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Why and how to write shorter sentences for SEO

The sentence length check in Yoast SEO warns against using too many long sentences. But what makes a sentence too long? Why should you avoid too many long sentences? And how do you chop up one longer sentence into several shorter sentences? This article will explain why you shouldn’t use too many long sentences and how to do this!

Do you have a red or orange bullet for the sentence length check in Yoast SEO? Here’s what this check does and here’s how to shorten your sentences.

Why shouldn’t you use too many long sentences?

Longer sentences are generally more difficult to read than shorter sentences. Try reading this sentence, for example:

Although it was clear that Brian had listened intently when it was explained to him what he should do and he had actually followed most of the instructions exactly as the instructor had written down for him on the sheet of paper to make sure he would remember them, he had added the packet of sugar which was already on the kitchen counter rather than the vanilla extract which he actually should have used which was still in the kitchen cabinet because he had forgotten that the instructor had told him to always put every ingredient on the kitchen counter in advance to make sure he wouldn’t forget anything, which completely ruined the recipe as it was that very same vanilla that gave the dessert its distinct flavor.

Phew, are you still there? Did you notice your mind wandering off mid-sentence? Mine sure did. If yours did too, that’s because it’s difficult to process information that isn’t structured. Before you can wrap your head around the information, a new piece is already vying for your attention. That’s a big reason why we use periods. Periods say: “OK, this is the end of what I want to say; let that sink in before you continue.” Let’s rewrite this passage with shorter sentences.

Brian had listened intently when it was explained to him what he should do. He had followed most of the instructions exactly as the instructor had written them down on paper. The instructor had wanted to make sure he would remember them. But Brian had made a big mistake. He had added the packet of sugar, which was already on the kitchen counter. He should have used the vanilla extract. The extract, however, was still in the kitchen cabinet. After all, he had forgotten that the instructor had told him to always put every ingredient on the kitchen counter in advance. This would’ve helped him remember. The different sugar ruined the recipe. It was the vanilla extract, after all, that gave the dessert its distinct flavor.

This fragment is a lot easier to read and more engaging. Shorter sentences make it easier to get your message across. And make no mistake: this is also true for more advanced readers. We’ve lost count of the people who have ignored our advice because they are “writing for a sophisticated audience.” It doesn’t matter. Clear and concise writing benefits everyone. Your content can be as complex as you want it to be. Your writing shouldn’t. Period.

Readability and SEO

Using shorter sentences makes your text easier to read. And readability is important for SEO. It makes sense if you think about it. Google likes to show (and people want to find and share) high-quality content that is informative, nice to read, and easy to comprehend. As the example you’ve just read demonstrates, long sentences are more difficult to process. If other long sentences follow a long sentence, the reader might fail to understand the meaning of a text completely. That’s not the experience you’d like to give to your visitors. Nor does Google!

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What does Yoast SEO’s sentence length check do?

The sentence length check assesses – and this will not come as a surprise – the length of your sentences. First, it counts the words you’ve used in each sentence. Next, it calculates how many of your sentences are longer than 20 words. You’ll be advised to shorten if more than 25% of your sentences exceed 20 words. The exact ranges are slightly different in different languages.

Click the eye icon screenshot showing eye icon and to see all sentences that are considered too long will be highlighted in your text.

This screenshot shows that very long sentences are highlighted in the sentence length check of Yoast SEO
Sentences that contain more than 20 words are highlighted.
20 words and 25% are the default criteria if you’re writing in English. But keep in mind that 25% is not absolute and may differ depending on language, content type et cetera. In addition, what constitutes a good writing style is different in every language. You can find the exact criteria per language here.

What makes a sentence too long?

There is no hard rule as to when a sentence is too long. Sometimes, you must write short sentences; sometimes, a longer sentence is the best option. In any case, you shouldn’t use too many long sentences. On average, they are more difficult to read. Readers tend to stop reading texts with lots of long sentences earlier.

We’ve decided to use a rule of thumb for the sentence length check in our plugin: you shouldn’t have too many sentences longer than 20 words. Granted, a complex sentence with 18 words can be more difficult to read than a simpler sentence with 22. Moreover, research shows it’s also important to vary. That’s why you should use common sense when optimizing your text. But in general, using shorter sentences helps you communicate your message, especially online.

How to shorten your sentences

Use transition words

Writing shorter sentences can be a challenge. When we check assignments in our SEO copywriting course, we notice it boils down to one problem. Many writers tend to put too much information into one sentence. Just because thoughts are related, doesn’t mean they should all be in the same sentence. Consider each separate idea within a sentence and break up your sentence into shorter ones. Then, connect the sentences using transition words.

Example: Although it can be a challenge to write shorter sentences, it’s really important to do so, because it makes your sentences easier to read, even if it requires a little more effort.

Revised example: It can be a challenge to write shorter sentences. Still, it’s really important to make an effort to do so. After all, it makes your sentences easier to read. It’ll be worth your while!

Don’t create fragments

If you do this, make sure you’re not creating fragments. Fragments are incomplete sentences. Every sentence should have a subject and a verb and should be completely readable on its own. The second sentence in the example below is a fragment, because the subject (a mistake), doesn’t have a corresponding verb.

Example: One of the risks you can run into is that you start writing fragments. A mistake people often make when trying to make their long sentences shorter.

Use active voice

Active voice and passive voice are grammatical constructions. You can turn a passive sentence into an active one, by arranging the words differently and conjugating the verb differently. The meaning of the sentence, however, stays the same. If you’re confused by this, read this post about passive voice first. One of the benefits of the active voice is that you use fewer words to say the same. In other words: active sentences are shorter than passive sentences. So, start using active voice and rewrite your passive sentences! Need help? The post about passive voice explains exactly how you should go about this.

Learn more about writing sentences and great copy in our SEO copywriting course. You can access this course and our other SEO courses with Yoast SEO for Shopify or Yoast SEO Premium for WordPress. Going premium on WordPress also gives you access to extra features, like internal linking suggestions and the use of related keyphrases and synonyms.

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Chopping up long sentences into shorter ones can help improve readability. Especially online, longer sentences are more difficult to read. Visitors may leave your site earlier when confronted with too many long sentences. That’s why we check the length of your sentences in our readability analysis. If you tend to write long sentences, try connecting your thoughts over separate sentences using transition words rather than stuffing all these thoughts into one sentence. It’s no problem if some sentences contain more than 20 words, but try to keep things balanced. In addition, try to prevent one long sentence from being followed by another.

Read more: Does readability rank? Ease of reading and SEO »

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