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How to use the readability analysis

Everybody knows the colored bullets (or dots, or even ‘traffic lights’) in Yoast SEO. Two parts of the plugin use this system: the content analysis and the readability analysis. The first checks whether your post is SEO-proof, while the latter checks if it is readable for a general audience. Of course, these two are interconnected, as readable content is incredibly important if you want your site to do well in the search results. Here, I’ll show you how to use the readability analysis.

What does the readability analysis in Yoast SEO do?

The readability analysis uses an algorithm to determine how readable your post is. We’ve carefully crafted this algorithm to make it as accurate as possible without being too strict. It features several checks that’ll give you advice when you write your post. In other words, by following the advice, you can make your text easier to read and understand.

It has been said that Yoast SEO suggests to dumb down your writing. Of course, that’s not the case. We merely want to help people write easy to understand content. I always come back to this quote by content design hero Sarah Richards about making your content as readable for humans as possible:

“You’re not dumbing down, you’re opening up.”

By simplifying content, you’re automatically growing your audience, as more people grasp the message of your content. Also, you’re not writing your content just for people anymore. Virtual assistants like Alexa and Siri have to be able to work with it as well. And even Google increasingly uses well-written pieces of content for rich results like featured snippets.

That being said, while the advice in the readability section is not the be-all and end-all advice, it does give you important clues to the perceived difficulty of your text. It is crucial to write with readability in mind, as we think readability ranks!

Current readability checks

At the moment, Yoast SEO uses the following checks:

  • Transition words: Do you use transition words like ‘most importantly’, ‘because’, ‘therefore’, or ‘besides that’ to tie your text together? Using these words improves the flow of your article as they provide hints to the reader about what is coming next.
  • Sentence beginnings: Do any of your consecutive sentences start with the same word? This might feel repetitive to your reader, and that can be annoying. Always keep your sentences varied, so your article is readable and free of obstacles. Unless you want to prove something or use it as a writing style, of course.
  • Flesch reading ease: This world-famous test analyzes texts and grades them on a scale from 1-100. The lower the score, the more difficult to read the text is. Texts with a very high Flesch reading ease score (about 100) are very easy to read. They have short sentences and no words of more than two syllables. Usually, a reading ease score of 60-70 is believed to be acceptable/normal for web copy.
  • Paragraph length: Some people tend to use extremely long paragraphs. Doing so makes your text look daunting as it becomes just one big blob of text. Break it up, use shorter paragraphs and don’t forget to give your core sentences some thought.
  • Subheading distribution: Similarly to long paragraphs, texts without subheadings are difficult to scan, which makes them rather daunting. So, we check if you use enough subheadings to guide your readers through the text and help them find what they’re looking for.
  • Sentence length: Sentence length is one of the core aspects that can make a text hard to read. If most of your sentences are too long – over 20 words – people lose track of your point. Readers often have to jump back a few words to find out what you mean. This very tiring and inefficient. Try to keep the number of words in a sentence in check. Shorten your sentences. Aim for easy understanding, not a complex literary masterpiece.
  • Passive voice: Using a lot of passive voice in your text makes it appear distant, and your message will be less clear. Your sentences become wordy and difficult because the sentence structure is harder to understand. Whenever you use the passive voice, always consider whether a better, active alternative is available.

Supported languages

The readability analysis is available in English and several languages, such as German, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Russian. Check out the features per language for an overview. We’re continually working on adding new languages.

How to use the readability analysis in Yoast SEO

It’s very easy to use the readability analysis in Yoast SEO to improve your content. Personally, I just start writing the article I want to write. I keep the audience I’m writing for in the back of my head and try to use the words they would use. Although the readability score is calculated in real time, I won’t look at the score during the writing process. Only after (the draft of) my article is finished, I’ll check the readability score and see if I have to fix anything. If I get an orange or red bullet, I can click on the eye icon to find out where improvements can be made. Easy peasy!

Everyone has their own writing and editing process, and my way isn’t necessarily how you should use it. For instance, you might be targeting a Flesch level of 80. If so, you have to find out what works gradually. When using the readability tool for a while, you’ll notice that you’ll automatically get a feel for the level you are aiming for. Practice makes perfect!

The readability checks in Yoast sEO

Should all bullets be green?

This is a question we often get and no, not every bullet has to be green. What you should aim for, though, is a green, happy bullet overall – the one in the tab that reads “Readability”. Having an orange bullet for one of the checks, like in the screenshot above, is ok. Your article will still be able to rank, even if it doesn’t pass all of the tests. This is merely an indication, not a necessity.

We want everyone to be able to read and understand content, but we also know that there are industries where the language used is totally different from what ordinary people would use. That’s perfectly fine. Find out what works in your case. Need help? Please read our ultimate guide to SEO copywriting.

Try it out!

The readability and content analyses of Yoast SEO help you to write excellent, SEO-proof articles that are easy to grasp for anyone. In doing so, you make sure that every piece of content you write is ready to start ranking in search engines, while staying enjoyable for readers. Don’t have Yoast SEO yet, or want to take advantage of the awesome additional features our Premium plugin offers? What are you waiting for?

