Content Readability 101: The Importance of Readability in SEO16 min read

Reading is the simplest action, yet it can be overwhelming.

Nobody wants to read complex content. Why?

Because none wants to put their energy into something futile, having no benefits. Unless it trades in great value for the users or readers.

Writing readable content is now urgent and needful for every writer regardless of their domain. People stop reading as soon as they find something difficult to understand.

So, whether you are a copywriter, content writer, scriptwriter or alike. You need to write with a focus on readability.

The simpler the language the less brain power is used in reading and understanding. Still, writing clearly and simply is a challenging path every writer goes through.

Readability in SEO is important as it helps understand the information easily.

But, how do you write content which soothes readers and helps them continue their reading voyage?

Before we dive into “how to write readable content?” or “what tools to use to improve readability in SEO?” let’s understand the importance of SEO readability first.

Why is readability important in Search Engine Optimisation?

As discussed, readability is essential in SEO because it helps convey information clearly.

The readers can understand exactly what is being said in a written form. So, the content is more likely to be shared with others.

Google rewards quality content with higher ranks on the SERPs and readability is a key trait of such forms of content.

Above all, readability is an essential factor in SEO.

Readable content reduces the bounce rate (the percentage of users that visit a site and leave without further navigating it).

Ultimately, the readers are more and more engaged with your content.

  1. Ease in understanding
  2. More shares
  3. Higher chances of ranking on SERPs
  4. Lower bounce rate
  5. Increased reader engagement

Tips for writing readable content for Search Engine Optimisation

Matt Barker is a copywriter well-known for his simple yet creative writing stance. Barker shows exceptional quality in being straightforward and precise in his sayings.

This has eased reading for his audience.

His post “3 Tips To Write Concisely” cuts the fluff and puts the essentials for creating readable content on the top of the table.

Let’s break down each step and create readable SEO-optimised content.

#1: Use simple language

People get bored easily.

– Matt Barker

But why do they get bored easily?

Complex writing exhausts the reader’s mind.

When language is simple, people don’t have to put stress on understanding.

Have you ever read something and got like “Wait, what does that mean?” and then paused, trying to understand the meaning?

Now, you have to re-read just because you were zoned out.

This was because while reading, your brain juggles between reading and interpreting simultaneously.

Matt says simple language makes:

  1. Reading easy
  2. Less brain power in reading

So, write like you are teaching a 7-year-old kid. Write like you are speaking.

Simple language comes in with natural speaking. Writing as speaking to an audience will add more authority and confidence in tone of voice

And this has a direct impact on readability.

Pro tip: Write in active voice as much as possible. Avoid passive sentences as they have lower readability scores when compared with active sentences.

#2: Reduce unnecessary words

We humans easily get carried away in when it comes to exaggerating. This is reflected in writing too.

Writers tend to use unique words which sometimes are extremely idiosyncratic.

Even though it is necessary to have a balance between common words and unique words in Search Engine Optimisation. Still, adding unnecessary words blurs writing which has a significant impact on readability.

Consider this paragraph,

“The results of the formulated hypotheses express that the whole of the research conducted has been totally associated with the…”

It is indeed laborious to read and even to speak.

Kicking out useless words that don’t add any value or improve the meaning is mandatory for smooth a read.

Instead, writing or saying just “The results” and then simply pointing out the outcomes is certainly a good action.

Shun weak words like:

  1. Very
  2. Really
  3. Literally
  4. And so on.

Pro tip: Look out for synonyms for words that are too basic to keep a balance between common-unique words.

#3: Clear structure

The structure is the backbone of any write-up, whether it be a blog, article or anything.

A seamless structure assists readers in flowing through the text and scanning the content fluently.

Thus, having a structure which obstructs and clogs reading isn’t something you should be putting in your effort.

Break the information into chunks. Use headings and subheadings and place relevant information under each one. Below is an example of how to structure your content.

Matt also suggests keeping the sentence shorter. Sentences having 8 to 12 words are enough.

3 commas in a sentence? Start over.

– Matt Barker

Using full stops instead of commas can break complex sentences into simpler ones that are readable.

Finally, write what’s necessary and don’t waste other’s time.

TL; DR

  • Have a fluid content structure
  • Use full-stops throughout
  • Respect other’s time by mentioning only what’s necessary

Additional tips:

  1. Use fonts that are understood easily. Fonts that are too cursive or too flat should be avoided.
  2. A contrast must be maintained between the font colour and background colour. Some good combinations include black (text) with white (background) and yellow (text) with royal blue (background).
  3. Small paragraphs are soft on the eyes. Paragraphs having two to three sentences are enough as they offer optimal readability.

