You worked hard for your smarts and, like any self-respecting egoist, need others to acknowledge it.

If this sounds like you, you’re in good company.

While it might be intuitive to quell any shadow of doubt of your writing ability by flexing your repertoire of buzzwords, figurative language and technical jargon, not unlike what I’m doing right now (I take great pride in my modesty), this strategy has limited merit in the noisy realm of digital – where something else will grab a consumer’s attention if they haven’t already left your site out of frustration or boredom.

When readers can’t follow your writing, they can’t act on your message. Therefore, it’s important to provide your audience with a hospitable opportunity for engagement in something they can read and understand quickly.

Enter readability.

What is Readability?

Readability estimates the level of education one would need to easily understand a body of text. 

Considering the inherent complexity of language, this is no simple task. Think of some of the nuances of a piece of content: voice, cultural references, word choice. In essence, readability is the sum of these factors that determine a text’s success among readers. By success, I mean the degree to which readers can understand and read it at an optimal pace.

With only a few of these language metrics, scientists have formulated highly-applicable tests that output meaningful scores.

There are many different readability tests out there, but most take average sentence length and average word length into account.

For instance, the Flesch Reading Ease Test uses these two metrics alone to define readability as a number through the following formula.

206.835 – 1.015 x (words/sentences) – 84.6 x (syllables/words)

The final number roughly translates to the grade-level one would need to comprehend the text easily. Higher scores render greater readability.

For reference:

  • 100-90: likely to be understood by an average 5th grader
  • 60-70: likely to be understood by an average 8th grader
  • 0-30: likely to be understood by an average graduate student

 

This blog, for example, has a Flesch Reading Ease Score of 53 – the average 9th grader should be able to understand it.

As another example, the Declaration of Independence has a Flesch Reading Ease Score of 33 – it’s mainly accessible to those with a college education.

An 8th grader very well might make sense of this blog or the founding document, so the score is not the be-all and end-all of readability. However, studies have shown tests to be accurate and, in turn, it is a useful metric to assess your writing.

How Does Readability Apply To SEO?

Per best SEO practices, writers should strive to create compelling content. It should be concise yet profound, straightforward yet well-rounded, easy to understand yet interesting. It’s a quintessential balancing act.

By factoring in readability scores into your writing process, you can fine-tune your content to a wider audience. 

The Nielsen Norman Group says to aim at an 8th-grade reading level for broad audiences, whereas a 12th-grade reading level is more appropriate for specialized or B2B audiences.

To boost your score, use active voice as much as possible among shorter sentences comprised of less prohibitive words.

As the insecure writer may not realize, it is not a game of how grand, but rather one of how simple.

Jack Wisniewski

Jack joined PCG Digital as a content writer in September 2019. When he’s not skiing or at the gym, you’ll mostly catch him at comedy clubs performing open mics. When he’s not on stage, he’s writing for it.