Read more: How to use the content & SEO analysis of Yoast SEO »

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21 Responses to How to use the readability analysis

  1. Jason Cerchie
    Jason Cerchie  • 2 months ago

    Hi there!
    I’m having very similar issues to Jose (from 2 days prior to my post here). Using Divi, and having issues with what appears to be faulty readability scores — for instance, on one page it says I have 6 consecutive sentences that start with the same word, and I can see (and have verified multiple times) there are _zero_ consecutive sentences that begin with the same word.

    Different to Jose’s issue, the page in question I’m dealing with does not use any bullets points or lists.

    All plugins and themes, as well as the wp core files are up-to-date.

    Thanks for any insight you might have into this — it’s discouraging to get relatively high readability scores (80.5 for this particular page) and then still have the analysis be completely incorrect.

  2. Jose
    Jose  • 2 months ago

    Good morning!
    I’m using Yoast for many websites and I absolutely love it, so thank you for that.
    I’m now working for a client who uses the WP theme Divi. For some reason, for many pages, I cannot get the readability on green. It stays on orange, and it says I have to make shorter sentences and use more transition words. I’m quite experienced with this, and I’m pretty sure that my sentences are not too long and that I use plenty of transition words.
    The pages do use a lot of bullet points/lists.

    Sometimes I get 2 green lights (SEO + readability) but then a day later, or even some minutes later, it turns orange again. It’s driving me crazy. Can you please help me out here? I’ve never had this before, is it because of the Divi theme?

    Hope you can help out, thank you! :)

    • Ben Vaassen
      Ben Vaassen  • 2 months ago

      Hi Jose, that’s some weird behavior. We do work together with Divi to try and minimize issues. You can check if updating both plugins and WordPress resolves the issue.

      If that doesn’t help or you are already up to date, you can get additional free support via the WordPress.org forums https://wordpress.org/support/plugin/wordpress-seo/.

      Good luck!

  3. Lisa Stickel
    Lisa Stickel  • 2 months ago

    When adding 4 “social share buttons” to the page (directly in the “enfold” WordPress theme), the readability score complains about “5 consecutive sentences starting with the same word”. However, I cannot change the wording of the “social share buttons”. How are we meant to solve this issue?

    • Edwin Toonen

      Hi Lisa. How are you adding these button? Directly in the post?

      • Lisa Stickel
        Lisa Stickel  • 2 months ago

        Hi Edwin, Yes, I work in the “advanced layout editor” and there is the option to add “social share buttons”. So, it is without any plug-ins. It is directly in WordPress.
        But as soon as I choose more than 1 social share button, e.g. Facebook and Twitter, then the readability complains that I use 3 (or more) “consecutive sentences starting with the same word”.
        Thank you very much for your help, Edwin!

  4. STELLA turner
    STELLA turner  • 2 months ago

    what I do when my Yoast plugin requires a product key

    • Ben Vaassen
      Ben Vaassen  • 2 months ago

      Hi Stella,

      Yoast SEO (Premium) and add-ons don’t require a product key. Yoast SEO free works without any activation key at all. Yoast SEO Premium and our add-ons need an active subscription bought on Yoast.com, but no product key.

      Are you using an older version of the plugins? The latest version for Yoast SEO (Premium) is 12.7. We recommend updating if you are on an older version.

      You can get additional free support via the WordPress.org forums https://wordpress.org/support/plugin/wordpress-seo/.

      Good luck!

  5. Hugh Marshall
    Hugh Marshall  • 2 months ago

    How can you force a recheck on a published post? Please advise by email. Thanks!

    • Hanneke
      Hanneke  • 2 months ago

      Hi Hugh,
      We’re sorry, but could you maybe be more specific? We’re not sure what you mean by forcing a recheck. We would love to help you to figure it out!

      Hanneke

  6. Ahaduzzaman
    Ahaduzzaman  • 2 months ago

    The readability analysis of Yoast SEO helps me to find out improvement points to increase the level of readability. I’ve been benefited a lot by using this feature. I recommend highly to the newbie who is in blogging career, Thanks, Yoast team.

    • Hanneke
      Hanneke  • 2 months ago

      That is great to hear, Ahaduzzaman! Thank you!

  7. Priyanka
    Priyanka  • 2 months ago

    Hello, everyone, my name is Priyanka I used Yoast plugin for SEO. Everything is fine but the main issue created when I resolve the readability of the page. I can’t Understand what can I do to Improve my readability. Tell me the simple way to Improve my readability.
    I used this method in which you have been defined but it doesn’t work, so tell me the simple method.

  8. Quopedia
    Quopedia  • 2 months ago

    How do I update my paid toast seo plugin?

  9. Will Keyser
    Will Keyser  • 2 months ago

    When I first started using Yoast, I thought the RA was rather pernickety, but now I catch myself more and more when I use the passive and choose different syntax. On my Awstats results, I have noticed a gradual increase in visit lengths, now up to 5.5% of visits lasting more than 15 minutes, more than half of which are one hour or more.

  10. Nick Stamoulis
    Nick Stamoulis  • 2 months ago

    The readability can be a valuable tool in helping you create great content. In order to get the most out of it, however, it is important to know exactly how it works!

    • Hanneke
      Hanneke  • 2 months ago

      That’s right, Nick!

  11. Manjula Krishna
    Manjula Krishna  • 2 months ago

    I am personally using the readability analysis feature to improve my blog posts further. It is definitely an added benefit of using the Yoast plugin. Thanks :)

    • Hanneke
      Hanneke  • 2 months ago

      That’s great to hear, Manjula!