Tools for checking SEO content readability

There are several tools to check and assess readability in SEO for a piece of content.

To estimate the readability of a piece of writing just copy and paste in the field provided.

This applies to all the SEO readability tools to be discussed.

Flesch-Kincaid readability

The Flesch-Kincaid reading ease test in SEO is considered one of the most accurate—the scores on the tool range from 0 to 100.

It expresses the difficulty experienced by an average person to understand the text.

Higher scores mean better and easier reading. But, scoring above 70 means the text is fairly easy to read.

The following is the formula used to calculate readability scores for Flesch-Kincaid.

206.835 - 1.015 × (number of words/number of sentences) - 84.6 × (number of syllables ÷ number of words) 

The following table defines the score, reading difficulty and grade of the tool.

ScoreReading LevelGrade
0 to 10Most difficultProfessional
10 to 30Very difficultGraduate
30 to 50DifficultCollege student
50 to 60Fairly difficult10th to 12th grade
60 to 70Simple English8th and 9th grade
70 to 80Fairly easy7th grade
80 to 90Easy6th grade
90 to 100Very easy5th grade
Table 1: Flesch-Kincaid scores

Below is an example of the Flesch-Kincaid Ease Calculator in SEO:

Hemingway readability test

Hemingway offers a more interactive and intuitive experience to improve your readability scores. Hemingway Editor (named after the founder Ernst Hemingway) is a web-based application that helps people write clearly and simply.

This tool offers you different grades based on the level of writing.

Starting from Grade 1, Grade 2 and so on. The lower the grade the better the readability.

A text scoring Grade 10 is considered okay, but anything below Grade 9 is believed good.

However, achieving such lower grades is futile as the different types of writing are targeted at audiences who have attended at least the 8th and 9th classes.

The Hemingway Editor focuses on five different components of a sentence. It assesses the content in terms of numbers of:

  1. Adverbs (blue coloured)
  2. Passive voice (green coloured)
  3. Simpler alternatives (purple coloured)
  4. Hard sentences (yellow coloured)
  5. Very hard sentences (red coloured)

The tool to assess readability in SEO highlights the issues in the different colours mentioned.

This improves shortening the sentences, removing adverbs, avoiding excess use of passive tone and simpler options for sentences.

Using Hemingway Editor can be sometimes overwhelming. I feel sometimes it agitates clarity thus losing uniqueness and creativity in the content.

However, it offers formatting tools as well so you can structure your content as you write.

Gunning Fog Index

Gunning Fog is named after Robert Gunning an American merchant. This method of readability evaluation was discovered in 1952.

As compared to Flesch-Kincaid, Gunning Fog also bestows an overall understanding of the write-up.

It assesses the number of words, complex terms and sentences. The tradition of low scores means better readability is also applicable for this tool.

Gunning Fog grade or score ranges from 6 to 17 in terms of content readability.

Below is the formula used to measure the readability of a text having 100 sentences.

0.4 × ((number of words ÷ number of sentences) + 100 × number complex words ÷ number of words)

The Gunning Fog index follows the adjacent chart and gives a rank as per it.

ScoreEducational levelGrade
6ElementarySixth
7Seventh
8Eighth
9High schoolNewcomer
10Sophomore
11Junior
12Senior
13CollegeNewcomer
14Sophomore
15Junior
16Senior
17Graduate
Table 2: Gunning Fog scores

An example of the Gunning Fog index to evaluate the readability of SEO content is attached:

SMOG Index

SMOG stands for “Simple Measure of Gobbledygook”. Developed in 1969 as an alternative to the Gunning Fog Index for the healthcare sector by G. Harry McLaughlin.

To bring down the score of the test and improve readability, one should limit the number of times words having three or more than three syllables used.

The formula to calculate SMOG readability for 100 sentences is as follows:

1.0430 × square root(number of polysyllables × (100 ÷ number of sentences)) + 3.1291

Moreover, the following are the scores and level of education for the said test:

ScoreEducational level
4.9 or belowElementary school
5 to 8.9Middle school
9 to 12.9High school
13 to 16.9Undergraduate
17 or moreGraduate
Table 3: SMOG scores

An example of the results of the SMOG readability test is pinned below:

WordPress plugins to measure readability

WordPress is indeed a go-to platform for designing websites. Bloggers and writers prioritise WordPress over other CMS (Content Management Systems) out there.

