Better Readability = Better SEO

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Search Engine Optimisation (or SEO) is constantly changing. Each and every week, another Search Engine modifies their rules. From the release of an additional algorithm to a new preference, there is constant progression. Currently, Search Engines are moving away from websites with masses of links and keywords. The next destination: “well-written” websites. 

What does this mean? If a website’s content is clear, legible and easily understood, it will be favoured by Search Engines. This is in some measure determined by a website’s Readability Level. Within this blog, you’ll learn how to ensure your website’s Readability Level is not a hindrance, but a secret weapon in your SEO arsenal.   

What is readability level and why is it important?

The Readability Level of a text is the ease in which it is read and understood. There are a range of methods currently used to measure readability, from Speed of Perception to the Reflex Blink Technique. Microsoft Word, for example, measures the Readability Level of a text using a system called the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level. This method counts the number of letters in each word and the number of words in each sentence. Longer words and sentences raise the Reading level and therefore the required Reading Level of the Reader. The Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level scores work as follows:

  • 90.0 – 100.0 – Easily understood by an average 11-year-old student
  • 60.0 – 70.0 – Easily understood by 13- to 15-year-old students
  • 0.0 – 30.0 – Best understood by university graduates

It is important to understand that the Reading Level does not take into account the actual meaning of the words or how ideas are conveyed. If an argument is poorly structured, the Reading Level can still be high. Likewise, a complicated theory can be explained in clean and simple terms and, as such, receive a lower Reading Level. 

1) Good Communication

If a website’s content is difficult to read, visitors will lose interest and leave. Conversely, a straight-forward, easily understood text is more likely to hook the audience. Ask yourself this question: “Why use a long, unfamiliar word when a short one does the same job?” Plain, simple language is not condescending; it’s good communication.

2) Google Analyses Readability

Websites must be written in a manner than matches their target audience. If a webpage is for children, the text must be easily understood by the average 11-year-old. If a website doesn’t match a Search Engine User’s Reading Level, the site will be marginalised.

Whether it’s Google, Yahoo! or Bing, they all use different types of algorithms and approaches. However, this article will concentrate specifically on Google’s approach to website readability.  

Can’t I ignore Google? There are other Search Engines too! 

On September 18th in 2006, Google filed a patent called Readability and Context Identification and Exploitation. Google explains this patent as follows:

Search systems and methods address the subjective nature of the relevancy of matches to users’ queries through the use of readability formulae. As a result, the documents are ranked by relevance not only to user queries, but specifically to the user. In one approach, the searchable web (or a searchable corpus of documents) is categorized on one or more servers. Each document is designated by reading level or other parameter(s) relevant to the user’s reading ability. In one embodiment, searching is carried out utilizing the user’s search query, and documents are ranked based on relevance to the query and on their degree of readability to the user—e.g., the degree to which the contents of each document correspond to the user’s reading level. Advertisement displays may be targeted to both the search tokens entered and the user’s age as determined from his reading level, rendering search-related advertisements significantly more effective in reaching their intended audiences.

Google clearly states: documents are ranked by relevance not only to user queries, but specifically to the Readability Level of the user. With this in mind, does you website speak to audience? And do they understand it?  

Perhaps you are asking the question: “Why concentrate on Google?” 

While Google continues to dominate the market share of search, it would be unwise to consider any other search provider at this present time. In April 2012, 2.2 billion Internet Surfers visited search engines in the UK. This is an increase of 89 million visits compared to April 2011. Of the 2.2 billion, Google received 91.02% of visits. In a close second place is Microsoft, with a mean 3.98%. While this drop might seem absurd, it would be even more ridiculous to ignore Google’s dominance of the search engine market share. While Google’s supremacy continues, Wrise will continue to follow their every move and react accordingly.  

How to Check your Website’s Google Readability Level

While there are many ways to test your website’s readability level, we will be using Google. Open the Search Engine and type site:domain.com in the search field. As an example, for this website you would enter: site:https://wrise.co.uk. On the left hand side of the search engine results page, click on the “More Search Tools”. Select “Reading Level”  under all results and you will see a table displaying the reading level for the webpage chosen.  Lets start by looking at the homepage for this website:  

As you can see, we have opted for a basic to intermediate Readability Level. We have prioritised simplicity and legible content to help us quickly connect with our audience. Furthermore, our website matches the majority or our target audience’s Reading Levels and will therefore be rarely punished by Google. 

With this is mind, let’s take a look at the Readability Level one of Wikipedia’s webpage. Wikipedia’s webpages may not be written by Shakespeare, but they should be comprehensible. Let’s take a look at the Readability Level of Wikipedia’s webpage about “readability”. Ironically, it is far from readable. Here are the results:

Perhaps Wikipedia’s layout or menu bars are confusing Google. Unfortunately, Google does not take this into account. This webpage will perform poorly on Google results pages if a Web Surfer with a basic or intermediate reading level wants to read an article about readability.  

In Conclusion…

It’s time for you to ask: 

  1. What is the readability level of my audience? 
  2. What is the readability level of my website’s content? 
  3. Do they match? 

It is quite simple. Give the audience what they want, need and understand.  Most importantly, make sure they don’t lose interest in the process. 

 

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