Content that is not read is useless.
So how do you create content that your audience will read (and not just glimpse)?
Make it more readable.
It sounds so simple as to be silly, but it’s true.
Readability is a huge factor that will determine everything from who engages with your content, how much value they get from it, and whether they’ll come back to read more.
So what is content readability, how is it measured, and how can you make your content easier to read?
It’s all within this guide.
What is content readability?
Content readability measures how easy your content is to read for your audience.
- Readable content it’s clear, easy to understand, and easy to navigate through.
- On the other hand, the content that is hard to read it’s hard to understand, hard to skim, and unclear.
But perhaps the biggest difference between readable and unreadable content lies in the value your reader can take away from each.
Readable content effectively conveys information so your reader learns something new, makes a discovery, or solves a problem.
Unreadable content fails to do all of that – your reader can’t learn anything from it because the words and sentences themselves make no sense.
How is the readability of content measured?
The readability of the contents is both objective and subjective. It’s based on an individual’s reading level and intelligence, but it’s also measurable based on objective things like:
- The word choices and vocabulary you use in your content.
- How often do you use common and uncommon words.
- The structure and length of sentences and paragraphs.
There are many readability tests that measure your content against the above factors and give you a score that tells you how readable your content is.
Here are the most common (and current, since they were created or updated in the last 50 years) readability tests:
Flesch-Kinkaid grade level formula
Flesch-Kinkaid is perhaps the best-known readability formula. Examine the relationship between words and phrases and syllables and words to measure the readability of your text.
This formula ranks your content based on the lowest US level that could easily read and understand it.
So, for example, a score of 6 means that people reading at a level of 6th grade and above should be able to read your text easily. (This is a good score to aim for with online writing, by the way.)
Tools that can check your content against this formula include Microsoft Word, Hemingway Editor, Readable, and ProWritingAid.
In Microsoft Word, readability statistics are displayed after you run a spelling and grammar check:
Lexile Framework for reading
Another well-known readability measurement system used mostly in schools is the Lexile Framework. It has two parts:
- Measure text by word frequency and average sentence length.
- Measure a person’s reading level.
For example, content that is more difficult to read (with many long sentences and infrequently appearing words) will get a higher Lexile score. Easier-to-read content (with short sentences and frequent words) will get a lower score.
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How to make your content easier to read: 9 tips for better readability
So, now we know that readable content is high-quality content.
But let’s say you’ve tested your content against some readability checker and found that it’s mostly hard to read.
It’s time to improve your content to make it more readable. Here are nine tips that will help you.
1. Shorten your sentences
Shorter sentences are simpler. That’s why they are easy to read.
Meanwhile, longer sentences tend to contain more than one thought or idea. Stuff your sentences full of information and your readers will have a hard time untangling it all.
So shorten those sentences. And if you tend to write long sentences naturally, skim through your draft, find them, and break them up into smaller chunks.
Hot tip: a tool like Hemingway editor automatically highlights long sentences so you don’t have to search for them.
2. Break and shorten your paragraphs
As you shorten sentences, go ahead and shorten those paragraphs as well.
At most, your paragraphs for written online content should contain no more than 1-3 sentences.
A large, dense paragraph with long sentences is daunting. It’s great for a paperback novel but terrible for your blog.
Nothing spells death to your reader’s attention worse than a wall of dense text.
A good rule of thumb for breaking up paragraphs: One paragraph = one thought or idea. As soon as you move on to your next thought, move on to a new paragraph.
Remember: the « enter » (or « return ») key is your friend.
3. Use active voice
Next tip for readability: write with an active voice.
Voice active refers to how a sentence is expressed. When you say it actively, you clearly indicate the subject and the verb.
Example: « The dog ran after the ball. »
Dog = subject. Ran = verb.
Passive voice it means that you are formulating a sentence passively. This means that the subject of the sentence is not clear.
Example: « The ball was run by the dog. »
See how the subject, the dog, is buried at the end of the sentence?
That said, sometimes passive voice works if you need to emphasize the action of the sentence over the subject.
For example, let’s say I wanted to tell you about a car robbery I suffered. I’d say, « My car was broken into last night. »
The subject of the sentence (the person who stole my car) is irrelevant – I don’t know who that is. What is important to communicate is that the robbery – the action – took place.
However, proceed with caution. In most cases, active voice is much clearer and easier to read than passive voice. Emphasize this when editing your content.
4. Mix up your word choices
Repeating the same words over and over in your content is boring to read. Not to mention it looks like keyword stuffing.
Is « boring to read » the same thing as « hard to read »? Not exactly. But it’s close.
Keep in mind that people bored with your content probably won’t stay to read all of it. They will bounce.
Here’s why mixing your vocabulary can improve your writing. Spice up your sentences and make them more engaging.
5. Use lists
Lists are a skimmer reader’s best friend.
And if your content is easy to browse, it’s also easy to read.
For this reason, whenever you’re tempted to write a long, comma-separated list of items, turn it into a numbered or bulleted list.
You can apply the same technique to:
- Steps in sequence.
- A group of related items, ideas, or concepts.
- Points in a long paragraph.
- Any other information you want to highlight or separate from the main text.
See what I did there?
6. Give directions to your readers
The easy-to-read content also makes judicious use of signposts that show the reader the lay of the land.
For example, descriptive titles help your reader understand how your content is organized and what information each section will cover.
Selective use of bold text helps highlight important words, ideas or phrases that the reader should pay attention to.
Another great indicator for long-form content is the humble table of contents. This helps your reader jump in your article to the information they most want to read.
Here’s a good example of a blog with a summary of Ahrefs, a brand that uses them often:
7. Avoid industry jargon and language
“Our goal was to drive more traffic to the landing page and ultimately earn ROI through signups.”
Do you understand what the sentence above says?
If you do, you could be a marketer.
If you don’t, welcome to the world of industrial Japanese (aka industrial slang or slang).
This is the internal language that people working in the same niche or industry use when talking to each other.
To everyone else it sounds like a dirty word.
Using it in content that should be targeted to your audience is a cardinal sin. Because unless you have a specific exception, your audience does Not talk like you and your colleagues.
8. Format your pages with lots of white space
The responsibility for this may fall on your website designer, but it’s important. Make sure your pages have lots of blank space around content and text.
This is simply the empty space between elements on a page.
This « breathing space » makes your pages easier to read because page elements won’t be crammed together.
9. Check your content by reading it aloud
One of the easiest ways to check the readability of your content is to read it aloud.
It may sound silly, but you’ll quickly discover how different your content out loud is to what’s in your head.
When you read it aloud, you’re more likely to come across complex sentences and paragraphs or notice when your words get slurred.
When you come across these instances, try to rewrite them in a simpler way. Sand them down to make them easier to read.
Try it. It could change the way you edit content.
Improve the readability of your content for better results
Content readability is a big problem.
When your content is readable for your audience, it will be easier to derive value from it. They will learn from it, pick up something new or get the answer they were looking for.
On the other hand, hard-to-read content will prevent them from doing the above. It will bore or frustrate them.
And a bored and frustrated audience won’t stick around. This is the antithesis of content marketing.
Work on your readability and you will see better results.
The views expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff writers are listed here.