June 14, 2021

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What is readability and why is it important?

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When it comes to writing, it can be hard to look at your work objectively. Of course, most of us are able to write a few paragraphs or article on a certain topic. But making sure that your text is entertaining and easy-to-read is where it gets more challenging. Using too many difficult words, long sentences and not tying everything into one flowing story. These are just a few examples of practices that hinder the readability of your text and with it, scare readers off. So, let’s find out what readability is and what you can do to boost the readability score of your text.

What is readability?

“The quality of being easy or enjoyable to read”, that’s how Google’s dictionary defines readability. It’s the ease with which someone can understand a written text. One important factor that plays a role in the readability of your text is the difficulty. The more difficult a sentence is, the more time someone will need to figure out what the writer is trying to say.

But that’s not all. How readable your text is also depends on the use of headings, paragraphs, the length of your sentences, the familiarity of your text and even the styling. All of these factors have an effect on the natural flow of your text and the ease with which someone goes through it. Now it often depends on your reader how big an impact every factor has on how readable a text is for them. However, being mindful of these factors can help you create a text that’s more readable for most people.

Exploring readability with an example

Let’s put this into practice by using an example. Below you’ll find two versions of a short text about our SEO copywriting training. Although both versions of this text contain the same information, you may notice some difference in how :

Example text 1
At Yoast, we have a training course on SEO copywriting. In just 6 to 8 hours you’ll cover all necessary steps from picking your focus keyword to publishing and end up with a ready-to-publish blog post. You’ll know how to write awesome copy that ranks. Your texts will be a breeze to read. Your copy will hook visitors from Google. Your content will be unique, well-structured and on point; exactly what the search engines need to start ranking your page.

Example text 2
At Yoast, we have a training course on SEO copywriting. During this course, you’ll cover all necessary steps from picking your focus keyword to publishing. In addition, you’ll end up with a ready-to-publish blog post. All of this in just 6 to 8 hours.

When this course is completed, you’ll know how to write awesome copy that ranks. For one, your texts will be a breeze to read. Secondly, your copy will hook visitors from Google. Lastly, your content will be unique, well-structured and on point. Exactly what the search engines need to start ranking your page.

Which one do you prefer? Of course, example text 1 isn’t impossible to read. And it gives the same information as example text 2 does. However, by using transition words, shorter sentences, and paragraphs, the second version becomes a bit more readable. It’s not hard and you can gain lots by spending some time on it!

Why is it important?

The importance of readability for readers

Readability determines how easy to read your text is and scoring high on that quality is definitely something you want to strive for. You might be wondering why, so I’ll tell you. For one, a readable text keeps people on your site as it takes them less time to go through it. I know, that sounds a bit contradictory right? But a text that is easy to read requires less effort from your site visitor and will help them find the answer to their question. A text that’s too difficult to read will result in people getting frustrated and leaving your site right away. People are used to getting their information quickly nowadays, and this is especially true online.

Content that is easy to get through builds trust between you and your site visitors and will increase the chances of them actually reading beyond the first sentence. And clicking through to your other pages to read more about related topics or your products. You can compare it to opening a new book. If the first chapter is really hard to get through, the chances of you actually finishing the book become a lot lower. But when the book is easy to read, you’re more inclined to finish it and buy more books by the same author (or coming back to your site more often).

The importance of readability for SEO

To understand why readability can also play a part in your rankings, it’s good to know that search engines are getting better at mimicking humans every day. Where the early days of SEO made it possible to simply stuff your content with your keyword, Google is now a lot better at recognizing quality content. In addition, search engines are better at predicting what people want to read. So focusing your content on readers and their experience is the way forward. This means that readability also becomes more important when it comes to your rankings. Read more about this in our blog post on ease of reading and SEO.

The importance of readability online

Writing in a way that’s enjoyable and easy to read should always be a priority. However, it’s even more important when it comes to online content. Because we’re easily distracted online. Other content is just a click away and we’re used to having more resources at our disposal at all times. In addition, reading from a screen takes more effort and because staying focused costs us more energy, online reading asks more of us. That’s why readability is especially important when you’re writing for an online audience.

How to improve the readability of your text

Like we mentioned earlier on, there are a few factors that determine your readability score. An important one that will probably not surprise you is the level of complexity. Besides that, it benefits your readability to bring structure to your text and to write in an active and engaging way.

The complexity of your text

How complex your text can be may depend on your audience. If you’re writing for a very niche group of readers, you might get away with a text that’s very complex. However, most of us want to reach a bigger audience. And most of us definitely don’t want to leave any potential customers or followers out. By writing content that isn’t too complex, you’re making your content more accessible to everyone.

One well-known score for the complexity of a text is the Flesch Reading Ease score. This score tells you how readable a text is on a scale from 0-100. To give you an idea of the levels: a text that scores between 0-30 is considered readable for academics and a score between 90-100 is readable for 11-year olds. This test looks at two aspects: how the amount of words relates to the number of sentences and how the amount of syllables relates to the number of words. For an online text, reading ease of 60-70 is considered acceptable.

Bring structure to your text

Another way to improve on your readability score is by structuring your text. What we mean by this is dividing your text up in reasonably sized paragraphs and using headings to divide your content into smaller sections. This makes your text scannable and it gives readers some room to come up for air in between your paragraphs. No one enjoys a wall of text that doesn’t give an overview of the subtopics that are being discussed. Read how to bring structure to your text here.

An active and engaging tone of voice

Something we see happen a lot, even in our own writing, is the overuse of passive voice. Which makes your writing more distant and less clear. I’ll give you an example. Alex called me is a sentence in the active voice. I was called by Alex is its counterpart: the passive voice. It makes your sentences lengthier and more complex, while there’s usually no need for it. That being said, some sentences do call for a passive voice but it’s good to avoid it where you can.

The easiest way to do this is to write your text and go through it afterward to check how active your tone of voice is. While you’re at it, you can also improve on other factors that have an effect on how engaging your content is. Such as the length of your sentences, which you should try to keep short. Or try to alternate between longer and shorter sentences. Another factor that can negatively impact your text is the use of consecutive sentences, sentences that start with the same word. You’ll be surprised how often this happens without you even realizing it. A great solution for that, and to keep a natural flow in your text overall, is the use of transition words. These words show readers the relationship between your phrases and paragraphs.

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The readability analysis in Yoast SEO

Yoast SEO checks all of this for you

Complexity, structure, tone-of-voice and transition words – that’s a lot to keep in mind (especially when you’re trying to optimize the keywords in your text at the same time). Thankfully, the Yoast SEO plugin checks all of this for you automatically!

The in-built readability analysis will flag any aspects that can be improved. You’ll get an overall rating for the page you’re working on, as well as focussed feedback on various readability factors, indicated with red, orange or green bullet points. Which means you can relax and write naturally, focussing on crafting your message instead. Want to know more? Check out this blog post about the features in our readability analysis and how to make the most of them.

To summarize

Writing a text that is both entertaining and easy-to-read can be difficult. However, it does help you get your message across and keep site visitors on your page. Which also benefits your SEO. That’s why you should take some time to work on the readability score of your content. Work on the complexity of your text, the structure and your tone of voice to create content that makes both users and Google happy. The readability analysis in Yoast SEO can help you out with that.

Read more: 5 years of readability analysis with Yoast SEO »

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