If you don’t want to bore your audience, you need to improve readability.
But what is readability?
To understand readability, it is easier first to understand what readability is not. We’ve all experienced it before. Boring, lengthy walls of text that are not understandable or appealing to the reader.
Readability is the opposite of this.
Readable quality content provides value to your readers. It is engaging and instantly clear. They shouldn’t have to reread a sentence to understand it.
You probably know a lot about your content’s subject. But if your content isn’t clear and easy to understand, you won’t get your point across. People often get too caught up in Traditional SEO methods. Remember that you’re selling to an audience, not an algorithm so focus on creating great online content.
Rudolph Flesch may not have had a very shiny nose, but he still went down in history. During the 1940s, Flesch developed a formula to improve the readability of newspapers. It produced a score based on the percentage of the population able to read at each writing level. Although the percentages have since lost their relevance, it is still one of the most widely used measures of readability.
The Flesch Reading Ease Score grades your writing from 0 to 100. It calculates this using your average sentence length and the average number of syllables per sentence. The higher your score, the more readable your content is. Have a look at the below Flesch Reading Ease chart for reference.
Flesch reading score
Content with a score of 70 is easy to read for most of the population. Content with a score of 0-30 is much more challenging to understand and is more suited for academic papers.
Text with shorter sentences and simpler words score higher than those with longer sentences and more complex words. For example, this article has a score of 69.
When writing web content for the internet, it is best to aim for a score of 60 or higher. You can achieve this by having an average sentence length of no more than 17 words and keeping your vocabulary as simple as possible.
The Flesch Reading Ease Score is a great tool in theory but lacks real-world meaning.
The Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level puts the Flesch Reading Ease Score into context. It assigns each score bracket with a corresponding grade. The scale typically ranges from 0-12 to represent each of the US school grade levels. Contrary to the reading ease score, the lower your Flesch-Kincaid grade level, the higher your readability.
For those outside America, you can think of it as the years of education needed to understand your writing. For example, copy with a score of 12 would require 12 years of schooling to understand.
As a rule of thumb, you should aim for a Flesh Kincaid Grade Level of eight or lower. This doesn’t mean that you need to “dumb down” your content. It means that you should strive to communicate your ideas in the clearest way possible. Typically, using shorter sentences and keeping your content straight to the point does the trick.
Now that you know what they are and why they’re useful let’s break down the formulas for each of the Flesch Tests.
The Flesch Reading Ease formula:
206.835 – 1.015 * (words/sentences) – 84.6 * (syllables/words).
The Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level formula:
0.39 x (words/sentences) + 11.8 x (syllables/words) – 15.59.
As you can see, there are two key variables that adjust the readability score of your content. These are the average amount of words per sentence and the average amount of syllables per word.
It’s no surprise that content readability affects user experience. Your readers won’t be happy if they have to reread each sentence multiple times.
Additionally, the more readable your content is, the better you can educate and build trust with your audience. If you can clearly explain to your audience why your product will benefit them, they’ll be more likely to convert. However, 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 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 behavior. These algorithms are becoming more and more human-like. Because of this, content readability is becoming exponentially 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 behavior and uses it when ranking your site. If previous readers didn’t enjoy your article, why should new readers? These behaviors tell Google that your content is valuable to readers, so should be ranked higher in search results.
Finding your Flesch Readability score manually would be a tedious ordeal. You would first have to count the number of words in each sentence. Then, for each of these words, work out the number of syllables to get the average per word. Then, you need to repeat this for every sentence in your writing to get the average for the document.
While entirely possible, many of us don’t have the time or patience to analyze every syllable in our writing. Thankfully, there are many online tools, just a Google search away that’ll do this all for you. Even Grammarly and Microsoft Word have their own inbuilt calculators.
Now that you know why readability is vital for your content, you’re probably wondering how you can improve your readability score. The best way is to do a bit of planning before writing each piece of content, for example you should come up with a blog post outline for each new blog post and think about things such as:
Seriously, if you aren’t writing with a clear target audience in mind, who are you writing for?
The beauty of the internet is that you have access to a wider audience than ever before. Most web content is written to take advantage of this. Ideally, it can be read by everybody.
If you’re writing an academic paper, a third-grade writing level won’t impress your professor. Similarly, a child isn’t going to reach for a book full of scientific jargon.
The key is to keep your content as readable as possible. But don’t fret if your Flesch scoring is subpar. It’s a broad estimate, not the law. It’s okay to use complex terms if you know your audience will understand them. You may end up with a lower readability score, but that’s okay, readability is not a one-size-fits-all.
Less is more, a phrase often used in design can be applied to sentence length too. The longer a sentence is, the more difficult it is to understand. If you break a run-on sentence into several smaller sentences, the reader has time to process each new idea. This shorter sentence length allows the reader to understand your text easier. Turn some of your commas into full stops to get your point across without all the filler.
For web content, it is suggested to have an average sentence length of no more than 17 words. This doesn’t mean every sentence must be exactly 17 words long. If you have to write a longer sentence, try following it up with a shorter one to balance it out.
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.”
“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. The former uses more complex synonyms, while the latter keeps it as simple as possible. The reader doesn’t have to decode what you’re trying to say, so it’s instantly more readable.
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 now and then, but for optimal readability, try to keep most of your words less than four syllables long.
The more densely packed 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. Any more than this and you risk losing their attention, and ultimately their sale. You don’t need to remove content; you just need to space it out. Break your paragraphs into smaller, more digestible chunks. This will introduce white space into your copy, making it easier to follow and more enjoyable to read.
How many times have you clicked on a webpage or blog post (recipes are notorious for this!), only to have to scroll through miles of text just to get to the part you 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. Scannable content makes it easy for readers to navigate to the answers they’re searching for.
The easiest way to ensure that your content is readable is simply to write how you would speak. A conversational style of writing is more readily received and understood by most readers. You don’t walk up to your friend and greet them with “To whom it may concern”, it’s too stiff and formal.
Read your content aloud and ask yourself, “Does this text flow and make sense?”, “Is this how I would explain it to a friend?” if the answer is no, go back and edit until you can say yes.
You have to take readability seriously to create fresh and unique content that is easily understandable for your audience. The Flesch Reading Ease Score and the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level are helpful tools to measure the readability of your content.
But, keep in mind the Flesch tests are just a guide, not the law! There is more to readability than just sentence and word length. In some cases, you can get a high readability score even if your content makes no logical sense. The same sentence has an identical readability score no matter what order the words are written.
Your top priority should be writing website copy that provides value for your audience, not just for SEO. It’s okay if you need to bend the rules every now and then to get your point across.