Readability and SEO are something that many people may not connect or think of together. Compared to other elements of an SEO strategy, readability in content marketing fails to get a mention. Despite this, SEO tools place emphasis on content readability.
So, we ask whether readability is important in SEO, and if so, how can you improve it?
Why is readability important in SEO?
Readability is a grey area when it comes to SEO efforts. There’s no clear indication of whether it affects your SEO performance. Readability is also something many will overlook compared to other elements of an SEO strategy, such as technical SEO.
Is readability worth bothering about for SEO? Yes. Improving the readability of your content makes it easier to read and understand. The easier audiences can understand written text, the more useful and valuable they will find it. In return, you’ll create a better user experience.
SEO tools, like SEMrush and Yoast, provide a readability score based on existing tests. They also provide tips for how you can improve readability. Suggestions include using more active sentences and breaking text down into smaller sections or paragraphs.
Readability is how easily someone can read and understand written content. The Flesch-Kincaid test is the most widely used readability score. This test provides a figure from 0-100 on how easily your audience can read a piece of content. The higher the score, the better the readability.
The Flesh-Kincaid test uses a formula to determine the readability score:
206.835 – 1.015 (total words ÷ total sentences) – 84.6 (total syllables ÷ total words)
Several factors affect readability, including:
- Word usage
- Sentence length
- Number of sentences
- Sentence structure
- Average syllable per word
Businesses should aim to achieve a readability of 65 in their written content. Young teenagers can understand a readability score of 50-80. However, writing content with a readability score that matches your audience so they can gain value from it is important.
Here is a full breakdown of the different readability levels according to the Flesh-Kincaid readability test:
- 90-100 – very easy to read and understand. Children can easily understand.
- 80-89 – easy to read.
- 70-79 – fairly easy to read.
- 60-69 – plain language that teenagers can easily understand.
- 50-59 – fairly difficult to read.
- 30-49 – difficult to read.
- 0-29 – challenging to read. More suited for academics and academic writing.
Can readability affect SEO?
Readability is not a direct ranking factor in Google’s algorithm. That means making your content more readable won’t automatically equate to higher rankings. Compared to links and RankBrain, readability isn’t a highly influential ranking factor.
However, the other most important Google ranking factor is content, in particular high-quality content. Readability can indirectly affect rankings. Making your written content easier to read and understand helps deliver quality content. Audiences can then gain greater value from a piece of content.
It’s not just Google, either. Other search engines, such as Bing, place high-quality content at the top of their ranking factors. If that doesn’t sell you on the importance of readability in content marketing, nothing else will!
Readability is far more than just another SEO metric to measure, such as domain authority. The more engaging and valuable you make your content, the more people will stay on your site and boost lead generation.
As a result, your conversion rates and user experience naturally increase. That’s why it’s important to match the readability expectations of your audience when writing content.
Like on-page SEO can improve click-through rates (CTR), readability can enhance user experience. Content that is too difficult to read will only cause visitors to leave your site. Audiences may find content with a low readability score less valuable.
In turn, your bounce rate will only go up. That’s something else that can affect your SEO success. It’s best SEO practice to align your readability score with your audience. You should also consider aligning the readability score with your top 10 Google competitors.
Use tracking tools, such as Google Search Console or Google Analytics, to track the performance of your content. Chances are, you’ll see a correlation between higher readability and higher rankings in organic search results.
How can you improve your readability?
Now that we’ve covered why readability is important, it’s time to explore how you can improve it. There are different tools and techniques you can use to improve readability. Let’s go through some of the most beneficial.
Use shorter sentences
One factor that affects your readability score is sentence length. Good writing will strike a balance between long sentences and short sentences. Naturally, to improve readability, you’ll need to use a variety of short and long sentences.
Using varying sentence lengths is a great way to keep your reader engaged. All sentences should be at most 30 words. Ideally, you want a sentence to be between 15 and 20 words. This breaks up the written text and makes it more manageable to read.
