Does readability rank? On ease of reading and SEO
Is it worth your while making your text easy to read? Will it lead to higher rankings and more traffic? In simpler terms: Does readability rank? At Yoast, we’re convinced that writing in plain and understandable language can and will get you more visitors. We’ve even developed a tool to help people write readable text. In this post, we’ll explain why search engines love easy-to-understand copy and we’ll give tips on how to create it.
Tip: Join our free readability workshop on September 23!
You’ll leave the workshop with a new or improved blog. Together with our CEO Marieke, you’ll do a 30 min session, working on making your content readable. Plus get all your questions ready for the Q&A!
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Well-written copy improves user experience
At the risk of stating the obvious: unintelligible copy makes for a bad user experience. Nobody likes to read something that’s difficult to follow, boring or stuffed with keywords. All your online copy should be aimed and focused on your audience. It should be providing them with the information they need, a solution to their problem, or an answer to their question.
To get your pages high in Google, your instinct may be to write a text that the search engines will easily understand. Which isn’t necessarily wrong. But, first and foremost, you should create pages that provide great copy (and a great experience) for your visitors. This fits in nicely with our vision of holistic SEO. If you write a text that’s hard to understand, people won’t find what they need. What’s more, you’ll end up with unsatisfied visitors that bounce back to Google right when they hit your site. Google analyzes user signals like that to determine how visitors experience your site.
Search engines mimic humans
There used to be a time when stuffing keywords in your copy would work. If you’d just mention your keywords enough times in your text, Google would rank it high for those keywords. Those times are long gone. Nowadays, you need to be more mindful when it comes to the keyword density of your text.
Google has gotten much better at recognizing quality content. For instance, Google now recognizes synonyms. It also understands which words, entities, and content are related to each other. In addition to that, search engines are becoming better at predicting what people want to read. From the keywords in someone’s search query, they can make an estimated guess of their search intent.
Overall, Google’s algorithm is trying to mimic a human. It tries to read text like a human being would. As Google becomes more capable of understanding and scanning texts in a human-like way, readability will become more important for your rankings.
Voice search & accessibility
A lot of people use voice search, so Google and other search engines are also very much focused on voice. Imagine a long paragraph consisting of meandering sentences and containing lots of difficult words. Now imagine that paragraph read out loud. The voice result would become impossible to understand. Google wouldn’t want to use an answer like that. Neither in voice search or in normal results. That’s another reason why readability will help your rankings. Google prefers texts that are easy to follow, also when they’re read out loud using voice search.
But readability is also important when it comes to accessibility. You need to keep in mind that not everyone who visits your page will experience it in the same way. Some people with a visual impairment might use a screen reader to go through your content. You don’t want them to leave your page because your text is just way too long. But that’s not all. Much like Google itself, they rely on the proper use of headings to understand what your text is about. Remember that accessibility matters, and not just for SEO.
What makes a text easy to read?
How do people read online text? Of course, we all want to write that text that site visitors will gladly read from beginning to end. Unfortunately, that’s often not the case. Most of the time, people scan through texts, read subheadings and the first sentences of the paragraphs they deem relevant. They look for transition words in order to quickly abstract what the main conclusion of an article will be.
All the things people do while reading your text are things Google will do. That means that the structure of your text, the way you write your paragraphs, becomes increasingly important. Core sentences – the first sentence of every paragraph – will need to contain the most important message of that paragraph. And having a clear and logical structure in your text will be invaluable.
Tips to keep your text readable
Let’s talk about how we can create easy reads. Before you start writing your text, think about the structure. What do you want to tell your audience and in what order? Is that a logical order of topics? Will your audience be able to follow your arguments, your examples and main message? Maybe you should try writing content with the inverted pyramid style?
Try to use short sentences where you can, as lengthy sentences are much harder to process. Avoid or limit the number of difficult words in a text. Try not to use complicated sentences and try to avoid the use of passive voice. Also, make sure to write in an appealing style. That can be really hard; not everyone has a talent for creative writing. It helps to mix it up a bit! Try to alternate long sentences with shorter ones. Use synonyms. Avoid starting sentences with the same word. And check out our 5 tips to write a readable blog post.
We know writing readable copy is hard. Writing an unreadable text is a mistake that we see pretty often. That’s why we developed a readability analysis in Yoast SEO. It checks, for instance, if your sentences aren’t too long, if you don’t use passive voice too often and if the length of your paragraphs is okay. The analysis gives you tips about what you can improve on and you can even see which sentences need a second look. We’re continuously tweaking it, adding new checks and translating it into as many different languages as possible. We’re up to 18 languages right now! The analysis is available in our free and Premium Yoast SEO plugin.
One last tip: read it out loud!
Google’s Gary Illyes once tweeted that you should read your text out loud. If it doesn’t read nicely or sounds strange, it probably won’t rank either.
Let’s be clear: your rankings won’t immediately soar when you improve the readability of your texts. But, writing a readable blog post is an essential part of every SEO strategy. If you want your readers to read your entire blog post or page, your copy should be easy to read. Posts that are readable will definitely result in more returning visitors and a higher conversion rate. So in the long run: readability ranks.
Keep on reading: SEO copywriting: the complete guide »
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