Content has moved from academic to commercial and is now more creative and visual.
What has remained constant is the goal of ranking higher in search engines.
Search engine algorithms require adherence to several factors: the user intent behind the search inquiry and whether your article answers that.
Does your content offer unique insights? Is it interesting, maybe even entertaining? Is it readable and easy to understand?
The last point is becoming more critical – how ‘readable’ is your content?
Most online content writing is written at a reading level for 13-15-year-olds.
Whilst there are several industries where it’s better to write more academically or technical, writing website content that is more easily digestible is crucial for keeping readers interested and engaged.
Keeping your readers engaged means they remain on the page, thus substantially impacting your SEO ranking regarding page dwell time.
But how do you know how readable your online content is?
The Flesch Reading Ease score is a method for calculating the approximate reading level of English-language content. The structure of the English language determines its results.
The Flesch Reading Ease works via a formula:
206.835 – (1.015 x average sentence length) – (84.6 x average syllables per word).
First, the average sentence length is calculated by dividing the number of words by the number of sentences.
Then, the average number of syllables per word is calculated by dividing the number of syllables by the number of words.
When calculating the Flesch readability score, sentence length and the length of the words within the sentence are considered.
Short sentences and small words receive higher scores, whilst longer sentences with longer words receive lower scores.
This paragraph scores around a 62 on the Flesch Readability Scale, which is in the average range for online content.
In case you want to improve your content’s readability, the actual formula for you calculating the reading ease score is:
Flesch Reading Ease = 206.835 – (1.015 x Average Sentence Length) – (84.6 x Average Syllables Per Word)
You can calculate average sentence length by dividing the number of words by the number of sentences.
You can calculate the average number of syllables per word by dividing the number of syllables by the number of words.
However, most people don’t have the patience to count all the words, sentences and syllables in a blog post. Fortunately, there are tools to help.
The algorithms that determine SEO ranking change regularly are unclear, and not all of those factors are easily defined.
It is unknown whether Google calculates Flesch readability. However, the readability of your article does impact your search engine ranking.
In general, if a piece of content is too difficult to read, readers won’t remain on the page for long.
You may have as little as eight seconds to capture the average reader’s attention and convince them to stay on the page long enough to finish the article.
If the content isn’t engaging enough to catch their attention or simple enough to keep them reading, they’ll click away, leading to the dreaded high bounce rate.
Too many instances of quick clicks that result in visitors leaving your page can swiftly drop your search engine ranking.
It’s also important to note that most internet searchers aren’t looking for elaborate, complicated explanations about their topic.
Whilst long-form blog posts often have a higher search engine ranking than shorter ones, and many readers appreciate more in-depth blog posts, keeping them simple, scannable, and easy to read helps increase the odds that readers will remain on the page.
Generally, you should present complex topics in a clear, easily digestible format.
Your target readability score will depend on your intended audience and the content you’re delivering.
For example, if you’re providing information geared toward elementary school children, you’ll want to keep your content at a lower reading level.
On the other hand, if you’re writing a university-level piece that involves detailed research and a deep understanding of a particular content area, you can allow your readability score to decrease substantially.
In general, you’ll want to keep web content at a score of between 60-70 to ensure that you’ll be able to reach and engage the biggest possible audience.
Scoring above that number may indicate that your content is too straightforward, which will put readers off.
If you’re consistently scoring below 60, read on for several tricks you can employ to bring your score back up and make your content easier to read.
The average section should contain around five sentences, but there are exceptions to that rule.
Highly technical or specific content will have longer paragraphs, while you may break up more straightforward content into smaller sections that are easier to follow.
Whilst they may not substantially impact your Flesch score, headings and subheadings will also contribute to breaking up walls of text, making it easier for readers to skim.
Action words are critical.
Keep your reader engaged by avoiding passive language and removing unnecessary words, prepositions and tautologies. Pack as much meaning into as few words as possible.
You’ll be surprised by how much more readable an article becomes when you remove unnecessary words.
You can babble on endlessly, cramming as much information as possible into a sentence like this one that seems to go on forever and ever, but that’s a perfect way to scare off your readers.
Sticking to a 20-25-word maximum per sentence is a better rule of thumb.
Short sentences give readers room to form their own opinions and absorb the information you’re presenting.
Too many writers fall into the trap of becoming impressed by their own vocabularies.
While mixing up your words is great, you don’t have to use a complicated phrase when a simple one serves the same purpose.
Try using small instead of minuscule, or idea instead of concept.
Minor changes to your writing vocabulary can help keep your reader’s attention—not to mention help you avoid sounding pretentious.
Here’s the thing about all the rules: they’re never absolute.
You aren’t writing for SEO.
You’re writing for real people who will read the things you’ve written.
When you write meaningful content that adds value to your industry, people will read it. Keep your audience in mind with every piece you write.
If that means breaking the rules—using longer paragraphs, including more complicated words, and writing longer sentences—then go for it!
Ultimately, your readers should determine the direction of your content strategy, not an algorithm. The Flesch Reading Ease Score is a helpful tool rather than an oppressive rule.
When you write with your readability score in mind, you’ll discover that you produce much more crisp content that is naturally more interesting to your readers.
The average internet browser reads and comprehends best at approximately a seventh-grade level.
Most readers can understand more complicated content, but they prefer to read something more straightforward.
When you deliver that content, you enhance your readers’ experience and bring them back to see what else you have to offer. Many online content writers have mastered this art.