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How to use Yoast SEO
The readability analysis

How to use Yoast SEO: The readability analysis

Everybody knows the colored bullets in Yoast SEO. There are two parts to the traffic light system, namely 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 succeed. Here, I’ll show you how to use the readability analysis.

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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 valuable 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 designer 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. Even 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 would cause repetition for your reader, and that might be annoying. Always mix up your sentences to keep your article 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 insert subheadings.
  • Sentence length: Sentence length is one of the core issues that makes a text hard to read. If your sentences are too long – over 20 words – people might lose track of your point. Often, readers 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 hard to grasp because you have to work harder understand the sentence structure. Whenever you use the passive voice, always consider whether a better, active alternative is available.

Supported languages

The readability analysis is available in several languages, see the table below. We’re continually working on adding new languages. As we speak, French is receiving support for passive voice.

English German Dutch French Spanish Italian
Transition words
Flesch reading ease
Passive voice  ✅  ✅
Sentence beginnings
Sentence length1
Function words (for Internal linking and insights)

readability analysis yoast seo

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 use daily. 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 jump to the spot 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 text level you are aiming for. Practice makes perfect!

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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 bullet overall – the one in the tab that reads Readability. Having an orange bullet like in the screenshot above is ok. It’s not that your article won’t be able to rank 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 killer, 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’ »

29 Responses to How to use Yoast SEO: The readability analysis

  1. Shufi
    By Shufi on 25 January, 2018

    The article is really helpful and useful for all SEO analysts, this post help them to know how to use the readability analysis in SEO, really informative, thanks for sharing this.

  2. Carmen Barreiro
    By Carmen Barreiro on 22 January, 2018

    Yes… it’s a nice complete plugin, the first that needs install. I recommend it.

  3. Pieniny
    By Pieniny on 19 January, 2018

    Great job! Thank you for yoast, the best seo plugin.

    By MD.RASHED JAMAN on 18 January, 2018

    How can I improve my site readability? Is it really fact for SEO? I am using a free version of yoast plugin and I found most of the article readability is poor.

    • Edwin Toonen
      By Edwin Toonen on 22 January, 2018

      We believe readability is an important factor for SEO and Yoast SEO helps you to write better. It doesn’t, however, teach you a new language. So, for instance, if you are not a native English writer, but you do want to target an English speaking audience, it might be a good idea to invest in a language course. This goes for all languages of course.

    By WP FORMATION on 15 January, 2018

    My readability grades are all bad, yet I express myself in a sustained and varied language.

    I think the French version is not really up to date. As a result, I no longer pay attention to this note;)

    • Edwin Toonen
      By Edwin Toonen on 17 January, 2018

      Hi. Support for the French language is being expanded including a new check for passive voice. This will be out soon. I hope this will help you write even better :)

  6. bettingofferstoday
    By bettingofferstoday on 14 January, 2018

    Thanks for this helpful post, I am doing my own SEO for my site and it’s slowly coming along. I am in a very difficult niche but hard work pays off!

    I use my Yoast plugin and learn all my skills from simple articles like these :)

    Thanks for the help Yoast and a great post Edwin.

    • Edwin Toonen
      By Edwin Toonen on 17 January, 2018

      Keep it up, you’ll get there!

  7. Jane Hogan
    By Jane Hogan on 14 January, 2018

    Is is possible for the readability analysis to be done on copy created in the visual content composer? Is seems all the copy in that section is not analysed and I get comments like not enough words or keyword not in first paragraph etc. even when it is and there are 1500+ words

  8. Lucas Pereira Fileti
    By Lucas Pereira Fileti on 13 January, 2018

    Isn`t there yoast SEO for html ?

  9. komodo owesome
    By komodo owesome on 13 January, 2018

    The article is really good, it helps me understanding easily about seo training

  10. nexvan
    By nexvan on 13 January, 2018

    Where is the yoast plugin training section?

