Does readability rank?

Two weeks ago Google’s Gary Illyes tweeted that you should read your text out loud. If it doesn’t read nicely or sounds strange, it probably won’t rank either. Of course, a discussion followed. Some SEOs are reluctant to believe him, because in some cases keyword stuffing still seems to pay off. For relatively small languages (like Dutch) this appears to be true. At Yoast however, we really believe in the value of readable texts for SEO. In this post, I’ll explain the importance of writing readable content for SEO. Also, I’ll give some tips on how to write copy that is nice and easy to read.

Hummingbird and readability

After the Hummingbird update, Google became a lot better at recognizing synonyms. Keyword stuffing, in order to let Google know what your text is about, became useless. Keyword stuffing leads to text that is terrible to read. Webpages with this kind of content will (sooner or later) disappear from the search results. Sooner, if Google actively punishes sites that clutter their text with keywords. Later, if visitors get tired of reading bad copy and are less prone to come back or buy from those sites.

UX and readability

Text that isn’t nice and easy to read will give your audience a bad user experience. Nobody likes to read something that’s boring or stuffed with keywords. All texts should be aimed and focused on your audience, giving them the best experience possible. Otherwise, you’ll end up with unsatisfied visitors, that’ll bounce back to Google instantly, when they hit your site.

Voice search and readability

As voice search is becoming more and more important, readability of copy becomes more important as well. As people are searching for stuff by talking to their devices, these devices will search for information that they can give to their audience. Information that is a terrible read, will not be comprehended by an audience. Texts should be clear while read from paper, from a screen, from a mobile phone, but also if they are read to you by a device.

How to keep your text readable

Writing readable texts is hard. That’s why we worked so hard on our readability analysis. We’re still working on it, getting it translated in as many different languages as possible. It’s available for free in the Yoast SEO plugin. It helps you to write readable texts. 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.

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 logic order of topics? Will your audience be able to follow your arguments, your examples, your message?

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 amount 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, as 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 »

Conclusion: read out loud!

Let’s be clear: your rankings will not immediately rise if you improve the readability of your texts. But, writing 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 and easy 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 »

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15 Responses to Does readability rank?

  1. Vicky
    Vicky  • 2 years ago

    thanks for this awesome piece of content, i was bit confuse about readability and ranking signals but i can understand it better.

  2. Matthew Kushinka
    Matthew Kushinka  • 2 years ago

    Your last paragraph says it all, Marieke. Readability is all about UX, which (down the line) will ostensibly help you in SERPs. If an easy-to-read post helps your readers stay on the page, read the the whole post, or even scan the post more easily, then we should create content that’s easy to read. Like you say, though, that doesn’t mean that we’ll see an overnight uptick in rankings.

    I find that one of the easiest ways to make your content more readable (and I don’t mean only according to the Yoast plugin) is to break up long paragraphs. Reading content online is made much easier when readers can “keep their bearings” visually, and white space allows them to do that. Long swaths of text—sentence after sentence—are extremely difficult to read.

    What I always tell clients is that it’s hard to write a post that is *ideal* for all readers, but it’s very easy to *improve* the readability of any content. Yoast’s plugin takes the guesswork out of that equation. (But I agree with Kitty Killian that sometimes repetition is used on purpose for effect, so the trick is knowing when to ignore Yoast’s suggestions.)

    • Darren Wall
      Darren Wall  • 2 years ago

      I have to agree with you Matthew, the breaking up of long paragraphs into easier to read nuggets of information is a must. However, what surprises me is how few writers do so, maybe their editors don’t understand the benefits.

  3. Kitty Kilian
    Kitty Kilian  • 2 years ago

    Hi guys, Like Mitz, I was about to email you, too. The red alerts that have been popping up on my WP-dashboard recently distract me. I keep getting bad scores. But really, my blogs are utterly readable. I will get negative scores for weird things, however, like starting three sentences in a row with the same word. (Rhetorics, just rhetorics). So I was wondering why you have added it. And if we can please get a way to switch it off.

