Marketing

Improve Your Content Marketing With Readability

Here are some tips, best practices and free tools to help you improve content readability.

One of the main pillars of successful copy is readability. Readability is a measure of how easy it is to read and understand a text. It can be assessed by looking at factors such as sentence length, vocabulary level or variety. So what affects readability ? Well, anything that makes it harder to read your content: sentence length, long words, abstract words, familiar words and a few more things.  On the web, most of us scan information, jumping from one relevant bit to the next. According to a study by the Nielsen Group, your visitors will only ready between 20 and 28% of the words on your site. Producing more readable content means making it available to a wider audience.

The value of the readability score for SEO

Testing the readability level of a text helps to determine whether the text is clear, concise and easy for a reader to understand. Keep in mind that lowering the level of difficulty does not mean addressing a dumb audience. Reading on screen is more difficult than reading on paper. In addition, the many distractions we encounter in daily life diminish the attention we pay to certain content. Some tools provide the reading level in terms of U.S. school grade levels which can get confusing for non US folks.  

Readability is not an official ranking signal for SEO

An Ahrefs study of 15,000 contents found no correlation between readability and how well content ranks. You can read up on this at Diggity Marketing. However, frustrated users impact performances and that's a strong signal. You need to consider readability in the context of your readers. Technical SEOs have come to expect hard to decipher content that contains a lot of dense information. Home cooks do not have the same expectations for recipes. Keep visitor context in mind. Something else to consider is that I noticed that many Featured Snippet content is very readable (easily digestible for humans scanning the top of the search results).  

But What About Machine Readability?

You need to present key information in a way that is machine readable for Google.

Named Entity Recognition is the process of recognizing the related entities while auditing their co-occurrence and attributes for the context of the document.

We are entering a world where content is written by humans who emulate machines that try themselves to think about what content humans would want to see. Entities within a document and their attribute affect a search engine's understanding of the content itself. Broken grammar,  unclear language, paragraph structure and other elements considered when it comes to machine readability.

Proven Way to Make Any Document More Readable for Humans

  • An airy text
  • Paragraphs that do not exceed 6 lines
  • Optimal line length is between 50-60 characters
  • Shorter sentences (no more than 12 words)
  • No jargon
  • Clear and short titles and subtitles
  • Proofreading: it helps improve content with tweaks that make it clearer and more readable.

What is a Good Readability Score?

Well, it depends on the tool you use. For Grammarly, a score of 60 or higher is recommended. A Flesch Reading Ease score of 60-70 is considered appropriate to get the green light in Yoast based on my experience. In Frase and in the SEMRush Writing Assistant, you should aim for the average score the top results got.

The Flesch Readability Score is the Most Common One

Rudolf Flesch has developed a readability score based on the main principles of psychology. When reading, a person develops a provisional judgement that helps to interpret the meaning of the words read. When the eye stops on a punctuation mark, the mind stops and interprets the final meaning of a sentence or paragraph. The longer the sentence, the more complicated it is to analyze its meaning. All this mental work is not necessarily favored by web content readers. The Flesch formula measures the mental effort required to understand a text on a scale of 0 to 100. Microsoft Word offers a Flesch readability score in its parameters. Alternatively, there are free online solutions such as Hemingway App.

Tools to Help Make Your Content More Readable

Readability tools are very useful for SEO experts and content writers. They provide the perfect guidelines for creating readable content, making sure that the content is well formatted, properly structured and error free. Readability tools take into account grammar, word choice, sentence length, readability level and more. It helps content writers create the perfect balance of text so that readers can easily understand what they read. One of my favorite tools to check for errors, grammar and proper sentence structure is Hemingway App.

Hemingway App, the best readability tool to check your SEO content

Hemingway's mission is to make your writing clearer. The name is inspired by Hemingway's tendency to prefer simple sentences over complex sentences. This application, available online or downloadable for a fee, aims to make the content you write more digestible and understandable to the greatest number of readers.

It is a very playful tool that chases away very complicated sentences, phrases and words.

Sidenote: I love Hemingway App's Readability Score because it's straightforward

It is reminiscent of Albert Einstein's quote: "If you cannot explain something simply, it is because you have not understood it well".

To help us, brothers Adam and Ben long have launched the Hemingway application that sifts through your content using an algorithm. The result? An in-depth semantic analysis. The tool decrypts sentence and paragraph structure. It also counts the number of characters. This helps identify passages that are too complex and words that should be eliminated for better readability.

Two main criteria guarantee the effectiveness of this tool: passive voice hunting and adverbs. These elements are identified by the software and highlighted in red. Writing like Hemingway is within everyone's reach: you have to make short, simple and direct sentences (while having a software program on hand to assist you).

A note on SEMrush SEO Writing Assistant

I really don't recommend using this tool. Yes, the SEO Writing Assistant will give you an aggregate score on your writing. But here's the deal: they ask for a lot in exchange. You have to give them access to your content in Google Drive and to the contacts you share you content with along with you know...the entire content in your Google Drive. It was SHADY. I asked about it on Twitter and was left even more suspicious about this tool. It'll check readability, hard-to-read sentences, word count, reading time, tone of voice, but in exchange you give it access to EVERYTHING. Great SEO content checker but the privacy trade-off is too scary. I don't want to give access to my client emails since I share my documents with them...since they will be used for retargeted ads. I know because they already do some really insistent retargeting with us. Bottom line: great tool but super shady marketing practices so it's a pass for me.

Yoast SEO Readability Analyzer

Yoast is a free WordPress plugin that many people use to check their content's SEO. It can also give you a content readability score but few people seem to know about that. Within the content readability score, you’ll find a report that breaks down:

  • Variety of sentence structure
  • Paragraph length
  • Sentence length
  • Use of transition words
  • Flesch reading ease
  • Use of passive voice vs. active voice

Grammarly

If writing is not your strong suit, Grammarly probably retargeted you on YouTube already. The company is aggressively growing in the writing field. Grammarly will address issues in grammar and spelling, but also in tone and structure. It does a great job but I am not super comfortable with the concept of installing what is essentially a keylogger on my computer. If you aren't as strict on privacy, Grammarly is a great tool for blog posts, site content, articles, emails, messages, and social media posts.

Unexpected Readability Tip Choose Fonts Wisely

Headlines are shorter so you can use creative fonts. They should always be easy to scan. Make sure to use capital and lowercase letters because the difference in letter height makes scanning the headlines easier.

Use Clear Sans Serif Fonts for Longer Texts

On screen, serifs can easily blur together which makes it more difficult to read. Here are some standard sans serif fonts to make sure your content is readable: Arial, Helvetica, Lucida Sans, Trebuchet, and Verdana.

Font size matters

People prefer different font sizes depending on their age, eyesight, and personal preferences and devices.

Conclusion

More of us multi-task when we browse the web. We scan through things. It's essential to optimize readability of your content. Keep your copy concise and structure your content with sufficient anchors to help readers scanning.  Text analyzers available out there are great to help you get started. Want to see even more? I was blown away by Ross Tavendale who used Google's AI suite of natural language processing and machine learning APIs to read every article a journalist ever wrote for the Guardian in order to create content they care about to land better PR pitches at scale. Like I said, we are more and more dealing with humans who write for machines working very hard to think like humans.

Want more? Here are other articles for you

go to the top arrow