dive into that a bit more.
Why is readability important to Google and other search engines? Because they want to deliver relevant content to their users AND they also want to provide interesting and engaging content that the user will want to read. If the user can’t read the content or finds it to be too hard to read, they will likely leave your site. Google doesn’t like this.
So how do you know if your content is readable? One useful tool used throughout our industry, and that we use to help our clients get better rankings is a test known as Flesch Reading Ease.
What is the Flesch Reading Ease?
Also known as the Flesch-Kincade Reading Level, this digital test uses English language structures, word count, syllable count, and average sentence length to determine how difficult content is to read. The original concept was created by Rudolf Flesch.
In 1975, in partnership with J. Peter Kincaid, Flesch developed a formula to test the complexity of written materials. That test was then implemented by the United States Navy to evaluate the reading level of technical manuals used in training service members. A few years later, other branches of service began using the Flesch-Kincaid Readability Formula as well.
How is the Flesch Reading Score Calculated?
Each piece of content has a score. The higher the score, the easier the content is to read. Short sentences and small words are scored higher on the scale than long sentences and long words. Here’s how to scores break down:
- 0-30 are considered college level and are more suited to academia.
- 60-70 are considered 8th to 9th-grade reading level.
- 100 indicates a 1st to 2nd-grade reading level.
Many numbers floating around, depending on where you look, but the overall census is that most people are at the 8th-grade reading level. Since Google wants as many people as possible to be able to read and understand the page or article they rank, the content needs to be at or near an 8th-grade reading level. While this sounds easy enough, we find that we often have to simplify content we naturally write.
Increasing Your Readability Score
By paying attention to certain factors, your content can shift from a massive and hard-to-read wall of content into an easily consumable source of valuable information.
Shorten Your Paragraphs
Shorter paragraphs visually break up the content and allow your reader’s mind to digest the information in smaller chunks. It’s easier to process content while scrolling if it’s broken down. Bullet and numbered lists are your friend! How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.
Choose Fewer Words With More Power
When writing, use a more active voice. In other words, keep your reader’s attention by writing more directly. For instance, instead of saying, “The woman was advised by her doctor. ” say instead, “The doctor gave her advice.”
Also, avoid using excess words. For instance, you don’t need to say “a long marathon.” The word “marathon” already assumes it is “long”. Often, to get to a specific word count, you might be tempted to switch to passive voice or add “fluff,” but this will hurt your readability.
Write As You Talk – Not Like You Were Taught
When we talk to people in person, we have natural pauses and sentence stops. Also, we start sentences with “but” and “and” and “however” and other transition words. When we were in language arts classes, we were taught not to use these words at the beginning of a sentence, but in writing for the web, these words, as well as short sentences, make for easier reading.
Simplify Your Vocabulary
No one likes to feel upstaged, and not everyone is a walking thesaurus. There’s no need for “fancy talk” on a website. Use the simplest word to convey the same meaning — for instance, use “deep” instead of “profound.”
Additional Tips for Writing Blogs
Website content (often called website copy) is a different ballgame than the content for a blog. Here are a couple of tips to help you keep your blog full of good information and remain easy to read.
There are so many tangents that a blog can go on, but barraging a reader with a ton of different topics is only going to confuse. Find a focus topic, and elaborate on that one concept. Save the tangents for another post, and link to other related posts later.
Google and other search engines use keywords for searching content to bring pages to the eyes of the reader. The keyword should always be in the first paragraph of the blog, in at least one header, and within 2-3% of the content. That means the keyword shouldn’t just be thrown around but used very strategically and intentionally. If your content has too many key phrases, you’ll struggle to stay on top of searches because Google hates what we call, “keyword stuffing.” Make sure it’s natural and don’t overdo it.
Consider Your Target Audience
Your blog will be easier to read and hold more attention if you follow the concepts of the Flesch Reading Ease score system, but it’s not the “be-all-end-all” of website copy or blog writing. Always consider your audience along with your readability score.
The Flesch Reading Ease is a guide, and it’s essential to follow your brand voice in your content. If you cater to a higher education level, then you can adjust your content to reflect that. We work hard to learn your business voice and your audience and write content that suits their needs.
Building website content can be overwhelming, and that’s okay. If you have any concerns about content, give us a call. We’ll put our team of Spyders on the job to make sure you see the results you’re looking for.