If you are a content writer or a website owner, chances are you have heard of the term “readability.” The idea of readability has become much more popular over the last year or two, despite being around for many years. This blog post is going to discuss readability, and how it impacts the effectiveness of your content.
What Does Readability Mean?
The term “readability” is easy to understand. Readability simply means how easy it is to read a piece of content. Content writers and website owners tend to focus on the readability of their content to keep readers interested and engaged. Having a good readability score also ensures that readers are able to understand your content. This is important as we all want our content to be as effective as possible.
Now that we have defined “readability,” let’s look at what readability score is best.
Is Lower or Higher Readability Better?
Buckle up, because this answer may get complicated. There are multiple readability tests you can use to grade your content. The grading scales between these tests are very different and mean different things. For some tests, a lower score means a lower grade level, or easier to read. With other tests, a lower score means more difficult to read. For example, the Flesch-Kincaid Test, discussed in detail below, says a low score is better. However, with Yoast SEO, a popular WordPress plugin, a low score is negative. So, it truly depends on the grading scale of the test you’re using.
If you’re unsure if lower or higher readability is better with a test, type several very long sentences. Make sure each sentence is about 25 words or longer. Then, see if you have a high or low readability score. Long sentences are the primary factor that makes a readability score lower or higher. So, whichever your score ranks you is the negative indicator.
Factors that Affect Readability
There are many factors that affect readability scores. Below, we mention the biggest factors that impact the effectiveness the most.
The Average Length of Sentences
Wordy sentences are the primary reason content will receive a poor readability score. It takes more focus and time to read longer sentences, which is why they lower readability scores. If your sentences are so long that they lose your reader’s attention, then they become ineffective. Avoid using passive voice when writing and write in an active voice. The use of passive voice makes sentences longer, as they do not get straight to the point.
You should not make your sentences short and choppy just to make your content easier to read. Still focus on having high-quality content with varied sentence length, but simply watch out for especially long sentences. Don’t be afraid to turn one sentence into two if it gets too long. This will improve your content’s readability greatly.
The Average Number of Syllables per Word
As mentioned above, the total syllables used in your content is evaluated when calculating your readability score. This means that the use of long, complicated words lowers a piece of content’s readability score. It seems counterintuitive to strive towards using simple words in content. Some of us have been taught that complex words are better. This may be true for high-level academic research papers, but not typically for website content.
Whoever ends up on your website should easily be able to read your content. Website visitors do not search for content that will be challenging to read. They search for content that clearly answers their questions. You don’t want your readers to have to look up a word used in your content. If you are trying to improve the effectiveness of your content, then avoid using an abundance of complex words and phrases.
Perhaps the best advice in this whole blog post it to write your website content in the same tone, and using the same words, as if you were talking to a friend who’s standing next to you. Be comfortable and conversational. This type of content is easy to read.
The Use of Headings and Subheadings
Have you ever come across a webpage with paragraphs upon paragraphs of text? Did you immediately click off, or did you take the time to read the entire thing? Most people don’t take the time to read website copy that is not nicely organized. Large blocks of text can be overwhelming. This is where headings, subheadings and images come in handy and make content more effective.
Headings and subheadings help break up large portions of text on a webpage. They also enable readers to skim content very easily. Readers want to know what the content is all about before committing to read a page or article for several minutes. Headings and subheadings allow writers to separate content into sections so a reader can quickly get what they want out of the content. Imagine how daunting it would be to read this blog post if we didn’t break up the text with headers and images.
Next time you write content, try improving the readability of your page by including headings and images when appropriate.
Why Does Readability Matter?
Effectiveness of Content
The points mentioned above touch on why having readable content is so important for improving effectiveness. Readable content is effective content. Your content should not be challenging to read or have wordy sentences. When your content is difficult to read, your website visitors may struggle to find what they need. You should focus on having easy-to-read content so your website visitors can get as much value out of your website as possible.
When writing content, focus on the above factors to improve your readability. You will find your content is much more effective when it gets straight to the point. Your readers will also enjoy your new and improved content as well.
Search Engine Optimization Efforts
Search engines take readability into account when ranking websites in search results. Google, Bing, and Yahoo! do not want to rank hard to read content on the first page of search results. They want to rank effective content that quickly provides answers and high-quality content. If you are practicing search engine optimization (SEO) tactics, then you need to keep the readability of your content in mind, as you write it. While search engines have not announced their exact formula for calculating readability, there are many readability tests you can use. Using just one of the tests below should significantly help your readability score and hopefully improve your search engine rankings as well.
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Just like with the readability factors, we have not listed all of the readability tests out there. Though we have listed some of the most popular tools that many content writers use.
Flesch-Kincaid Readability Test
This readability test was actually created by members of the United States military to improve the effectiveness of instruction manuals in the 1970s. They recognized that the easier a manual is to read, the less amount of time military personnel has to spend reading it. Due to the success of this test, many content writers use it with their own content to improve effectiveness.
Today, the readability test is used in a very similar way as it was intended to be. To focus on the ease of reading copy, writers use the Flesch Reading Ease Test. This test rates content from zero to 100, zero being a college graduate reading level, and 100 being a fifth-grade reading level. Most writers choose to write at a score of 60 to 70, which is an eighth or ninth-grade reading level.
Many content management systems have plugins that will calculate a Flesch Reading Ease score automatically. For example, WordPress has the Yoast SEO plugin that automatically tells you your score. It is best if you find an app or plugin to do the calculation for you. The formula for this score is very complicated, as you need to count the total syllables in your content.
The Hemingway App, based off of author Ernest Hemingway, is a free website that also rates your content by grade level. This tool shows you where you are using passive voice, adverbs, complex words and have lengthy sentences. If your content management system does not offer a readability test plug-in, we recommend using this website. Then, once your copy is written, you can copy and paste it over into your website.
Coleman Liau Index
This readability test does not look at sentence length or syllables, but characters. This is much easier to calculate than other readability tests, as most writing tools like Microsoft Word and Google Docs calculate characters automatically. The Coleman Liau Index scores based on grade-level just like the other tests mentioned above.
Improving Readability to Improve Effectiveness
Readability should be seen as making it easier for readers to enjoy your content. Your content will be much more effective without long sentences and complex words. By including the tactics above, you will find your content is much more effective in the long-run.
If you have questions about readability, please feel free to fill out the form below. We would love to set up a time to speak with you and answer your questions.