The consecutive sentences check in the Yoast SEO plugin warns against using the same word to start consecutive sentences. Why is this a bad idea, though? How is this related to SEO? And, how should you rewrite those sentences? Are there any exceptions? Let’s see!
Why you shouldn’t start sentences with the same words over and over
In most cases, using the same word to start consecutive sentences leads to awkward and repetitive writing. It breaks the rhythm of your text and tends to put readers off. Some words are more at risk of being repeated than others. You should pay special attention when using transition words (and, but, so, etc.), relative pronouns (this, that, these, those) and personal pronouns (I, you, it, etc.). Articles (the, a, an) are obviously also often used to start sentences. Consider the following example:
Example: We went shopping in the city to buy some new clothes. And then we had dinner. And then we went for a walk in the park. And then we went to the movies. But the movie was boring. But we still had a good time. But then we went home at 11 PM. And then we went to sleep.
Let’s not beat around the bush: this is awkward and boring writing. You want your copy to be engaging, not repetitive.
Why it’s important for SEO
Generally, a paragraph that contains many consecutive sentences all starting with the same word, won’t be a nice read. Worst case scenario: readers might get annoyed and leave your website. So, while an occurrence of three identical sentence starters may seem of little importance for SEO to you, keep in mind that serving your audience the best content you possibly can is the essence of a holistic SEO strategy.
Tackling repetitive sentence beginnings is a good start! But it sure isn’t the only thing you could do. Do you want to make your text a better read for both humans and search engines? The content analysis in Yoast SEO will show you where and how you can improve.
What does the consecutive sentences check do?
The consecutive sentences check assesses whether your text contains three or more sentences in a row all starting with the same word. If that’s the case, you’ll get a red bullet and the advice to variate a bit. Keep in mind that headings are also taken into account. If you click the eye icon all consecutive sentences that start with the same word are highlighted.
How to tackle repetitive sentences
Rewriting sentences like the example above is pretty straightforward. There are several ways of wording a sentence differently. Sometimes, you can simply change the word order. Looking for synonyms and using transition words are also great ways to avoid using the same sentence structure every time. If all of these options fail, you can always add a sentence or break up your sentences into smaller ones.
If you’re overusing personal pronouns, try mixing them up with the actual people you’re referring to. Instead of we, say Julie and I, or WordPress users. Instead of this, use the actual word you’re referring to. In addition, mix up your transition words: don’t just use but, use however and though as alternatives, for example.
Let’s spice up the paragraph we introduced earlier using these tips and slightly more exciting phrasing.
Revised example: First, we went shopping in the city. Once we had found the perfect summer wardrobe, it was time for a nice dinner downtown. After a walk in the park, Julie and I hit the cinema. Unfortunately, the movie was a bit of a let down. In all, it was a great day, though. By now, we were quite tired, so we went home and hit the feathers at 11 PM.
As you can see, this paragraph conveys the exact same information, but is much more lively and engaging.
Deliberately using the same words
Sometimes, using the same word to start consecutive sentences can actually work quite nicely. In this case, you’re using repetition as a stylistic device. We call it anaphora. A great example is the speech Winston Churchill gave in 1940 during the Second World War:
Example: We shall fight on the beaches. We shall fight on the landing grounds. We shall fight in the fields and in the streets. We shall fight in the hills. We shall never surrender.
Here, the repetition of “we shall” gives the speech a certain power and heroism. If you’re using anaphora to achieve poetic effect, by all means: ignore the plugin feedback. Most of the time, however, you aren’t trying to be Churchill. You’re simply trying to write a readable web text.
Also for enumerations, it makes total sense to have several sentences in a row starting with identical words. Indeed, using the same words could even make your list or how-to instructions more clear. Take this example:
- If you want Google to crawl and index your page, then you should …
- If you don’t want Google to index your page, you should …
- If you don’t want Google to index your page, you could also …
Both the bullets and the identical sentence beginnings provide structure, which makes it easier to read and process the information. However, be aware that the effect may be different if you don’t present your enumeration in a visual format, like a bulleted list. Without the bullets and the extra whitespace, things can get boring rather quickly.
In short: If the consecutive sentences check gives you a red bullet, make sure to track down unintended repetitiveness. Repeating the same words to start your sentence is generally a bad idea. It tends to bore readers, who may leave your page and start looking for more readable alternatives. Enrich your sentences with synonyms and transition words. If you can’t, just rephrase the sentence by changing the word order, or rearrange some sentences. Try to mix up your writing style; your readers will thank you for it!
Read more: The ultimate guide to SEO copywriting »