Originally published June 25, 2020
You probably know a lot about your content’s subject. But if your content isn’t clear and easily understood, you aren’t going to get your point across.
To understand readability it may be better to first understand what readability is not. We’ve all experienced it before. Boring, confusing, large walls of text that even on the sixth reread attempt, you still don’t quite understand.
Readability is the opposite of this.
Readable content is engaging and instantly clear. You shouldn’t have to reread a sentence multiple times to understand it.
One very popular way to determine how readable your content is is by using the Flesch Kincaid test
The Flesch-Kincaid reading ease score is a formula that takes into account the average amount of words per sentence and syllables per word in written material. It is one of the most widely used measures of readability and is calculated using the formula below:
206.835 – 1.015 * (average words per sentence) – 84.6 * (average syllables per word)
The higher your score is the more easily understood your content is. For example, a score of 60-70 indicates the approximate reading level of a 13-15 year old, while content with a score of 0-30 is much more difficult to understand and would be more suited for academic papers.
When writing content for the internet, it is best to score around the 60-70 mark.
It’s no surprise that content readability affects user experience. How your business sounds online is just as important as how it looks!
The more readable your content is, the better you can educate and build trust with your audience. If you can clearly explain to your readers why your product will benefit them, your conversion rates will drastically increase. But if they don’t understand what you’re saying, they’ll end up on your competitor’s site instead.
Many people mistakenly assume that readability doesn’t affect their SEO. While Search Engines don’t directly use readability as a ranking factor (that we know of!) it definitely does pay to have easy-to-read content!
Search Engines, like Google, rank content based on what is most valuable to their users. They do this by attempting to imitate human behaviour. As these algorithms become more human-like, and more able to read like a human, content readability becomes increasingly more important.
If your content has a low readability score, visitors won’t understand or be interested in what you have to say. As a result, they’ll spend less time on your page. The more people who click off your site quickly, the higher your ‘bounce rate’ becomes.
Google monitors this user behaviour and uses it when ranking your site, if previous readers didn’t enjoy your article, why should new readers?
Readable content keeps readers on your site for longer, it decreases bounce rates, increases social media shares and conversion rates. These behaviours tell Google that your content is valuable to readers so should therefore be ranked higher in search results
It may sound controversial to what you were taught in English class, but please, ditch the complicated words.
Although big words may sound fancy or make you appear smarter, the more syllables your words have the harder they’ll be for your readers to understand.
For example, which of the following sentences would you rather read:
“the alacritous brindle carnivorous mammal vamoosed atop the lackadaisical canine”
or “the quick brown fox ran over the lazy dog”
Despite the two phrases having the same meaning, one is significantly more readable than the other. They’re both the same sentence, but the first one uses more complicated synonyms.
Never use a long word when there is a short word that will provide the same purpose. Simpler words lighten the load on the reader as they’re more easily understood. While fancy words may make you sound smarter, they’re useless if your audience can’t understand you
It’s okay to use a larger word every now and then, but for better readability, try to keep most of your words less than four syllables long.
The amount of words in a sentence also play an important role in the readability of your content. Try to break large statements up into smaller sentences. If you include more (shorter) sentences in your writing it’ll help to keep your readers alert and engaged
this doesn’t mean that you need to “dumb down” your content, it simply means that you should strive to communicate your ideas in the clearest and simplest way possible. Typically this can be achieved by using smaller words and keeping your content straight to the point.
Think about the number of sentences in each paragraph
The less spread out your copy is the more likely your readers are to lose their place. Likewise, large walls of text aren’t appealing when a user wants an answer right here and right now.
Hit enter a few more times than you think you should. The average paragraph should only have around 4-5 sentences. Breaking your paragraphs into smaller, more digestible chunks will make your content less intimidating and more engaging to readers.
How many times have you clicked on a webpage, perhaps a recipe (they’re notorious for this!), only to have to scroll through what feels like miles of text just to get to the part you actually came for.
Most internet users are just looking for a quick answer, not a long, overly explained block of text. That’s why it’s crucial to make sure your content is scannable.
Whether it’s through breaking your text into well defined sections or using visual elements like images or lists, skimmable content makes it easy for readers to navigate to the answers they’re searching for.
How easily can you read your content out loud? If it doesn’t have flow or you find yourself running out of breath during sentences, it isn’t readable enough
It’s much easier to alter the small details that make content readable than trying to write with readability as a main focus.
But remember that this is a guide, not the law. Your top priority should be writing content for your audience, not for SEO so if you need a longer sentence or a bigger word every now and then, so be it.