We all know that headings, images, bullet points and other elements can make your content stand out and seem attractive, but we shouldn’t forget about the readability of the actual text itself. Overly wordy or fancy phrasing can put readers off. On the other hand, too simple a writing style may make your website appear naive or ill-informed. With the proper use of readability scores, you can efficiently target your desired audience with professional and easy-to-scan web pages.
What Are Readability Scores?
The most popular readability metric is the Flesch-Kincaid grade level index. It uses a formula to determine what grade level of readers a piece of content is appropriate for. Lower numbers signal that a text is easily understood while higher values mean that a piece is more difficult. This system aims for a rough equivalence to the U.S. school system, so a score of 5.0 corresponds to around a fifth-grade reading level. The related Flesch-Kincaid reading ease test uses similar calculations, but it expresses results on a scale from 0 to 120 with higher scores awarded to more readable passages.
The factors that go into these estimates are the average number of words per sentence and the average number of syllables per word. Lengthier sentences and words cause text to be graded as harder to read.
Why Are Readability Scores Relevant?
Although Google’s exact ranking formulas aren’t available to the public, there is a correlation between reading ease and search placement. SEO software firm Searchmetrics released a white paper that says that the average Flesch-Kincaid reading ease score among the top search results is 76. This corresponds to a grade level of around seven or eight.
There is an argument to be made that technical or literate audiences prefer more complex content, but don’t go too far with this line of reasoning. Remember that even the most educated readers can understand content that’s basic, so you won’t necessarily lose them if you use straightforward language. The UX consulting service Nielsen Norman Group recommends keeping your texts at the 12th-grade level if you’re writing for an audience of college graduates. This allows you to cater to their tastes for more refined reading material without alienating less erudite readers.
Don’t worry about “dumbing down” your words and sentences. The whole point is to make your website clear and engaging without omitting anything important. Journalist Malcolm Gladwell, of “Outliers” fame, was able to effectively communicate his ideas without taxing his readers beyond the ninth-grade level according to a chart produced by Contently. Cormac McCarthy penned critically acclaimed fiction at a fifth-grade reading level. Unless the message you’re trying to get across is more complicated than that of these two gentlemen, there’s no reason for you to employ language any more demanding than they did.
It’s easy to figure out where your document falls on the Flesch-Kincaid scales because there are a number of convenient resources that will tell you. If you use Microsoft Word, you can adjust your proofing settings to enable the display of readability statistics. Every time you perform a spelling and grammar check thereafter, you’ll see a box like this one:
Microsoft Word is a commercial product, and if you’d like a free option instead, you can head over to readability-score.com. Copy-paste your content or enter a URL. The site will analyze the text and then display its readability scores. It also offers additional information, such as estimated reading time, and it will show you your longest sentence and word:
Unless your content is already perfectly pitched to your patrons’ preferences, readability scores can be a valuable addition to your content-creation arsenal. Use them wisely to identify when you ought to break up overlong sentences and replace problematic phrases with simpler synonyms. This will improve user engagement and may even make an impact on your search performance.
If you’re looking to find a content writer for your website that can match the reading level of your audience, be sure to contact us.
Note to the reader: The above post is rated 10.2 on the Flesch-Kincaid grade level and 52 for reading ease.