Content is King! That is said everywhere. However, if your content doesn’t talk to your audience, it won’t work for you. Your content can only serve your purpose if your audience can read, and fully understand it. Otherwise, they’re not going to take the action you want them to take.
Then, what’s the #1 aspect that makes a piece of content understandable?
It is readability. You can not understand any content unless it is readable. I would like to give you an example that you are probably very familiar with.
If you’re a daily newspaper reader, you know what I’m talking about. You’ve been reading something for about two minutes but can’t absorb it. Then you ask yourself, what did you read about? But you can’t answer that question.
For any number of reasons, readers may be stuck in a particular sentence. However, quite often the issue is that the sentence is just too long and complicated. A sentence can be grammatically correct but still difficult to comprehend.
What is readability?
It is the measure of “ease in comprehension” when reading a piece of content. It shows how effectively your content can deliver your message.
If you take a quick look at any piece of content, you can easily tell if the content is readable. The content consists of long sentences without any pauses is usually not readable.
Why would you care about it?
We are living in an era of technology, and most content published today are on the digital environment. It means they should be found through organic search by the visitors through the search engines.
Let’s remember what was the #1 priority of Google when serving search results.
It’s good user experience.
If your content can be easily understood by the 5th grader, that means it is highly readable. If you are creating content for the web, and you want your content to be competitive in your niche, you need to write simply.
Search engines today can algorithmically assign a readability score for every page on the web. If you plan driving organic search traffic to your website, you need to write high readable content.
High readable content provides a good user experience. This type of content decrease bounce rates while increasing time spent on site. It also likely to get more shares, and social interactions increase the chances of ranking a high position on Google.
People consuming this type of content more likely to take action (signing up your email list, add products to the shopping cart, call your number, etc.) whatever the action you want from them to take.
How to measure readability?
There are multiple readability measurement techniques that can mathematically assign a numerical score to any piece of content. The score assigned by readability measurement tools is called “readability score”.
The most common readability test tool is Flesch-Kincaid.
Flesch-Kincaid reading ease and grade level are developed by Rudolf Flesch and J. Peter Kincaid. It is based on a ranking scale of 0-100. Higher your content scored by this test, easier to read. Low scores provided by this tool indicates a content has poor readability.
If you are using the Yoast SEO plugin in WordPress, you have probably seen Flesch-Kincaid reading ease score assigned to your content for the part you have completed. You don’t even need to complete a certain piece of content to run a readability test. Yoast automatically informs you about the part of the content you have completed.
Flesch-Kincaid reading ease and grade level utilize the same inputs to assign a numerical score for content. However, they are inversely correlated with each other. What it means, if your content has a low score on the reading ease test, you should receive a higher grade level score.
|100.00-90.00||Very easy to read. Easily understood by an average 11-year-old student.|
|90.0–80.0||Easy to read. Conversational English for consumers.|
|80.0–70.0||Fairly easy to read.|
|70.0–60.0||Plain English. Easily understood by 13- to 15-year-old students.|
|60.0–50.0||Fairly difficult to read.|
|50.0–30.0||Difficult to read.|
|30.0–0.0||Very difficult to read. Best understood by university graduates.|
The above chart from Wikipedia breaks down the readability scale.
Flesch-Kincaid is one of the most reliable, and popular readability measurement tools on the market. If your content can achieve a score of 65+ from this testing, your content is usually well enough. Obviously, achieving a higher score is better.
Most SEOs make the mistake of oversimplifying their content by harming the natural flow.
“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”
As the genius Albert Einstein said. Keep things simple but don’t go overboard.
A research paper of a university is likely to be less readable than the books of elementary school students. In the same way, if you’re writing about “machine learning” your content will naturally be less readable than a piece of content about “paleo recipes”.
There are other readability tests used to do the same task as the Flesch-Kincaid Test does. I am not going to mention what they are, and where they are commonly used.
But here is a list of other readability measurement tests:
- New Dale-Chall
- Automated Readability Index (ARI)
- Fry Graph
All readability measurement tests work pretty much with the same principle. They use the total number of words to proportionate to the total number of sentences. If you are creating SEO content you will most likely use Flesch-Kincaid testing to score your content. Because it is kind of the industry standard.
How to improve readability?
Trim unnecessary words
There are many times we write a piece of content and later notice that it could be written by using fewer words. Trimming the unnecessary words from sentences creates an instant boost in the readability score.
However, what to trim to keep the meaning of the sentence the same while making it more understandable?
Better readability, as you might imagine, is not always about readability for Flesch–Kincaid. The reader experience of reading your blog’s content is also very critical. Therefore, it should not be your only aim to increase the readability score.
Don’t write for the search engine bots
Do not write content as if it were made for search engine bots. People who are going to read your content will be human. So, make it a habit of addressing your readers in a personalized tone.
Use terms like “you” and “I” to attract readers and encourage them to keep reading your content. They need to feel like they talk to you in real life while reading your content. This advice is particularly more important if you are promoting products and services using copywriting or content marketing.
Be quick in making your point
Most people tend to write in a way by leaving too far from the actual discussion. Every time you add new information, or supporting argument to your content, ask yourself the following question.
