Does readability rank? On ease of reading and SEO

Is it worth your while making your text a pleasant read? Will it lead to higher rankings and more traffic? Is readability a ‘ranking factor’? At Yoast, we’re convinced that writing in plain and understandable language can get you more visitors. We’ve even developed a tool to help people write readable text. Here, we’ll explain why search engines love easy to understand copy, and we’ll give tips on creating it.

Well-written copy improves UX

At the risk of stating the obvious: unintelligible copy makes for bad user experience. Nobody likes to read something that’s incomprehensible, boring or stuffed with keywords. All your web copy should, therefore, be aimed and focused on your audience, giving them the information they need, a solution to their problem, or an answer to their question.

First and foremost, you should write great copy for your visitors. This fits in nicely with our vision of holistic SEO. If you write text people don’t understand, you won’t help people find what they need. What’s more, you’ll end up with unsatisfied visitors, that’ll probably bounce back to Google when they hit your site. Google analyses user signals like that to determine how visitors experience your site.

Search engines mimic humans

There used to be a time when stuffing keywords in your copy would work: if you’d just mention your keywords enough times in your text, Google would rank it high for those keywords. Those times are long gone.

Fortunately, Google got much better at recognizing quality content. For instance, after the Hummingbird update, Google started recognizing synonyms. It also understands which words, entities, and content are related to each other. In addition to that, search engines became better at predicting what people want to read: from the keywords in your query they can make an estimated guess on your search intent. You can learn how to semantically link entities to your content.

Overall, the algorithm of Google is trying to mimic a human. It tries to read text like a human being. As Google becomes more capable of understanding and scanning texts in a human-like way, the demands on the readability of text also rise.

Readability is important for voice search

The number of people using voice search is growing, so Google — and other search engines — are focused on voice. They present their results in a voice-like manner; they rank their results in a voice-like manner.

People searching for information with voice search could end up listening to a relatively long piece of information. Imagine a long paragraph consisting of meandering sentences and containing lots of difficult words, that’s read out loud. The voice result would become impossible to understand. Google wouldn’t want to use an answer like that. Neither in voice nor in normal results.

Google prefers understandable content because voice search is getting bigger. Whether it will be huge or not, doesn’t matter for the importance of understandable, readable content. Google simply dictates the search results and the algorithm. We just have to go with it. And in this case, it’s a good thing. Writing readable content is a blessing for the reader.

Read more: How to prepare for voice search »

What makes a text easy to read?

How do people read web copy? Visitors scan through texts, read subheadings and the first sentences of paragraphs. They look for transition words in order to quickly abstract what the main conclusion of an article will be.

All the things humans do while reading text are things Google will do. That means that the structure of your text, the way you write your paragraphs, will become increasingly important. Core sentences — the first sentence of every paragraph — will be crucial. Having a clear and logical structure in your text will be invaluable.

Tips to keep your text readable

How to create easy reads? Before you start writing your text, think about the structure. What are you going to tell your audience and in what order? Is that a logical order of topics? Will your audience be able to follow your arguments, your examples, your message? Maybe you should try writing content with the inverted pyramid style?

Read more: Setting up a text structure »

Write short rather than lengthy sentences, as lengthy sentences are much harder to process. Try to avoid or to limit the number of difficult words in a text. Try not to use complicated sentences and try to avoid the use of passive voice.

Keep reading: 5 SEO copywriting mistakes you should avoid »

Make sure to write in an appealing style. That can be really hard; not everyone has a talent for creative writing. Make sure to mix it up a little! Try to alternate long sentences with shorter ones. Use synonyms. Avoid starting sentences with the same word.

Read on: 5 tips to write a readable blog post »

We know writing readable copy is hard. That’s why we developed a readability analysis in Yoast SEO. It checks, for instance, if your sentences aren’t too long, if you don’t use passive voice too often, and if the length of your paragraphs is OK. We’ll give you tips for improvement and you can even see which sentences need a second look. We’re continuously tweaking it, adding new checks and getting it translated in as many different languages as possible. It’s available for free in the Yoast SEO plugin.

One last tip: read it out loud!

Google’s Gary Illyes once tweeted that you should read your text out loud. If it doesn’t read nicely or sounds strange, it probably won’t rank either.