  11. Alex Sanfilippo
    By Alex Sanfilippo on 12 January, 2018

    This actually helped me a lot as writer. Once Yoast implemented readability, I started really focusing more on my overall structure. I’ve learned a lot from it! Thanks Edwin!

    • Edwin Toonen
      By Edwin Toonen on 17 January, 2018

      Wow, that’s great to hear! We know writing is not everyone’s forte, so we’re glad to be of service. Thanks, Alex.

  12. MDB
    By MDB on 12 January, 2018

    Thanks for post. I like Yoast SEO Plugin for optimizing pages. This plugin is better than all in one SEO.

  13. Md Afraz Alam
    By Md Afraz Alam on 12 January, 2018

    I would recommend using YOAST SEO plugin for better on-page SEO. I have practical experience of using YOAST SEO on my WordPress site.

  14. Aayush
    By Aayush on 12 January, 2018

    Transition words it always gives some error.I tried with some tools those give perfect.Is there any issue or its mistake by my side please guide :)

    • Edwin Toonen
      By Edwin Toonen on 12 January, 2018

      What kind of error do you get?

  15. Bill Bennett
    By Bill Bennett on 11 January, 2018

    I’m not convinced by ‘transition words’. That kind of language makes sense for some kinds of sites, but it doesn’t work for all kinds of writing.

    I’m a journalist, have been one for more than 30 years. We’re trained to write readable copy. Yet I notice that when I write like a journalist, I often get a red light for transition words. All the other lights are usually green.

    Everything in my experience tells me the way I write works just as well and my copy is readable.

    • Edwin Toonen
      By Edwin Toonen on 12 January, 2018

      Hi Bill. Thanks for your comment. Not everyone uses transition words correctly – if at all. Using transition words can help create a nice flow in your text, plus they help connect everything and guide readers. Are they necessary? That depends on what you’re aiming for and who your target audience is. Transition words are a tool in your arsenal. Only you can judge if you can get your message across efficiently without a little help from transition words. If you do, great!

      • Bill Bennett
        By Bill Bennett on 13 January, 2018

        What I should have added to my previous comment is that I’m cool with them being there in Yoast. And, it’s good to get a fresh, objective outside perspective on my writing. At least you made me think about how I write. That’s more than any other plug-in has ever managed.

        • Edwin Toonen
          By Edwin Toonen on 22 January, 2018

          That’s great to hear. Thanks for the compliment!

  16. Michael LaRocca
    By Michael LaRocca on 11 January, 2018

    Thank you for stressing readability. As an editor and an author, I’ve stressed this for years. Being possible to understand isn’t good enough. You want to be impossible to misunderstand. You do this by making every sentence so clear and simple that nobody has to read anything twice to grasp your meaning. It’s the author’s job to do all the work. This is absolutely not “dumbing down”. It’s ensuring that what was in your head makes the journey into the reader’s head as easily as possible.

    • Edwin Toonen
      By Edwin Toonen on 12 January, 2018

      You’re welcome, Michael. And you’re right, there’s still a lot of work to be done on the readability front. Even as an experienced writer there’s always something to improve. Keep it up!

      • Sunil Boodram
        By Sunil Boodram on 14 January, 2018

        I’ve been doing software development for 10+ years; as of late I’ve found myself blogging. The readability analysis is the main reason why I use the Yoast SEO plugin. The passive voice analyser is (in my opinion) the best part about the plugin.

        It would be nice to have shortcut keys to enable/disable highlighting of the analysis tools. Scrolling up and down to enable/disable analysis can be tedious.

        Different colours for different analysis tools could also help differentiate what exactly it is you’re looking at.

        Overall, I’m quite happy with this plugin, keep up the good work.

        • Edwin Toonen
          By Edwin Toonen on 22 January, 2018

          Hi Sunil. Thanks for the compliments. You suggested some pretty interesting improvements as well. If you want, you can head over to our GitHub account and add these as potential enhancements:

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