Over the years, WordPress has evolved into a complete solution for businesses, marketers, writers, bloggers and anyone associated with the internet.

WordPress comes with handy-dandy plugins making selling, marketing and blogging just some finger taps.

Writers on WordPress have implemented various plugins to estimate how readable their content is.

These are a handful of plugins on which you can rely without any doubt.

Yoast

Yoast SEO is well-known for readability. The tool doesn’t require much introduction if you are already a writer on WordPress.

Yet, the advantages of using Yoast are worth mentioning.

The plugin comes with inbuilt features like search engine preview, social media preview tools and integration like Semrush and Wincher. But, the readability analysis tool takes the game to the next level.

Yoast’s readability analysis tools come in two versions:

  1. Free
  2. Paid

The free version includes almost every feature. The tool gives suggestions in the following areas:

  • Use of a limited number of passive voice
  • Distribution of subheadings
  • Length of paragraphs
  • Number of transition words
  • Use of inclusive language

Here’s an example from my previous post on proven link building strategies.

RankMath

RankMath is another big name in the kingdom of SEO. Some users prefer RankMath over Yoast, yet both of them allow you to have total authority on on-page SEO.

For beginners and newbies, I feel RankMath can be a great initiative. Why?

Because of the simple user interface, it offers. Let’s break this down.

RankMath categories aspects of SEO into four categories:

  1. General
  2. Advanced
  3. Schema generation
  4. Social appearance

Under the general section, it covers the basics:

  • Focus keyword
  • Basic SEO
  • Additional
  • Title readability
  • Content readability

Simply, RankMath shapes everything for the users. Above all these, it offers an SEO score for every post out of 100.

I have been able to maintain SEO scores above 90 for almost all of my posts. Some of them have reached 100 out of 100 like the above one on keyword research which is the first step to triumph SEO.

All in One SEO

All in One SEO abbreviated as AISEO is also a remarkable tool for improving readability in Search Engine Optimisation.

AISEO is very practical and pragmatic regarding its interface. The developers have decluttered a lot of features that are less important and have structured how we use the tool.

The tool is not much associated with content readability, but it focuses on heading readability and persuasiveness.

AISEO has this additional feature for “SEO Headline Analyzer”. Here one can assess the title of the post in terms of:

  1. Word balance
  2. Sentiment
  3. Type of headline
  4. Character count
  5. Word count
  6. Beginning and ending words
  7. Search preview

AISEO places a lot of emphasis on the importance of having a headline or title which entices users.

This is the reason, the tool focuses on creating titles that are not just readable but also persuasive and convincing to explore.

You can also try a different headline without messing up the current one which is an exceptional feature. This allows experimenting and discovering the most suitable one.

Finally, based on different factors, the tool offers an overall score for the title with suitable improvements here and there.

Scoring between 70 and 90 is considered very good. I have scored 81/100 for my post on Search Engine Optimisation.

Notion SEO

Notion SEO is designed with a focus on Notion users.

Designed by Shivam, Notion SEO offers three key metrics to measure. SEO score, readability score and number of unique words.

For better SEO scores, you need to add target keyword(s), links and visual content.

The readability section consists of almost all the metrics discussed including Flesch-Kincaid, Gunning Fog, SMOG and others.

Only Flesch-Kincaid is free to use, a recurrent purchase of ₹423.82/month or $5/month has to be made to unlock all features.

Content uniqueness is equally significant and having a balance between unique-common words improves readability and preserves the interest of readers.

I personally write all my blog posts for SynthSEO on Notion and rigorously use Notion SEO. I also use the tool to write for my posts on Medium.

Notion SEO grants users with a better insight into how they are writing.

Summary

Readability for SEO is impartially important as doing keyword research, image optimisation, getting the page indexed and others.

Neglecting readability can mess things up such as increased bounce rate.

And that is significantly impactful on how search engines perceive a website or page. Combining tools like Hemingway and RankMath can seriously improve SEO and readability helping retain readers or users.

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Shahzeb Arshad
Shahzeb Arshad

Curiosity is my fuel. I have an immense love for technology, which makes me leave no stone unturned behind. Apart from being a blogger and writer, I demystify technical stuff for others clearly and engagingly.

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