  4. Laura Dennis
    Laura Dennis  • 2 years ago

    I use Yoest SEO plugin. The readability score confuses me. It will tell me I have 4 consecutive sentences beginning with the same word. The eyeball thing does not seem to work with my Divi theme. I will read and re-read the text and can’t find the 4 sentences. It will also tell me I need more transition words at the same time it is telling me to shorten my sentences. That does not make sense. What am I not understanding about how the program works?

  5. Mitch Rezman
    Mitch Rezman  • 2 years ago

    I’m coming to believe “readability” is only 1/2 the equation. The finest written content will not get you ranked without providing “user intent” (think Rank brain)

  6. Dave Collins
    Dave Collins  • 2 years ago

    I use a program called Grammerly , which checks my writing and grades it as well as offers better ways of doing it. I run all my writing thru this program before it ever gets on my site, it helps eliminate “Passive Voice” and punctuation etc. I don’t stop working on them till they are in the 98-100% perfect range. but I cannot get a out of the red with the yoast reviews could it be a language thing. My whole site does not have 1 good ranking per yoast’s program. so I just started ignoring it how could I be this bad.
    Dave Collins p.s. the seo are always green

  7. Panha
    Panha  • 2 years ago

    Thank for bring me the billion idea and I think I will success in SEO job. Regard Panha

  8. Jacob
    Jacob  • 2 years ago

    Great post! I am always looking for great tips for my new business website ….thanks again and keep up the good work!!

  9. Anil Agarwal
    Anil Agarwal  • 2 years ago

    Definitely readability has something to do with your search rankings.

    If the readers spend more time on one page (without click x button or going back) and sticking to your content – it definitely reduces your bounce rates and improve your search rankings.

    Focus on using LSI keywords instead of keyword stuffing also make sure to use lots of compelling images while creating content.

    Be funny, be engaging and write a tight copy to make your audience stick to your sites.

    Great tips.

  10. Derek Soltis
    Derek Soltis  • 2 years ago

    I love your plugin. Between you and Grammarly I feel like I am actually turning out useful foreclosure posts on my blog.

  11. Dj para bodas Asturias
    Dj para bodas Asturias  • 2 years ago

    Good article, I will follow their advice since in my sites, although the keyword is not repeated excessive, the pugin tells me that there is some problem of structure in the text.
    Thank you

  12. Mitch Rezman
    Mitch Rezman  • 2 years ago

    Interesting I was about to email you guys

    Greetings Yoast (I have a pro SEO license)

    I feel after blogging for 7 years I’ve become a half decent writer yet 98% of my posts get a red dot or bad readability rating from Yoast

    I have 200 plus keywords on page one of google so I get the keyword thing

    I’ve read this page a few times ->

    So in pursuit of clarity on the issue I posted this Pulitzer prize winning article by Katheryn Schultz as a test of your Yoast’s readabilty analytics

    and yet it received a “bad” readability rating ->

    this article from the New Yorker written by 3 veteran writers

    get’s the thumbs down on readability from Yoast as well

    thus your “readability” score is a bit opaque to me

    thank you
    confused in Chicago

    • Marieke van de Rakt

      You’re addressing an interesting issue here, confused in Chicago! Readability has a lot to do with the ability for people to read a text. It should be relatively easy, as reading from a screen is hard. That is, of course, if you’re aiming your text on a broad audience of normal intelligence.

      The examples you’re giving are all beautifully written, but perhaps aimed at an audience that is above normal intelligence. Long sentences are quite common in novels and print magazines (and even in online magazines aimed at a certain audience). There’s nothing wrong with that. Still, most people are only able to process sentences of 20 words and shorter.

      Ideally, you should be able to adapt the readability analysis to your audience. If your audience enjoys texts that are more complicated than of course, you should write these kinds of text. Unfortunately, our readability analysis does not have the functionality (yet) to adapt to a specific audience.

  13. Atendimento ao Cliente
    Atendimento ao Cliente  • 2 years ago

    So that’s it. Readability by itself doesn’t rank, but the positive effects of a Good Readability ranks, which means the time an user spend reading my blog/website it is what wil effect my rankings on google, because more time spent by an user on my page result in a bigger conversion rate.

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