Let’s be clear: your rankings won’t immediately soar if you improve the readability of your texts. But, writing a readable blog post is an essential part of every SEO strategy. If you want your readers to read your entire blog post, you should make sure your copy is easy to read. Posts that are nice to read will definitely result in more returning visitors and a higher conversion rate. So in the long run: readability ranks.

Keep on reading: SEO copywriting: the complete guide »


13 Responses to Does readability rank? On ease of reading and SEO

  1. mani
    mani  • 6 months ago

    how many times a keywords should repeated into a blog?

  2. Angie
    Angie  • 6 months ago

    While I agree wholeheartedly that readable text is important, I have to say that the arbitrary sentence length of the Yoast Plugin frustrates me to no end. My writing is consistently marked down by Yoast because of sentence length despite the sentences being easy and interesting to read. I write about travel. A good travel post also includes lots of descriptions, often called prose. Readers tell me that they love my posts because my writing makes them feel like they are on the trip with me. As an English major, I know that long sentences can be very readable, particularly when well written and grammatically correct. My question for you is how much will my website be penalized for my use of long sentences and the occasional flowery word?

  3. Chris
    Chris  • 6 months ago

    Great content! The article tells us quite a bit, not just in words but form. Allow for whitespace and a simple structure chunking info together allowing for a clean look and great UX

  4. Ferdinand Thommes
    Ferdinand Thommes  • 6 months ago

    Readability depends on your audience a lot. I run a Linux news blog and a lot of the topics are complex by nature and hard to make for easy reading. But the audience is up to it. So I seldom get a green light but my readers agree that my writing is not too hard to understand given the complexity of the matter.

  5. Chitaranjan
    Chitaranjan  • 6 months ago

    Nowadays I see newly launched websites with low page rank come up to the first position within a week time.

    Do these guys do Black hat SEO technique?

    IS SEO algorithm changed?

    Any specific white hat techniques should I employ to come up to the top within a week?

  6. The Staunch
    The Staunch  • 6 months ago

    Thanks for this guide on readability analysis, but i don’t really think i will be needing that much since my audience don’t really care about my tone

  7. Andrew Rulnick
    Andrew Rulnick  • 6 months ago

    I love the suggestions on readability, and it’s importance for SEO. Creating compelling content that’s easily understood by your visitors is paramount. Many of my studies have shown that we have less than 30 seconds to impress upon a new visitor that they have made it to the right place to answer their questions and meet their needs. I’ve been using YOAST and will be adding Grammarly to my tool belt this year. Thanks again for all your excellent content and SEO advice. Keep up the good work!

  8. Karen Lanzetta
    Karen Lanzetta  • 6 months ago

    I have been using yoast SEO for a while now and find the readibility analysis very helpful. It has made me much more aware of too long sentences and of course the dreaded passive voice.
    It makes total sense that people are more likely to stay on a readable page than on one that is too hard to grasp at first glance.
    So thanks for the readibility analysis in yoast, I try hard to get the green light every time.

    Karen

  9. Chris Acker
    Chris Acker  • 6 months ago

    Thanks for this article! My writing needs a lot of work. Since I can’t type fast or well, I started dictating my content to at least get it on paper and capture the moment. Then it seems easier to clean up.

    My Yoast Premium plugin seems to not be able to recognize which sentences need work when I use the readibilty analysis tool. I see the purple eye, but no highlighting takes place. Have you heard of this issue?

    I love the tool and use all of the features, but this one has me stumped.

    Chris

    • Wil Gros
      Wil Gros  • 6 months ago

      Ik heb hetzelfde probleem. Het oog verschijnt maar er is geen markering.Dat is trouwens pas sinds kort……….. Geen idee hoe het komt!

  10. Eric F. James
    Eric F. James  • 7 months ago

    One of the prime difficulties of SEO is the readability of historic text, transcriptions, and quotations. Readability guidance has a long way to go on this.

  11. Christoph
    Christoph  • 7 months ago

    I think when voice search is getting more than a trend, many SEO’s will have tu update all their work, which was done in the last years. ;-)

    Thanks for the inspiration.

    Cheers, Christoph