February 25, 2019 Mollie Parker

How Readability Affects Your Search Ranking

Think about opening a book. What do you see? Large type? Small type? Line breaks? Huge paragraphs? Some of this probably sounds preferable over the rest. That’s because as human beings, we are inclined to favor what is easier and more pleasing for us to read. It’s not just true for hardbacks and paperbacks. We want the content we read online to be seamless and appealing as well—all in an effort to give us the best web browsing experience. Not only does the readability of your online content affect your followers, but also readability affects your search ranking.

What is readability?

Readability refers to how clear a section of copy is for both reading and comprehension. Google likes quality content (cue the fact that stuffing keywords into copy is no longer acceptable to the search engine). Quality content to Google also encompasses the readability of text on a web page.

How does readability affect SEO?

While there are more than 200 ranking factors that go into Google’s search algorithm, readability is one that has become—at least indirectly—increasingly significant in terms of SEO. Though it may not be something that is directly measured, it definitely affects the user experience. User experience correlates to direct ranking factors like the amount of time someone spends on a page, for example.

With Google’s latest update, Hummingbird, the search engine has taken mimicking human behavior more seriously. This includes trying to read web pages like a human would. That being said, paying attention to readability when devising web copy is not only important for the sake of your site visitors, but also to appease Google in hopes of scoring a higher ranking.

What does good readability look like?

To answer this question, think about what you do when you visit a web page. Unless you’re just sitting down for some quality web browsing time, you’re likely quickly scanning the page, reading headlines and subheads in an attempt to get the main gist of the article without having to read it word for word.

Google does the same thing. It prioritizes a combination of sentences that are concise and to the point with longer ones in a manner that flows conversationally. It also likes content to be grouped together in a way that makes sense using a visual hierarchy to break up long blocks of text.

Another factor to note in the way that readability affects your search ranking—voice search is on the rise. In response to a voice search, Google wants to pull content that answers the question, but that does so in a clear, concise way. It doesn’t want to read a long, drawn-out sentence that takes too long to get to the point—and it won’t.

How can I improve my content’s readability?

Now that you know you need to do it, here are a few ways you can improve the readability of your web content.

  • Use simple words. Your brand’s web space is no place to show off your vocabulary. Difficult and complex words are a quick means to losing readership—and Google’s blessing.
  • Choose concise sentences. Along the same lines, keep sentences relatively short as well. Try taking a long sentence and breaking it into two shorter ones. It’s OK to alternate between short sentences and slightly lengthier ones, but keep the multiple clauses to a minimum.
  • Break up long stretches of text. Not only do the length of your words and sentences impact how readability affects your search ranking, but so does the content structure itself. There’s nothing that makes a website visitor want to leave sooner than a scroll of grey text that goes on for days. If you’ve got a lot to say—that’s OK, but make it easier on your readers by organizing content with heads, subheads, lists and/or bullet points. Graphics, charts, pull-quotes and more are also good ways to break up the boring.
  • Get to the point. Content structure also matters in terms of how you structure copy within a paragraph. Make your main point clear out of the gate, then fill in with supporting details as the paragraph goes on.
  • Opt for a conversational tone. Online, it pays to keep your copy casual. This is no college research paper, so don’t address your audience like it is your professor. Imagine that you are talking to someone in real life as you write.
  • Find a font that is easy to read. It’s all about sans-serif—at least for your long-body text. Serif fonts are better suited for print materials like magazines and newspapers, where they thrive more than they do on screen. Also, pay attention to the size of the font. Long-body text should not be too large or too small.

If all else fails, read your web copy out loud. If I doesn’t sound good to you, it likely won’t sound good to anyone else either—including Alexa, Siri or Google Home.

Does worrying about the readability of your online content give you a headache? The McNutt & Partners team can help. Call 334-521-1010, or visit our contact page.

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