Why Readability Scores Could Make Your Content Better

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.

Books

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.

Readability Tools

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:

View post on imgur.com

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:

View post on imgur.com

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.

Grant Maddox

Article by

Grant Maddox enjoys writing product descriptions, reviews, articles, and blog posts. He is especially conversant in poker and other gambling games and can contribute successfully to strategy articles and news items regarding such games. Grant can write compelling content while observing the rules of English grammar.

Powered by Crowd Content image

Content Creation for Your Blog

Learn more
Content Marketing

5 Best Practices for Killer CTAs: Hooks, Lines and Keepers

Continue reading

Content Marketing

Page Speed Matters for Content: Boost Yours with these 4 Ste …

Continue reading

0 thoughts on “Why Readability Scores Could Make Your Content Better”

  • Avatar

    The Yoast plugin in WordPress has a readability function. It helps, most of the time, but others I don’t like to be limited by readability scales, especially when my writing is a little bit more creative.

    • Avatar

      There are times when you just feel like being creative, when you want the chance to write fancy prose. Having to stifle those desires is always hard, but we have to remember that it’s better than having our work go unread.

  • Avatar

    As a writer, I often create too many overly long sentences. I’m going to use this readability score tool to find the long sentences. Then my content will flow better and be easier for website visitors to read. Thanks for these tips!

        • Avatar

          When I learned this same info about the public at large having an 8th grade reading level, my first thought was, “Wow, people are bad at reading.” But then I remembered that many teens and even younger people are active on the internet — and in fact they probably spend more time online than older people. So they are bringing the average down, possibly, but anyway they are consumers themselves and should count fully in our content creation strategies.

    • Avatar
      Georgia Potts says:

      I do the same thing. We were encouraged to do that in journalism school for whatever reason, and the habit just stuck. A lot of times when I get edits sent back, it’s because my sentences are too long.

      • Avatar

        Had a client who counted the number of sentences I used that were 30 words of higher (in defense, it was a product review, so I had a lot of lists of features!). It was… far too many sentences.

        • Avatar

          There was Internet when I was there, but it wasn’t that widely used. We finally got dial up, but it was such a pain I hardly bothered with it.

    • Avatar

      Me too! I have found that most of these sentences that are too long consist of multiple clauses, and they can usually be broken up into two or more sentences for better readability. (The preceding sentence is a fine example of this.)

  • Avatar

    I had a client ask me to put my content through the Readability Score site and gave me a target to shoot for (apparently, I tend to favor a more complex style than what they were going for). It was really helpful!

    • Avatar

      That’s cool that your client was aware of the Readability Score tool. I’m going to try it on my next content pieces to give me ideas for where I can improve.

      • Avatar

        It’s actually the first time I’d ever heard of it! Now I keep mental notes what kind of level my DO clients like and try to shoot at the same tone and readability for all orders.

  • Avatar

    I love this post, one of the more useful bits I’ve read in awhile. Readability is so important. When I went from writing for the internet to graduate school papers, I had such a hard time writing too “simplistic”….then when I ended graduate school, the opposite occurred. Always good to keep readability in mind and know your audience.

  • Avatar

    Awesome tips! I had no idea about the readability scores in Microsoft Word. I’ll definitely be paying more attention to those in the future.

  • Avatar

    Thank you for the information, being able to use this function with Microsoft is something I will have a look at and help me determine how I am writing to reach the target audience in the future.

  • Avatar

    Ughhh. Good post and nice points, but is content that’s more basic and easier to read really “better”? I’ve had a lot more people recommend Jane Austen’s novels than Margaret Wise-Brown’s Goodnight Moon.

    • Avatar

      Hey Rob,

      You make a valid point, but I would say that content ought to be as basic and easy to read as it can be without adversely affecting the message or compromising the style.

      Regarding Jane Austen, the chart that I linked to from Contently puts her at between a fifth and sixth grade reading level. Consider the following exchange from chapter 2 of “Pride and Prejudice”:

      “What say you, Mary? for you are a young lady of deep reflection, I know, and read great books and make extracts.”
      Mary wished to say something very sensible, but knew not how.

      According to Microsoft Word, this text has a grade level of just 4.4. After looking through some of Austen’s works, I see that she did use some quite sophisticated language and long sentences, but counterbalancing them were very short sentences with common words. So overall, she is very readable notwithstanding the fact that some consider her to be a refined or acquired taste.

    • Avatar

      I just looked at the Hemingway App. It’s definitely going to help me find and revise overly long sentences and make my content writing flow better. Thanks for the suggestion, TC.

  • Avatar

    I just wonder if we should account for different ages. If my content is for doctors, shouldn’t it be at a higher level? I would think so.

    • Avatar
      Grant Maddox says:

      I guess the doctors would fall into the category of “college graduates” that the Nielsen Norman Group (link in article) recommends writing for at a 12th-grade level.

      I would keep text meant for doctors at this level except for specific content related to the medical field. There might be specialized terminology that you have to use, which will cause the grade level of your piece to shoot up maybe to the 14th or 15th grade.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes:

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>