Practical guide: Optimize your SEO through readability
This article is part of a broader blog series on Improving your website’s SEO.
What in the world is “Readability”?
Readability is the ease with which a reader can comprehend a piece of writing: it measures how simple your writing is.
Are you using plain vocabulary? Short sentences? Simple syntax? Easy to read fonts? Concise paragraphs? Are there typos? Is your grammar correct? You get the idea.
Is it really so important?
Yes. Your readability score weighs heavily in Google’s ranking algorithm. To understand why Google cares about readability, let’s think about it from Google’s perspective.
Google’s primary goal is to be the best search engine. When a user searches something, Google wants to display the most useful web pages on the internet for that topic. Think about it, if you have been Googling something unsuccessfully for 20 minutes, you’d probably give Bing a shot.
Most people find sites with complicated or poorly written information unhelpful. Google recognizes this and so values websites with easy-to-understand writing.
Have you ever tried to read a PHD paper? Sure, it is well written, but it is incomprehensible to most people. Google wants to cater to the largest possible audience. Simple, clear writing is an important component of mass appeal.
Why is readability underrated?
At the risk of sounding self-serving: it is hard to do.
No, it’s not rocket science. But it really is difficult for three reasons:
1. Good writing takes time.
Even for great authors, the first draft or two tend to be long winded and messy. You start by putting all your ideas on paper. Then during the editing process, readability tends to steadily improve as you find simpler ways to express complicated ideas.
“I’m all for the scissors. I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil.”
– Truman Capote
2. Writing is a skill.
To be blunt, most people are not good writers. It takes talent to write material that people actually find interesting and to express it in a way that is easy to digest.
3. It takes SEO know-how.
Every word you write is directed at two audiences – real people and a search engine’s algorithm. Knowing how to win in both arenas takes skill and experience.
Great free tools for measuring “Readability”
The most important metric is the Flesch–Kincaid score. This is a number between 0 to 100. A score over 90 means your writing is easily understood by the average 11-year-old. A score below 30 means it is best understood by a university graduate.
Depending on your topic and desired audience, your target Flesch–Kincaid score will differ. As a benchmark though, the typical B2C company’s blog should have a score of 70 or higher.