Am I still relevant to the actual point of the subject I am covering?
If you write what you want to communicate concisely, Google also likely to reward your webpages in Featured snippets. I personally try to write straight to the point especially in the first few paragraphs of my content.
Answer the user’s question as fast as possible. Then provide additional details supporting your main argument.
Use the inverted pyramid copywriting technique. It is an approach to get straight to your point, and then go on to clarify the nuances. It helps users to search the main points quickly, and then go into the details if they want to.
Identify your target audience
You may think you write great, and everyone should like your content. I would challenge this idea. You should adjust the readability of your content depending on your target audience.
Knowing the readability level of your target audience should be your primary goal before even you plan writing. No matter how much you tell, the amount your audience can grasp is limited with their ability of understanding.
Consider the reader’s comprehension level
Have a look at the following two sentences:
- She waved her hands
- She waved her left.
On readability tests, both sentences perform well. Both are simple sentences that use short words. While everyone may understand the first sentence, the second sentence has greater implications that may require a better understanding of the English language.
Therefore, it is important to make sure our copy is not only readable but also understandable.
Assess readability quantitatively
Let’s face it, judging objectively how much readable a piece of content is not easy. Fortunately, there are tools we have already discussed their names available. Always evaluate your copy with at least one reliable readability test.
Most of readability tests give you either a numerical score or a grade level to decide how easy/difficult your copy is to read. They also provide an acceptable readability score you need to target at a minimum.
The optimal readability level in the U.S. is seventh or eighth grade, indicating that most people are comfortable reading content that is understood by 11-13 year-olds.
Write shorter paragraphs
As the best practice, write paragraphs consist of no more than 4-5 sentences. It’s easy to read shorter paragraphs. A 5 sentence paragraph is usually displayed as a 15 line paragraph on a mobile device.
If you have never tried before, you can even write a single line sentence. In any case, you will need to check your content on how it is displayed on a mobile device.
There should be only one small concept in each paragraph. Write more skimmable content that is easy to scan for your audience. It will also help your readers not to miss any argument in your post accidentally.
Use Words That Your Users Understand
If you write in English, all of your audience should understand everything you write. If this is the assumption you are following you are doing things whole wrong.
It is true that filtering out needless jargon and trimming down on fancy words will improve the readability. However, it is not well enough. The trick is to use terms your readers can relate to.
Are you writing for a group of people who come from a law background, or are they SEO specialists? Before you write any piece of content you must know your reader first in order to use the terminology that your reader is comfortable to understand.
Use formatting tags effectively
Your website should properly use formatting tags such as bold, italics and underlines. Using these tags will greatly increase your blog’s readability. Most people don’t even read any content before they completely skim it. I find it similar to a test drive of a car before deciding to purchase it.
In your blog posts, you need to properly use bold, italics, superscript, strikethrough, colored highlights, and other formatting tags to make sure it is easy to skim your content.
Don’t complicate your writing
English is a language you can tell one idea in millions of different ways. There is always a suitable synonym for a phrase or a group of terms. Replacing a set of words with a suitable word helps a lot to improve readability.
I want to express my strong dissatisfaction – I want to share my frustration. I do not intend to visit my friend. – I’m not visiting my friend.
Take a look at the above sentences. The first version of the sentence with the red font can be expressed with an alternative version shown in green font.
Ruthlessly cut your sentences to improve your user experience. Consider trimming the phrases to their root. Your sentences should point straight to the target opinion it wants to express.
Ditch the transitional words
The unnecessary phrases that are lengthening your sentences are transitional words. As a content developer, one of your primary goals should be to present ideas in a clear and understandable manner.
You want to be careful about how you organize your page as a whole, as well as how you shape the individual paragraphs that readers will navigate through.
While clear writing is mostly achieved by the careful placement of your ideas through your entire page, you can direct readers by using transitional terms in individual sentences through the associations you create. Transitional words and phrases will create strong associations between your concepts and help your reader understand the logic of your article.
However, if you use them more than necessary, you will only lower your content’s readability. Using them obviously sourced from a need. Try to keep them at the minimum possible not to compromise from the user experience.
Replace passive sentences with active voice
Reading content written with an active voice is much easier. Many of the SEO plugins and text editors recommend using active voice sentences over the passive voice.
Although sentences written with a passive voice seems to look intelligent or sophisticated in many niches, it is just nothing but complicating the discussion. One of the best ways to improve the readability score is by using the active voice.
It’s also hard to understand the passive voice. When the sentences are longer you can easily feel the complexity of reading passive voice sentences.
You may be thinking how come using images improve the readability of content. Think about it for a second. If you read a few lines and then you look at an image or chart your brain gets a quick rest.
It is not like an actual rest, but it is much more like occupying the brain with another type of complementary content. If you never use images in your content, you never allow your reader for an actual pause.
You may write shorter sentences, and even you can build smaller paragraphs. However, if you are not engaging readers’ perception from different angles, you may get your reader tired of reading your content.
Use images appropriately in your content to improve its readability. Remember it is not one thing you do correct optimize overall result but rather the sum of cumulative actions you take.