If a sentence is above 20 words, try to split it into two smaller sentences. Short sentences add a nice punch to emphasise points. Long sentences add rhythm to your writing. Unless you are a professor or scientist, you’ll only bore your readers by continuing to use long sentences.
Let’s look at an example. This first paragraph uses long sentences:
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) plays a crucial role in a digital marketing strategy as it aims to enhance online visibility and organic traffic. Using an array of techniques, such as keyword research, content creation, link building, and on-page optimisation, can help improve a website’s ranking in search engine results pages (SERPs).
Now let’s take the same paragraph but broken down into smaller sentences.
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) plays a crucial role in a digital marketing strategy. SEO aims to enhance online visibility and organic traffic using various techniques. Such techniques include keyword research, link building, content creation, and on-page optimisation. SEO can help improve a website’s ranking in search engine results pages (SERPs).
Both paragraphs used roughly the same number of words. But chances are you found the second paragraph much easier to read and digest than the first.
Headings are the backbone structure of any piece of written content. Not only does splitting content into paragraphs improve readability, but it also helps with SEO. Nobody wants to read long paragraphs that has no clear structure.
For SEO purposes, it’s important to use a heading hierarchy. Start with an H1 as your title. Then move down to H2’s for the main section heading. Afterwards, use subsequent headings, such as H3 and H4s, for more specific keywords and content.
Avoid using more than 300 words per paragraph to improve your readability. Consider splitting a section into smaller subheads if it is longer than 300 words. Use H3 and H4 tags where applicable to add structure to a piece of content.
Active and Passive Voice
Another tip for improving content’s readability is using active and passive voice. Active voice is where the subject of a sentence performs the action described by the verb. Active sentences tell us what someone or something does. For example, Bill published the latest social media post.
Conversely, passive voice is where the subject is being acted on. Unlike the active voice, the passive voice tells us what is done to someone or something. For example, the latest social media post was published by Bill.
You should try to limit the number of sentences written in the passive voice. Focus on writing sentences in the active voice to improve readability. You should also minimise the number of sentences in the passive voice. Try switching sentences to their active counterparts to improve readability.
The use of transition words is another way that you can improve your readability. Transition words are words that link sentences or paragraphs together. Examples of transition words include furthermore, also, next, lastly, besides, and similarly.
Using transition words shows the connection or relationship between two sentences or paragraphs. It creates a link that improves the flow of written content. Conversely, you can use contrasting transition words to show alternative or opposing views and ideas.
Another tip for improving readability is using different starting words in consecutive sentences. Repeating the same word at the start of consecutive sentences is repetitive and breaks the flow of content. Using repetitive words at the beginning of successive sentences also puts your audience off.
Some words are more susceptible to repetition at the start of sentences than others. Personal pronouns (words addressing a person or thing), such as ‘You’ or ‘I’, are the most common culprits. Other examples, such as ‘The’, can unintentionally lead to repetitive consecutive sentences.
Ensure that three or more sentences don’t start with the same word. If they do, try to use a synonym or change the sentence structure. That way, your audiences won’t get irritated reading repetitive writing and abandon your site.
Avoid keyword stuffing
Our last tip for improving your readability is to avoid keyword stuffing. Like consecutive sentences, keyword stuffing involves repeatedly using the same word or phrase. Keyword stuffing is bad for both SEO (and can lead to penalties) and your writing.
Asides from the hit your rankings will take, your audience won’t be too favourable to keyword stuffing either. Repeating the exact target keywords or phrases is the same as someone repeatedly telling you the same thing.
The only solution is don’t keyword stuff. Use keyword variations or cut down on keyword usage. Discover how to create a good keyword strategy.
Readability can affect your SEO performance. While not directly influential, improving the readability of your content serves your audiences with meaningful and valuable content. Using the tips above can help improve readability and, in turn, your rankings.
If you are still stuck, the best way to check the readability of the content is to read it aloud. This makes the flaws in writing much clearer. Give these tips a go with your next piece of content. Happy writing!